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Indo-Nepal Face off: Coercive vs. Soft Power inter-positioning in Regional Politics

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A new 80 km-long road was inaugurated by the Indian defence minister on May 8. 2020, at Lipulekh pass to connect its border with China at the backyard of India, however, without making any diplomatic consultations with Nepal. Originally, the territory became controversial in 1998 when the Nepalese government raised the issue over the location of river, and consequently its territoriality at Kalapani. The Indian act of May 8, was immediately contested and then followed by several retaliatory moves with Nepali police forces deployed in the region. Nepal even summoned the Indian ambassador in Kathmandu. A highly controversial conjecture between the two erstwhile friendly Nepal-India relations was resulted in the initiation of successful constitutional amendment by the pro-China government of the Prime Minister Oli from its parliament. His party credentials are predominantly pro-communist. Nepal decided to reclaim 400 sq km of approximate land from India.  On the other hand, In a lukewarm reaction, India initially postponed its geo-strategic concerns till the end of COVID 19 contrary to the statement given by the India’s Ministry of External Affairs whereby, recognizing that there is a dispute which requires a diplomatic solution. Nonetheless, the coercive tools have been appreciatively kept at bay much to the opposition of the worried demand in India itself.

In any case, emboldened by its increasing lineage towards China, much braver Nepal could logjam the bothersome crisis successfully. What made the Prime Minister Oli put up a brave face with a multifold greater military and nuclear power of India? Is India’s claim of a regional power, backed by the US policy in Asia questioned? Are all comparatively smaller peripheral states of India clubbing together to challenge its expansionist policies or India could no more trample over the region and faces competitive challenger? India’s overstretching in Maldives in the aftermath of 2017-2018 Doklam crisis, conflicts with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are all precedence to the non-compliance with the India’s masque rated big brother intimidation. Ruling through causing fear is always counter -productive.  Hence, is it a revolt against the much pronounced Hindutva ideology enwrapping India itself speedily with monolithic claims of ancestry? The counter claims could also bea fence against non-secular interventions in the young democracies at its backyard countries. In either case it is certainly a yet another constitutional and democratic expression of protest, perhaps not as emphatic and painful like the dissent in the Indian Occupied Kashmir after the unconstitutional abrogation of  Article 370 which granted a special status to the Muslim state, gradually picking up the watershed status in the foreign policy status. Kashmir lies close to the neighborhood of Nepal in the peaceful and picturesque foothills of Himalayan Mountains. The domino effect is steady. 

 India had kept an effective possession of this territory for at least sixty years despite the fact that Nepal conducted census there in the early 1950s.It is also highlighted in a detailed and concretely researched essay by Sam Cowan. In fact, a part from Kalapani, there is also a second dispute with India in the Susta river border region. India had however, controlled this territory of Kalapani for long. Apart from conducting its administration and deploying military forces up to the border pass with China, India introduced several infrastructural changes as well uninterruptedly for several years. This strategically important link at the tri-junction of India, Tibet and Nepal in Kalapani provides one of the quickest accesses for thousands of Hindus trekking across the border to visit the sacred Mount of Kalash. The religious significance is as valuable for India and holds the civilian and the military control of the region.

Politically, at its home front, these structural changes by India in the region were a blessing in disguise for Prime Minister Oli’s government who otherwise was under severe pressure of the opposition. They all got united and fueled an uproar across-partisan, nationalist opposition against India and decided to constitutionally approve the geographical definition of its boundaries in the region, unanimously. Although, Nepali government was closely monitoring the situation in Kalapani over the preceding months and years; the Indian government continued to include the territories claimed by Nepal; yet revocation of the Article 370 in August 5, 2019, made the watershed for the region as well. The blatant violation of the international law by an emerging economy of South Asia posed a pronouncedly destabilizing atmosphere. India was no more offering a comfortable harbor to the smaller nations in its neighborhood. Government in Kathmandu took it up officially and publically.  Brewing for several years, it even became a popular issue in Nepal, with the hashtag #BackOffIndia trending on social media. Anti-Indian sentiments have already been running high amongst the predominantly young population of the landlocked country of Nepal though had been alleged as “at the behest of a third party”, by the Indian Chief of Army Staff. He is obviously alluding China.

