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India losing grip of Bhutan? China on the edge

Kashish Kumar

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It was not much of a surprise when India’s newly appointed External Minister S. Jaishankar chose Bhutan for his maiden bilateral visit, reflecting once again, India’s ever-growing desperation for continued friendship with its neighbour. Similarly orchestrated visits for cooperation, have been common from the Modi government where Bhutan became Modi’s first foreign visit under his “Neighbourhood First Policy” in his previous tenure. Does this necessarily mean that India-Bhutan relations stand as the glorious example of ‘love thy neighbour’? Or does the Indian government simply consider Bhutan a package deal for both economic and strategic dominance in the region?

India and Bhutan celebrated 50 years of diplomatic ties in 2018, refreshing people’s memory about their maturing relationship. Empirically, India has proven to be a great partner for the likes of Bhutan. With Beijing’s assertive claims over the territory of Bhutan, Nepal, and Sikkim from 1910 and further the spread of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, Bhutan sought to seek partnership and support from British India; subsequently independent India. In 1949, Bhutan, out of desperation, signed the Treaty Of Perpetual Peace and Friendship with India, which provided India an ‘apparent’ advisory role in Bhutan’s foreign relations in exchange of military support against China. As Bhutan welcomed India’s assistance in the military and economic spectrums, it was only inevitable that the greater power would try to dominate the beautiful country, sandwiched between two powerhouses – India and China.

So what’s actually gone wrong? With this booming ‘special relationship’ between the two countries, hydropower became a major area of economic cooperation between the two countries. With the signing of a new treaty in 2007, superseding the one in 1949, strides were made towards the evolving friendship between India and a more sovereign Bhutan by eradicating the advisory role of India and recognizing Bhutan as an essential ally. As Hydro-power is the centrepiece of Bhutan’s economic prosperity, accounting for its 14% GDP, economic relations between India and Bhutan were based on harvesting Bhutan’s potential to generate hydropower for trade and personal usage. India has been an incredible asset for Bhutan by providing a market for three-fourths of Bhutan’s hydropower while at the same time investing in Bhutan to develop it’s export capacity to India from 5000 MW to 10,000 MW by the year 2020. Although the older Bhutanese generations looked to India with gratitude for their assistance as a friend, the newer generation tends to capture the depth of the situation. They recognize India’s involvement in the hydropower sector as exploitative and are concerned about India’s grip on their economic and foreign policy affairs.

“Not only are the terms on which India is financing the hydropower projects unfavourable to Bhutan but also, it is getting electricity from Bhutan at cheap rates,” a Bhutanese official pointed out in anger towards the Indian administration. Further, India has extorted the humility of Bhutan to dominate the foreign relations of the country to an extent that Bhutan, till date, does not engage in diplomatic talks with China. Bhutanese population considers this as a  direct threat to the sovereign character of the country and also a major hindrance to the border settlement between Bhutan and China. India’s strategic interest in the Doklam Plateau to avoid military vulnerability to China has discouraged Thimphu to recognize the border talks and has even escalated the situation between India and China. With a 72 day standoff in the Doklam Plateau over illegal construction by the Chinese troops, both armies reflected how diplomacy had failed in its part and military retaliation was now an alternate approach to the situation. Bhutan was walking on eggshells during the crisis and was seen balancing the two powers, but felt greatly disturbed and suffocated by the dominant pedestrian of India in their friendship.

How is the situation evolving? As Beijing is seeking to mend relations with Bhutan, through the means of soft power diplomacy and promise of a better future, India seems to lose the battle. Tourism stands to be the second greatest economic contributor to Bhutan’s GDP and China has resorted to utilizing the tourist trends as economic leverage. With a significant increase in Chinese tourist waves in Bhutan over the past decade from less than 20 visits in 1996 to 9,220 visits in 2016, the fastest growing industry witnessed a major drop in tourists after the Doklam standoff. This came as a warning to Bhutan about their vulnerability and left them concerned about their progress under India’s umbrella. Further, the current Bhutanese government faces major challenges with respect to rising unemployment and rising foreign debt to India. As the government, seeks to remove the centrality of hydropower from the economic sphere of the country, Chinese investment has caught the attention of the youth and private sector for a better future but India still stands as the major hurdle. In 2012, India’s wrath was unleashed by the act of withdrawing fuel subsidies when Then-Bhutan Prime Minister Jigme Thinley met with his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, on the side-lines of the Rio+20 Summit. India’s might was deeply resented in Bhutan, as possessiveness and domination took over the respect and trust in the friendship.

