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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

India may attack Pakistan under false flag operations

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Prime Minister Imran Khan once again stressed that India is gearing up for false flag operation to divert the entire world’s attention from the genocide it is committing in its part of Jammu & Kashmir.

India is accustomed to attacking Pakistan on lame excuses to divert world attention to its crimes. Last year, in February, using the self-designed Pulwama incident, committed surgical strikes deep into Pakistan. Just after the hours of Pulwama incident, without conducting any inquiry or collecting evidence, the Indian Prime Minister blamed Pakistan and threatened with surgical strikes. Pulwama was pre-planned and used as a lame excuse only. A similar trick can be repeated by India again.

In fact, India is facing a massive economic crisis, internal insurgencies, mass-protests, ethnic divides, and religious discrimination. Poor agriculture declined Industrial output, and lack of economic activities, the country is facing enormous challenges.

Due to its poor records of Human rights and religious discrimination, the world reaction is intensified. Human rights watch’s reports, or the US commission on religious freedom’s story, or EU reports, all are condemning India. Islamophobia has distanced India from the Muslim world too. India is facing isolation internationally.

Having disputes with all its neighbors, India is under immense pressure. Indian territorial disputes with Nepal had taken a new turn, when Nepal issued a new Map, showing its whole territory, parts of Indian Occupied territories too. Amended Citizenship Act may impact two million Muslims and may face deportation to Bangladesh, and water disputes make two countries (India-Bangladesh) enemies. With Mayanmar, territorial disputes and refugee issues also made odd-relations between them. By supporting Tamil insurgents, India spoiled its relations with Sri Lanka.  Over-interference in domestic politics, its ties with the Maldives soared. The Illegal occupation of Jammu & Kashmir, Gurdaspur, Juna Ghar, is the real cause of tension between India and Pakistan. Denial of right of Self-Determination of Kashmiri people for seven decades and non-implementation of UN resolutions passed in 1948 on Kashmir are genuine concerns for Pakistan. Frequent violation of line of control and cross-border terrorism is a matter of serious attention. Indian occupation of Chinese territory and border clashes are getting severe recently. India hosts the Dalai Lama’s exiled government of Tibet, and openly opposing BRI is causing discomfort between two countries. The over-tilt toward the US and Indian attempts to compete and contain China may be a genuine issue of concern for Beijing.

The recent tension with Nepal and China may become a catalyst, and India makes another false flag operation against Pakistan. India is using spy-drones against Pakistan, one of such was shot down by Pakistan 650 meters inside Pakistani territory.

Indian frequent violations of Line of Control (LoC) and cross border terrorism, are the tools to incite Pakistan and force to a full-fledged war.

Pakistan is in the hands of visionary leadership, and the people of Pakistan are peace-loving in nature. Pakistan has been observing restrains and patience because we know the consequences of war, especially when both India and Pakistan are nuclear states and posses enough piles of weapons to eradicate each other. If India is crazy, we are not.

It is an appeal to the international community to intervene and force India to cool down its war-craze. UN and P5 may notice an aggressive Indian attitude toward all its neighbors, especially with Pakistan. Timely intervention may avert a big disaster. 

However, our love for peace may not be mistaken as a weakness. If war imposed, Pakistan is in a position to surprise India. We did surprise India last year on 27 February and can surprise in a much stronger way if a situation arose in the future.

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Afghan Peace Process and Indian Involvement

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The Afghan peace process initiated in 2018, marred with episodic halts, finally witnesses an agreement between the US and Taliban on February 29, 2020, in Doha. Both signatories Taliban and the US agreed to some core conditions and compromises to be made. Afghanistan, a land known as the Graveyard of Empires has become a huge quagmire for the US forces and now even after 18 years of war they are still nowhere close to defeating the Taliban. Eventually Taliban had to be accommodated in the US strategy for Afghanistan. The Taliban are still stronger on the ground. There have been occasions even after the deal when Taliban were found to carry out attacks to show off their military strength and presence. This sends out a message to the US that a reduction in violence may not be confused with complete termination of attacks. Taliban being fully aware of their limitations as a disciplined troop, realize it would be hard for them to bring back their militia into the region if peace process doesn’t settle desirably. Geographically Afghanistan is at the crossroads of Central Asia and South Asia and is also bordered with Middle Eastern states. Such geographical presence makes everything happening in Afghanistan reach a dozen of adjacent countries with great intensity and magnitude. Recently concluded agreement in February this year has offered a world to witness a historic moment in which parties at dispute are finally making adjustments to end this protracted war. This agreement will have far reaching impact on many regional countries which will be compelled to respond according to their interests and likely benefits.