On the other hand, much to the disappointment of India, Nepal had already chosen not to attend a multilateral BIMSTEC counter-terrorism exercise hosted by India, in 2018. Nepal considers BIMSTEC as an anti-China military alliance driven by India. Similarly, the US sponsored MCC grant to upgrade the Nepal’s electricity transmission system and connect it to the Indian power grid was also vehemently opposed. Conversely, China has been the only regional and the international power deepening its heels in the region with its massive BRI project along with several smaller supplementary projects for the smaller regional countries as its allies.

At the same time, Nepal’s foreign policy has also been gradually embracing a motivational and futuristic curve for external balancing and diversification since the recent years. The leadership of its Foreign Minister, Pradeep Gyawali has given a new impetus to its foreign policy. The participation in the Fourth Indian Ocean Conference, held in the Maldives in 2019, by Nepal’s Foreign Minister further augments Kathmandu’s widening and ambitious geostrategic horizons. They are meant to place Nepal as a critical connectivity pivot between China, South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.

One agrees with C. Raja Mohan no less, who has identified several choking points in the territorial dispute as“a symptom of the structural changes unfolding in the external and internal context of the bilateral relationship” between India and Nepal. India’s reference to its exclusive sphere of influence or satellite statehood with a mindset of colonialism in the neighborhood no more holds the cogency particularly vis a vis China’s soft power interpositions. The economic delivery will be certainly more powerful to make the mare go and hold a sustainable relevance to the regional politics in South Asia. India needs to come up with something as substantive to remain vital in the regional politics of South Asia.

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South Asia

Application of Galtung’s ABC Model on the Naxalite Insurgency of India

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The conflict analysis model proposed by Johan Galtung in 1969 includes both symmetric and asymmetric conflicts. In the author’s opinion, a conflict can be viewed as a triangle whose sides are represented by A (attitude), B (behaviors) and C (contradictions.

Figure 1 GALTUNG’S ABC MODEL

The Naxalite Insurgency

The Naxalite revolt which developed in the 1960’s is the most seasoned of all. The Naxalite revolt gets its underlying foundations from a remote town called Naxalbari in West Bengal. They are the progressive communists bunches resulting from Sino-soviet split in Indian Communist Movement. The Naxalite uprising is a low-level war of Maoists against the Indian government. The insurrection began as a labor resistance in the eastern Indian town of Naxalbari in 1967 and has now spread to an extensive swath in the southern and eastern parts of the nation. In 2004 the Maoist dissident association People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Center of India converged to shape the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The Movement was driven by Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal.

Contradictions

The main conflict includes real or perceived “incompatibility of goals” between the conflicting parties. In symmetrical conflicts, the contradiction is defined by the parties, their interests and conflicts of interests. In asymmetric conflicts, the contradiction is defined by the parties, the relationship between them and the conflict within this relationship.

Before continuing with Galtung’s model analysis, it is necessary to highlight the differences between symmetric and asymmetric conflicts. When A and B have a relatively similar or equal position and they enter into a conflict due to diverging interests; we are talking about a symmetrical conflict. When in the relationship between A and B one of the parties has a clearly superior standing compared to the other (i.e. a clear situation of inequality between the two sides); we are referring to asymmetric conflict. This type of conflict occurs between the majority and a minority, between a government and a rebel group, between an employer and his employees, or between a master and his servants (“Transforming Civil Conflicts”, The Network University. The University of Amsterdam, June 2000).

A conflict in Galtung’s view = attitude + behavior + contradiction, where contradiction (C) is the root of the conflict, and attitude (A) and behavior (B) are meta-conflicts after (C). CAB is a possible example of a conflict sequence starting objectively with an attitude of inner life that is expressed externally through violent or not verbal and / or physical behavior. This definition helps us to talk about the CAB as a guiding conflict theory, as a dynamic phase of the conflict, or as an approach to solutions (Galtung, 2007, 22).

The contradiction here in this conflict is inequality and dispute over political rights and resources. The Naxalites get most help from Dalits and Adivasis. Together they sum for one fourth of India’s population; a large portion of them live in rural India. Their bases for supporting the insurgency includes unemployment, new timberland provisions with confinement for their jobs, cultural degradation, feeble access to social education, confined and constrained access to regular assets, social abominations, relocation, political underestimation and suppression of rebellions. The affected areas have rich mineral resources but the inapproachability and negligence of the government is another which has kept the insurgency alive.