There is a growing interest in Bhutan for diplomatic relations with China as the issue has now become a part of the public debate and the government is facing large scale pressure from the private sector to establish economic relations with China. Bhutan would like to benefit from the Chinese ties in the region as well but the pressure from India seems significantly choking for the country today and sovereignty seems like an idea foregone with this friendship.

Kashish Kumar is a student of Social Work at the Australian Catholic University and a graduate of Masters in International Relations from the Australian National University. His interest lies in the Asia-Pacific region and mainly the Indo-Pacific affairs.

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South Asia

Aftermath of US-Afghan Peace Talks

Syeda Dhanak Hashmi

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In Doha, the Capital of Qatar, an unprecedented meeting co-hosted by German and Qatari officials brought together diverse factions interested in achieving lasting Afghan peace. Sixteen Taliban and 60 Afghan representatives comprising delegates from political parties, government officials, and civil society organizations engaged in discussions that led to a potentially positive arrangement. This meeting has raised hopes for peace, but it must now be followed up by a cease fire to pave the way to lasting peace in the country.

The Taliban, which has repeatedly refused to negotiate with the West-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, agreed to join the Peace Talks meeting on the condition that the attendees will do so in a personal capacity. For the first time since the United States started negotiating with the Taliban last year, two Afghan government officials were face-to-face with Taliban representatives at US-Afghan Peace Talks. The Doha peace talks were unlike many other conferences. The Taliban agreed to reduce their reliance on violent attacks by avoiding various public spaces. Many Afghans vulnerable to terrorism and living under severe violence have newfound hope.

The peace talks represents huge success keeping in view the Taliban’s harsh policy toward women and youth. Women, in particular, have been the victims of ignorance and extremism throughout the dark chapters of Afghan history. Thus, it was a momentous development for Afghans as the Taliban leadership dined with female representatives, including one of their leading critics, Fawzia Kofi, a former MP of the Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan Parliament. This indicated a remarkable shift in Taliban’s perspective towards women as they said that women would protect their rights within an Islamic framework. This change in perception had promoted a democratic framework in Afghanistan which resulted in a significant step in bringing peace and prosperity to the country. Women now work freely in the government and private sector. They represent an important portion of society and have been a symbol of change.

Moreover, the participation of youth at the Doha conference offered another notable step. It was exceptional to see those under the age of 30 who were raised under the threat of war and feared violence by the Taliban, discussed and consequently asked them for the violence to end and hope for a peaceful Afghan future. The Doha framework was conducive to discuss concerns that both sides felt comfortable to share and presented a satisfactory and excellent example of a way that both Taliban and Afghan representatives could clearly raise their thoughts patiently and in a friendly manner.

With productive peace talks between Taliban and Afghan representatives, a remarkable conclusion was reached after strong criticism and arguments. Both sides agreed to reduce violence by withholding attacks on religious centres, schools, hospitals, educational centres, commercial markets, water dams, and workstations. But the understanding now needs to translate into a tangible cease-fire across Afghanistan. The recent non-binding agreement and continued peace talks with the Taliban are suggestive of a few points.

First, the Taliban are willing to accept some sort of cease-fire as they stated that they also feel guilty for killing civilians who are fellow Afghans but they also said that they simply might not have an alternative strategy. Secondly, conferences in Doha, Moscow, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan signify the group’s desire to build a new positive image. Let’s not forget that the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of the 1990s was tumbled by the U.S. government for sheltering Al-Qaeda terrorists.