Most recent development in the Afghan Peace process is the induction of a “Power sharing Deal” between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. The power sharing deal is a political settlement wherein both Ghani and Abdullahare looking forward to sharing the burden together in a hope to pave a path to peace, improved governance, human rights, laws, values eventually moving towards successful materialization of Afghan Peace Process to have stable Afghanistan.US secretary of state Mike Pompeo also supported this political settlement to end the conflict. In the meantime, Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg applauded the deal between Ghani and Abdullah.

This however wasn’t an easy feat. US had to nudge the naysayer: India in this case;for its negative and its covert activities to derail the peace process. India finds a stable Afghanistan unfavorable to execute its illicit activities and propaganda. There would be less chances to exploit the soil of Afghanistan for its vested interests. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation had a meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar in New Delhi and conveyed the firm message for India to shun its anti-peace role in Afghanistan. Chief Negotiator of Taliban, Abbas Stanikzai also criticized India stating “India has always played a negative role in Afghanistan. India supported traitors in the country.” Such Taliban sentiments are prevalent but rarely expressed. Afghan government/NDS and RAW has consistently opposed peace with the Taliban as both stands to gain from discrediting the Taliban. Therefore, depicting Taliban as violent and active propaganda showing them as unreliable to firmly handle the evolving situation, serves Indian interest. Coupled with all this, a delayed withdrawal of US troops and attacks still being carried out in Afghanistan fueled the violent situation to the relief of spoilers of peace that want to see the peace deal completely derailed.

India’s Afghanistan policy is very much  Pakistan-specific. India doesn’t want peace in Afghanistan because unrest on Pakistan’s western border makes it doubly challenging for Pakistan to secure its borders on two fronts. India backed anti-separatist elements get free flow across the porous Durand line into Baluchistan.  This is the very reason India never favored a peaceful political settlement between Taliban and Afghan government. Some Indian analysts such as former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran openly argue that Indian policy should aim at preventing complete Taliban takeover of Kabul, provoking Taliban towards a broad-based government.

While India remained active in hampering the peace process, globally Pakistan’s key role in the entire peace process has been highly appreciated. Zalmay Khalilzad US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation praised Pakistan’s efforts for the deal. Moreover, Pakistan’s role in the peace process is also recognized by Russia, China, and the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has made several efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table with the US which eventually resulted in the much awaited peace agreement and has become a ray of hope for the stability of Afghanistan and region as well. There is no doubt this peace deal is in the interest of Pakistan and peace of region because stable Afghanistan means stable Pakistan. Moreover, there are now brighter prospects for lesser clashes near Durand Line between Pakistan Armed Forces and Afghan Forces .Afghan forces have been time and again attacking Pakistani forces near the Pak-Afghan border.  It is hoped that the new political regime will also help in maintaining border peace between the two neighboring countries. However, one has to keep looking out for possible Indian mischief as it doesn’t want peace to prevail in Afghanistan.

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World Must React to Hindutva Terrorism

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The Hindu ideology has transformed into the crude discourses of anti-Muslim platitudes and therefore, existing language of local stereotypes in India has been reinforced with modern offensive terms of intolerance especially against minorities. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Hindu nationalism has erupted as a dominant power and this power has been executed by rightwing forces to implement the agenda of ideology based on Hindutva. V.D. Savarkar in 1923, used this term to accentuate that Hindutva was not synonymous with Hinduism. Hindutva is a racial ideology to establish Hindu identity while disposing of Indian nationalism in favour of Hindu nationalism. Hindutva’s aspiration is not only restricted to the ballot box, but its magnitude has also started to fabricate societal bondage in India. Through its offensive means “Hindu Renaissance” has made inroads into schooling, developmental initiatives, business activities, community, and virtually every other area of public life. What has transpired is that Hindutva has been growing and expanding well beyond the traditional sphere to explicitly or partially linked organizational network of its militant wings like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Hinduism is considered to be a nonviolent faith but unfortunately, racists mindset of Hindutva activists, who just perceive the material aspect of religion, exploited this faith. The aim of Hindutva is to create Hindu political dominance over non-Hindus through violent means while reducing demographic aspects of minorities to second-class citizens. Hindutva has embodied in the financial, social and cultural realms of India and its most influential incarnation is the sphere of radicalism and militancy. Signature activities of militant Hindutva include violence such as deliberate anarchy; the closure of 100 churches in 2018;the bomb blast of Samjhauta express; the anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat 2002; thousands of deaths during anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984; vicious assaults on lower caste Dalits and the brutal death of India’s revolutionary leader Gandhi. Despite having strong evidence in most instances, victims of such crimes mostly avoided the repercussions of their acts. Now Indian society has accepted the alteration of glorifying Hindu extremism. The most prominent instance is two times election victories of the current Indian Prime Minister Modi, who was the driving force behind the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom.Hindutva’s extremist philosophy is once again capable of dictating the sociopolitical existence of India when Narendra Modi, who once operated as the main Hindu nationalist leader, gained power.