The demands of the insurgents are not of succession rather they demand their democratic rights. They want the government to implement improvements in the farming sector, give accommodations and full authority to the farmers, and abandon all private finances taken by the agricultural community to stop suicides by farmers, prepare a lasting and unified plan for tackling the scarcity situation and to be given equal opportunities, jobs, education, acceptance from the upper caste people.

Attitudes

Includes the perception of the parties; It can be positive or negative, strongly negative especially in violent conflicts when the parties develop humiliating stereotypes about each other. Attitude consists of emotive and affective components (I like or I do not like X), cognitive components (favorable or unfavorable information about X) and cognitive/ behavioral components (desire, will).

Attitudes or we say perception of conflicting parties, i.e., Government of India and Naxal rebel’s groups are entirely negative. Indian government thinks of it as a national security threat and wants to counter it one way or the other. In 2006, the Ex-Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh called the Naxalites “The single greatest inward security challenge.” As the insurgency is not in just one part of the country but it is expanding in many regions which is a serious threat to the state’s internal security. While the rebel groups being untouchables, think of the government as racist and discriminatory and want equal rights and opportunities as any other Indian.

Behavior

Involves cooperation or coercion / conciliation or hostility regarding the behavior, in case of violent conflict we talk about threats, coercion or destructive attacks.

The Indian National Congress is India’s oldest party. Hence has seen a number of conflicts and insurgencies. The INC government sought after a double pronged approach depended on military and cruel police activities.

SalwaJudum was launched as part of counterinsurgency strategy by the Indian government. The Naxals and SalwaJudum used to assault each other with much greater savagery; numerous individuals were killed by Naxals and SalwaJudum. The SalwaJudum was at long last prohibited by the Supreme Court in 2011 for damaging human rights and the Constitution itself. The government then presented “Operation Green Hunt”, an organized activity over a few states (Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal among others), to handle Naxalism. But the operation was also a failure.

The government then realized that using the military on their own people is not the solution to the problem hence, they made some developments in the affected regions but it did not give long lasting results; it resulted in the failure of the policies of Indian National Congress.

Andhra Pradesh has the best strategies to counter the Naxalite insurgents among all affected states. It perceived the Naxalite insurrection as a genuine risk. It has put resources into the Greyhounds; a unit arranged for a counterinsurgency reaction and has given extensive recovery bundles to repatriate the previous Naxalites.

They likewise made a few projects to help police faculty and their families if executed in the line of duty. Andhra Pradesh’s counterinsurgency approach is unmatched in the whole country.

The Naxalite rebellion entered in these states later. They are the most badly influenced states because of their topography and demography. Because of a crackdown by police and military against the naxalites, the movement spread into many states. Since these states have a huge population and forested territory, they were the ideal areas for the guerillas to develop. None of these states has a solid counterinsurgency approach. Chhattisgarh has connected comparable guerrilla strategies and many operations like Operation Shikhar, Operation X, Operation Thunder and Operation Hill Top but neither of these operations have been able to purge the insurgency in the state. Jharkhand has led a few hostile activities, Odhisa uptil now have no strategies that can manage the uprisings. Every one of the three states is rich with mineral resources but none of them have powerful counterinsurgency technique. West Bengal is relatively successful in countering insurgency. The state government additionally got assistance from the central government.

The BJP government counterinsurgency strategy against the Naxalites combines a twofold unit approach; one approach is to utilize safety powers to create security whereas the other is winning hearts and minds of the overall public. Past governments utilized the relative systems, yet in light of a nonappearance of coordination and uneven execution between influenced states, it didn’t give incredible results.

Social and economic inequity is seen as the main drivers of the Naxalite insurrection. Accordingly, the BJP government has reported sweeping policy, which incorporates improvement measures to manage social and economic degradation. The government has invested in the expansion of infrastructure which includes the creation of communication linkage and rail and road accessibility also in educating and providing basic services to the people. The number of violence decreased during BJP’s time period, the credit is not alone to BJP government but also to previous governments.

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Is Peace possible in Afghanistan without a clear vision?

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photo: UNAMA/Mujeeb Rahman

Peace is the absence of war, while war is the absence of peace! A negotiated peace in Afghanistan presents a number of challenges. The duration of the war over several decades has created a number of situations, that requires an in-depth examination in light of the peace negotiations that took place between the United States and the Taliban leading to the signing of an agreement without inputs from the Afghan government in spite of their being a strategic partner of the United States.