To portray their positive image, the Taliban are currently involved in a public relations campaign to demonstrate they are not as unfathomable as the international media has represented them. Sitting openly with Muslims, non-Muslims, and female journalists, as well as dining with them, paints a convincing picture. This could be another tactic to have an influence on Afghans in order to achieve their goals, such as US NATO troop’s withdrawal and establishment of an Islamic State also. The Taliban will not easily abandon their goal of establishing an Islamic Emirate despite continued diplomatic efforts. But in case of a cease-fire, they will certainly function as a political party that might hold major offices in the Afghan government, will also mould the current criminal code of Afghanistan because they consider it as mixture of Roman-Germanic and Islamic sources which is not acceptable to them at all, hence they will work towards adamantly implementing what they view as Islamic Shariah law.

Keeping in view the above mentioned discussion, some hope of peace has been achieved despite corruption, poor internal situation and after 18 years of chaos and instability in Afghanistan. But a country which has undergone four decades of war needs time and space to restructure and overcome such differences. The present version of Afghanistan is altogether different from the pre-9/11 Afghanistan. From women empowerment and youth participating in different fields to technology in villages by which people share their concerns and happiness, via social media, the ideological transition in Afghanistan is incredible. Somehow violence has been switched by better systems through discussions and a positive comprehensive political approach. In an ideological governed nation like Afghanistan, which is predominately tribal, it is fundamental that its own people bring change through talks that concrete the path towards peace and prosperity. The peace in Afghanistan holds significant importance for the neighbouring countries also, but the path toward sustainable peace can be laid only once a cease-fire is agreed and adhered to by all the parties.

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South Asia

Pak-US Relations: The Way Forward

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Cooperation and Trust is the only way forward for Pakistan –US relations. Both countries have wasted a huge time experienced severe challenges since the relations become soars. Both nations have learned bitter lesson s during recent history and realized that both have suffered a lot due to the coldness of relations between the two countries. I believe it is never too late, always “There is a way if there is a will”. I think the time has reached to restore traditional trust and cooperation.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is scheduled to travel to the USA on 20 July. He will meet President Trump and senior administration during his stay in the USA. He is also accompanied by a powerful high-level delegation to make the decision at the spot instantly. However, Foreign Offices at Islamabad and State Department in Washington are working day and night to make this visit a turning point and historic success.  Expectations are high from both sides. The whole world has focused on this important visit and make their own opinion. Some of them are discussing the challenges, and others are focused on positive outcomes. I myself am very much optimistic.

It has been realized by the US administration that they cannot achieve strategic goals in this region without the instrumental role of Pakistan. And Pakistan has also suffered a lot, especially on the economic front without US support. It is in the best interests of the two nations to respect each other and cooperate with each other. The way out is trust and dialogue, but not the coercion and isolation.

Background

During the Cold War, Pakistan was a big supporter of the US and protected American interests in the region, including during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Pakistan was also a close ally in the “war on terror” after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Our history is full of success stories and excellent cooperation.

However, although Pakistan extends a cordial hand of friendship to the US whenever it needs support, the US always steps back when it no longer needs a Pakistani role on an issue, and relations decline. Pakistan has faced some of the toughest and strictest US-sanctions in history.

The two countries have always cooperated with each other on their common goals and interests, though the US has failed to value Pakistan’s interests and has kept on making demands. “Do more” has been the message of the US leadership in recent years, without understanding Pakistan’s capacity to comply, or its own interests. Our relations were transactional in nature and limited to assignment based. Once the project was completed, the relations were cooled down.

During the past few years, the US has blamed, coerced and threatened Pakistan. The US used all international forums to pressurize Pakistan like FATF, IMF, UNSC, etc. Extended hands of extreme friendship toward India, without considering the impact on Pakistan. The sacrifices of Pakistan being the ally of the US, especially casualties of 8000 Pakistani nations during the Afghan war and an estimated economic loss of US$ 250 billion, along with a gift of extremism, terrorism, gun culture, corruption, misgovernance, ethnic violence, and religious divide, etc. Of course, there exist some concerns on both sides, and some of these may be genuine, but some are based on misunderstandings only.

Afghan Situation

Currently, the major part of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban. Americans cannot walk freely and fearlessly in the streets of Kabul or any other big city. They are not safe except inside military camps. In practical terms, it is the Taliban who rule most of Afghanistan, not the US-supported government of President Ashraf Ghani.