During the recent Delhi Riots, Indian government immediately claimed that the bloodshed was random as the neighbourhoods in India’s capital were burning and bloodletting engulfed about 40 bodies, most of them Muslim. The killings were neither accidental nor unwarned but they were inevitable due to continuous detest by Hindutva extremists towards Muslims. The initiatives of PM Narendra Modi have imposed tyranny, seized organizations and fostered religious hate. Methodically, the persistence of Modi’s policies is producing a toxic Hindu extremist environment.BJP government has appointed most heads of the major universities and cultural institutions from factions of extremist Hindu nationalist allies. Place names have been modified – even in the curriculum – to play down the connection of Muslims to India and to give Hindutva ideology most prominent position. With these policies in hands, it was just being a matter of time before everything blows up and Delhi riots are just a genesis of future religious conflicts in India. Several Muslim Indians have already claimed that they never feel so oppressed.

The official policy is skewed towards Indian Muslims and the whole society is at the crossroads. Terrorist activities and Muslims are often associated with each other because that is the natural understanding propagated by Hindu nationalists. BJP’s leadership has openly categorized Muslims as terrorists and suggested: “to feed them bullets, not biryani.”There are numerous, profound and long term implications of this witch hunt for Muslims. Hindutva outfits act in secrecy to carry out their dark plans with a veil of tradition. The false flag operations, the Malegaon Blast by Abhinav Bharat, Hement Karkare’s assassination and death of Advocate ShahidAzmi are major instances of Hindutva terrorist activities.

India is also at the brink of a new form of religious polarization in the latest crisis created by Covid-19. Thanks to the efforts of Hindutva nationalists, the Indian government is also scapegoating Muslims for the spread of the coronavirus. BJP’s leaders in India are calling for a boycott to do business with Muslims by spreading rumours that Muslim vendors are infecting vegetables with saliva. The pandemic has offered Hindu nationalists a fresh chance to suppress an otherwise vulnerable minority community and Indian Muslims are sensing more terror against them by Hindutva fanatics. 

Although the social inequalities in India remain a cause for alarm, the senseless aggression of its military is getting increasingly worrisome. PM Modi upset the whole India as he denied the decade-old tradition of giving the Indian army baton to the senior general as head of military forces; rather, by superseding two well-regarded generals in December 2016, he appointed hardcore Hindutva nationalist General Bipin Rawat. Subsequently, Modi has also created the Department of Military Affairs and institutionalised the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to further adjust General Rawat into mainstream military decision making. Given the hawkish approach to Kashmir and other current insurgencies in India by General Rawat and the spreading of BJP’s nationalist narrative, the change was perceived as a politicizing the army.The infamous release under bail and reintegration into the Army of an intelligence officer after completing nine years incarcerated for violence and terrorism indictments further illustrate India’s military alliance with ultra-right-wing nationalist terrorism. Lt. Col. ShirkantPurohit is claimed to be the creator of another radical Hindu extremist party, Abhinav Bharat and he was also active in many militant assaults targeting Muslims under the influence Hindutva or Saffron terrorism.

As India aims to reach the global community and prove its international superiority, the world must be mindful of the transformation of India from a democratic and thriving society into a suffocating repressive religious ideology. The world must take note of the 2020 Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which recommends entitling India as “country of particular concern” for instituting national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims, and much more. Whereas in India Muslims are being murdered, the majority of the world is too sluggish to denounce these atrocities. Increased regional radicalisation and terror threats would be motivated by the Modi regime’s ability to carry on with its ideology of Hindutva. The international community must start paying more emphasis on countering Hindutva and saffron terrorism.

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