The war has been a very costly undertaking both in financial and human terms.

On the human side, there has been a large number of civilian casualties and a flow of both internal refugees and those that have fled to neighbouring countries, Iran, and Pakistan in particular. Will the conditions of peace allow their return and what employment possibilities will they find? In particular will the professionals and corporate managers of the diaspora return?

On the financial side, the income of the Government of Afghanistan is too meagre to finance the rebuilding of the country. Will the United States and other major donors such as the World Bank contribute in a significant way to assist in this momentous effort?

Afghanistan’s geographic position has attracted major powers in the past. How will the country still be viewed as a masterpiece in the Great Game and will it continue to be subject to constant instability?  Corruption may well prove to be one of the most important barriers to development. What policies can be put in place to reduce, or eliminate, corruption? What process will be put in place to disarm both the Taliban and the other armed groups to prevent a civil war?

Why do powerful countries always easily achieve their goals in Afghanistan? The answer is simple, because some leaders are ready to do anything to gain power by asking for the support of these countries. In order to be able to bring political stability to Afghanistan, it is essential and indispensable that the Afghan leaders come to an understanding among themselves in order to have internal stability. As soon as they manage to put this in place, they will have moral authority over powerful countries with a specific, clear, and lasting purpose for Afghanistan. Presently its political leaders are ready to negotiate in an aggressive, competitive, egocentric, and defensive manner to have the power in order to remain in their current positions without worrying about the interests of the country or the people.

Often, we hear that Afghanistan is a strategically positioned country. Of course, Afghanistan is well placed, but our analysis is different: we believe that something else is more important than that situation. Afghanistan is a weaker country in the region with leaders who are only interested in political power, with a lack of global vision for the development of the nation:  this is the reason why every powerful country achieves its goals very easily across Afghanistan, according to its wishes. At any time, they may abandon Afghanistan. At the same time, Afghanistan faces major economic and development challenges. Although the country is rich in natural resources, gas, minerals, and oil (estimated at over a trillion dollars), insecurity, war, lack of infrastructure, weak leaders, have limited the possibilities of finding and extracting these resources and Afghanistan is still among the poorest countries in the world.

Each country has its advantages and disadvantages, but Afghanistan has two major drawbacks that need to be addressed:

1) Very weak leaders or leaders by accident, who think only of their personal interests and who settle in power for life.

2) As mentioned above, Afghanistan is the weakest country in the region.

Every leader, when he comes to power, forgets his real job, which is to create enduring systems and values ​​for today, tomorrow and the day after, and at least reduce existing problems and use their power to serve the people and the country, instead of monopolizing this power for personal interests.

On the contrary, unfortunately, when a leader comes to power, he increases the problem because he thinks traditionally, and above all he puts his relatives in the most important positions, without looking at their qualifications, because competence is less important than relational confidence.

Although there are very qualified people, but since they do not belong to the ethnicity of the political leaders, and share their point of view, thinking more for the country than their private interests, such kind of people have very little place in the mind of these leaders.

Today, politics in Afghanistan is becoming like a business, and everyone is doing politics … However, the real job is still abandoned, because the vast majority of the People no longer trust the Politicians, and even the real ones, those Politicians who want to change something for their country.

Before having to manage peace, they must understand why we are at war. The war in Afghanistan has five dimensions:

1. A leadership crisis, meaning that the Afghan leaders do not agree with each other and look at power sharing.

2. Certain countries of the region, and more particularly Pakistan, are very involved in Afghanistan, which they destabilise.

3. Major powers, too, have their own agendas on the region.

4. Certain countries support terrorism and extremist groups.

5. The negotiation process must be led not by politicians, but by neutral Afghan experts.

Therefore, we make the following recommendations:

1.Encourage the leaders to have a government in which no single ethnic group monopolizes power. There should be one president and four vice-presidents. Each two years a rotation of the president would be put in place. The entire mandate would be limited to ten years. This would allow power sharing that would prevent having one ethnic group monopolising power through a rotation system of two years as President.     

This proposal would definitely solve the power problem while also allowing for government savings of time and money.