The US is the superpower, spent US$ trillions and used all possible lethal weapons along with best-trained troops, could not win the Afghan War. The US was fully supported by NATO and its allies, utilized their resources and involved India, but still failed to achieve any success.

A situation has been reached where the US administration has decided to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. Whether they can withdraw easily? A big question mark? Afghanis bordered with China, Iran, Central Asia, and Pakistan. I think only Pakistan can help peaceful and honored the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan.

There is a convergence of interests in resolving the Afghan issue. Pakistan and the US may cooperate with each other in a very positive way. But, after the assignment is over, what will be the behavior of the US with Pakistan, past experience was never satisfactory.

But we are optimistic that the Visits of Imran Khan may bring a different outcome. We may cooperate on the Afghan issue and hope the US will respect Pakistan’s strategic interests with China, Russia and in the region. The US may not create hurdles in smooth execution of CPEC and acquisition of defense needs from any country including China and Russia. The US may not allow India to use American support against Pakistan, American weapons and technologies against Pakistan, American intelligence against Pakistan.

The way forward

However, Pakistan is a peace-loving country and our record in the UN peacekeeping force is admirable. Our sacrifices during the “war on terror” go beyond any other country.

We promote peace, stability, and prosperity all around the globe. Our role in this region is vital. Pakistan’s geostrategic importance is well known to the US. Think-tanks, civil and military leaders in the US also understand Pakistan’s importance.

Pakistan wants good relations with all countries and would like to extend all possible support and cooperation for achieving the common goal of “Peace, Stability, and Prosperity” throughout the world. We desire to work closely with all countries – including the US.

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South Asia

From Gujral doctrine to Modi doctrine

Punsara Amarasinghe

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Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe and Eshan Jayawardene*

The predictions made by larger number of academics based in Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta about Indian General elections vouching that Narendra Modi would not get his second term as prime minister were shattered in reality as Modi could uphold his strong position better than the previous time resulting a steeping success of his Bharatiya Janatha Party which won 302 seats in Indian Lok Saba. The election result has palpably shown a shocking decline of India’s largest political party National Congress led by Rahul Gandhi as Congress could solely win only 52 seats in the legislature. The gob smacking results of the election seems to have given a clear picture of voters pulsation as the ground reality in the sub-continent albeit many pundits made pro congress predictions while accusing Modi’s poor economic policy and demonetization as two major factors behind the economic crisis India has been facing now.

However, the Himalayan image Indian premier has built up on himself among countries majority Hindu population has been mainly attributed to his stanch belief in Hindu ideology and his image seems to have depicted as a Hindu messiah who has come to regain the deserving place for nationalist forces. It is an important question to focus whether such ideological attitudes possessed by Modi and his Bharatiya Janatha Party would make impacts upon carving India’s foreign policy for next five years. Before reaching the position of Indian premier’s approach towards foreign affairs, particularly regarding South Asia, it becomes an interesting factor to trace how Indian foreign policy on South Asian states were shaped under Gujral Doctrine which happened to be a milestone in Indian foreign policy when it was rendered by minister of external affairs in Dev Gowda’s government in 1996. Basic mantra of Gujral doctrine affirmed India being the larger power in South Asia should not ask for reciprocity, but gives all that it could in good faith to the neighboring countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh. Notably Pakistan was excluded from this benefited category and it further elucidated that no country would allow to be used against the interest of another country in the region. One of another pivotal principle of Gujral doctrine was the noninterference of the internal affairs of the neighboring countries and resolving disputes through amicable bilateral negotiations.

This doctrine has been regarded as a strategy initiated by Mr. Gujral in reducing the influence of both Pakistan and China in a hostile manner while upholding a stable peace with other neighbors. In fact, this doctrine has played an indispensible role as a major principle for many prime ministers since 1996 though none of them had officially admitted the influence of Gujral doctrine over their foreign policy mechanism. Yet the changing winds of Indian foreign policy seems to be evident after the astonishing victory of Narendra  Modi and it would be an interesting task to assess how would Gujral doctrine prevail before the galactic persona of Modi as a leader who seeks much dominating authority in his foreign relations in South Asia. Since Modi became premier in India, its foreign policy was heavily affected by his personal aura and besides his troublesome past of his alleged involvement in the communal violence of Gujarat in 2002 during his tenure as its chief minister, many countries have received him with awe and Russia honored Modi by awarding him the highest state decoration called “Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle “in 2019.