2.The United States should intervene in Pakistan to force a peace process between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan has been a major destabiliser in the region by harbouring terrorists and using them as their second army as indicated by several international sources. Should this problem not be solved, it would become, sooner or later, a global threat for democracy and humanity. It would not be a good inheritance for the future world leaders.

President Joe Biden, mentioned that the United States would again lead the world, we strongly believe that the above issue should be a priority, failing what, it may be too late to bring peace to the region and worldwide. The United States should avoid countries that back terrorism and, particularly, those actions that kill children and humanitarian workers.

3.As a major power, the presence of the United States in Afghanistan could develop a strong relationship, instead of a partnership, just as the United States has done in other countries, providing its presence in the area is of interest. This would be a break from the present situation in which the Afghan population lacks a clear understanding of its position. Should the United States develop a mutually beneficial relationship, the Afghan population would strongly support it.  A complete departure before peace puts in danger democracy, women, and children not only in Afghanistan but also worldwide.

4.The United States, as a powerful country, should sanction all countries, or groups and persons, that support terrorism, wherever the terrorists may wish to strike. As an example, economic sanctions banning the purchase of military material should be implemented. Doing so in Pakistan would be a good starting point.

5.The negotiation process cannot be done by people that are thirsty for power and have no vested interest in peace as they hold power. We would suggest that the negotiation process be led by neutral experts with politicians and the civil society backing-up them.

We are certain, if the United States takes into consideration the five points mentioned above, the peace process will be successful and lead to stability in the area. If there is no peace in Afghanistan, there will be a major threat in the area in the region and in the world. Afghanistan is the first line of defence against terrorism not only for themselves, but also for the entire world.

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Major Modi Programs Meet Success … And Failure

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modi airplane

A much admired quality, initiative, can in a leader improve the lives of his people.  The key of course is well considered and clearly thought-out initiatives. 

In his long political career Narendra Modi, the current prime minister of India has introduced some startling initiatives, although often with mixed results.

His clean India campaign aimed at ending open defecation, common in rural areas and estimated to be practiced by 620 million or by half of India’s population, was lauded even by opposition parties.  NGOs welcomed it and the Gates Foundation presented Mr. Modi an award.  By 2019, 110 million toilets had been built and there was hope that diseases like diarrhea, sometimes fatal for children, would be significantly reduced.

Rural India does not have sewage systems to remove and treat human waste.  So the toilets installed were open pit latrines requiring periodic emptying, a manual process performed by the lowest caste Indians, when available, for a fee.  In the meantime, a pervasive smell permeated the house compound.

Once toilets were built in a village, the Modi government considered it free of open defecation.  This was not factually true because installation is not the same as actual use.  No systems were in place for proper maintenance, say NGOs like RICE the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics. According to them, a survey in late 2018 revealed that some 44 percent of Indians in an area surveyed still defecated in the open, although down from 70 percent.  If one googles the question now, a figure around 620 million pops up.  That is 44 percent of India’s population of 1.4 billion, and not too different from the estimate in 2014.  To be fair the total population has increased since 2014. 

Another Modi initiative commenced just before he left on a state visit to Japan in 2016.  He delivered a speech (Nov. 8, 2016) announcing the abrupt withdrawal of 500 and 1000 rupee notes to be replaced by newly designed 500 and 2000 rupee denominations.  This would attack corruption and ferret out illegal cash holdings, he claimed.  The move removed 86% of cash in the economy almost overnight and naturally caused a liquidity crisis.

By the time Mr. Modi returned from Japan, the country was in chaos.  In a mostly cash economy, people lined up at banks to withdraw cash and presumably deposit any of the old notes in their possession.  Economic activity was disrupted, shops shuttered for lack of customers, weddings were canceled, and Indians were angry.

On Mr. Modi’s return from Japan, there was no mention of corruption — given the lines of ordinary middle class people at banks — instead it was now called a move to modernize India and turn it into a cashless economy.  How in a poor country with high illiteracy remains a mystery.  Economists now estimate the cost to the economy of Mr. Modi’s banknote initiative at roughly $15 billion or 1.5 percent of GDP.

The moral for Mr. Modi’s initiatives takes us all the way back to Aesop’s fable about the fox and the goat and the well, and its adage, ‘look before you leap’.  Unsurprisingly, Mr. Modi’s current visage has taken on the appearance of a sage even if the facts do not support it. 

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