In understanding his foreign policy for his second term, it becomes salient that his famous slogan “neighborhood first” is likely to continue, at least nominally. But the truth in reality is Narendra Modi’s sole personal image driven by his Hindutva ideology would make some lasting impacts in foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbors and beyond it. The next notable factor appears to be stunning in Modi’s foreign policy is that contrary to India’s fervent position of defending secularism, the space for religious diplomacy has rapidly increased for past few years in India’s foreign policy. In the contest between China and India as rivals for decades, it is a question beyond doubt that Chinese political, militarily and economic powers are far ahead of India, yet in terms of soft power mechanism India has successfully forged ahead and Modi’s approach to his foreign relations too has taken a special interest in portraying India’s spiritual legacy to the world extensively as propaganda tool. For example during most of his foreign tours as premier, Modi paid frequent visits to major Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh sacred sites, also his active role in introducing June  21st as International Yoga Day shows his effort in propagating India’s ancient practice of meditation yoga as a soft power tool beyond the sub-continent.  The utmost veneration towards Indic religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhismas an important feature in foreign policy had not been a principle practiced by previous Indian prime ministers since Nehru who was a doyen of secularism. On the other hand the notion of Hindutva stemming from Modi’s political party BJP and his personal ideology may confront with carving the foreign policy of India generally. The notion that Hindutva involves an obsession with national power needs to be placed in its historical context. V. D. Savarkar, M. S. Golwalkar, H. V. Sheshadri, and other stalwarts who developed its ideational foundations believed that the golden age of ancient Hindu civilization had been lost owing to material and moral weakness, which had brought it under the prolonged subjugation of Muslim and Christian/ British power. The great iconic personality he has been creating abroad as leader coming from a greater civilization and his ardor of using Hindi as the language of communication in his foreign state visits even though he is well versed in Hindi are the most notable examples showing the way of his foreign policy driven by Hidututva ideology.

Modi’s beginning of his first term was quite optimistic in terms of his attitude to India’s immediate neighbors in South Asia and this was visible as all South Asian leaders were invited to his inaugural ceremony in Delhi in 2014,but throughout his first term it was evident that Modi could not keep his grip over India’s neighbours like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh where Chinese influence have appeared to be a predominant factor. For instance New Delhi was alleged to have some involvement in toppling former president Mahinda Rajapakse from power yet his successor Maithripala Sirisena and government of Sri Lankan premier Ranil Wickramasinghe have not been able to completely get rid of Chinese presence in Sri Lanka despite both personalities are known for their pro Indian policies. Modi” s last few months may have brought him a sudden success from the jingoistic voters from Hindu mainstream in India as last February India’s jet fighters crossed into Pakistan territory and engaged in aerial combat in first time in nearly 50 years. In India’s history since independence several prime ministers had confronted Pakistan militarily, yet the propaganda used by Modi convinced the people only he is able to keep India secure from Pakistan.

Cardinal approach likely to be adopted during Modi’s second term on Indian foreign policy has much idealistic feature to uphold Indian hegemony in South Asia and moreover Modi’s foreign policy would pay a much attention in using soft power as a greater strategy in India’s path to global governance. Rise of Xi Jinping as China’s powerful assertive president and his astute actions on expanding Belt and Road initiative across South Asia seems to have created a sneaking agitation in India for past few years. In such a situation Modi’s foreign policy for next four years five years would be decisive in terms of uplifting India’s image a key player.

*Eshan Jawardane is a Sri Lankan researcher currently lives in New Zealand. He holds BA in Sociology from Delhi University and completed MA in International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He served as a guest lecturer at Sri Lanka Open University for a short period. Eshan can be reached at eshan.jayawardane[at]gmail.com

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