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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

The Need for Feminist Foreign Policy in India

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As more and more research is being done, there is a definitive link that connects gender equality with international prosperity and welfare; giving an equal opportunity for half the population can’t be just out of moral obligation. It is necessary for the economy and security of a nation. Currently, with resources that are in short supply, the way to maintain a good governance, growth in the economy, health, peace and security is to invest in women and girls. Various countries are promoting gender equality through development, diplomatic and security activities. Countries like Sweden, Canada, France and Mexico have adopted a comprehensive foreign policy that advances gender equality called “Feminist Foreign Policy.” India as a rising great power has to consider a more inclusive foreign policy.

Gender is hardly recognized or given importance when it comes to policy conversations, even though it plays a significant role in peace and security. It is often considered that it side-tracks the main problems with regard to international security and great power competition. However, there is no need for the contradiction between the two. A sign to see how far gender equality is embedded in society is to know the number of women in leadership positions, specifically in departments of security or even the academic study of security where the number of women is less.

According to research, women’s engagement in economics, politics, peace, and security procedures will result in stronger economic development, fewer human rights violations, and peace. Women empowerment is important for a country that aims to promote global security, increase the use of their foreign aid and continue to support stable and democratic allies. In the previous decade, numerous nations have adopted gender mainstreaming in their foreign policy. The critical areas of progress that have systematized gender equality are administration, strategy, and resource management. This comprehensive effort of bringing in gender equality in foreign policy is called as Feminist Foreign Policy. A foreign policy with a political framework focused on the security and safety of the marginalized community can be defined as a Feminist Foreign Policy.

The approach for defining and adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy will vary between counties and regions, depending on their lived experiences. However, that a conversation on Feminist Foreign Policy is an important one is under no debate, happening at a time when gender norms are evolving in our society. In the present-day scenario, there are countries around the world have laws preventing women from carrying out jobs in sectors like mining, manufacturing and construction, and millions of women live in countries where domestic violence is not punishable, gender mainstreaming in broader policy objectives and wider adoption of FFP can shape the future of our civilization.

In India’s foreign aid and assistance gender can be highlighted in bilateral as well as through multilateral institutions, directly impacting the neighborhood, as well as partners in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific and Small Island countries.

In a historic feat, India was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on June 18, 2020.  Following that, India also became a member of the prestigious UN Commission on the Status of Women in September 2020. India committed to pay attention to its efforts on peacekeeping, peacebuilding and women’s inclusion. In August, 2021 India assumed a month long UNSC presidency where it ended with its first resolution being passed on the Afghanistan situation demanding that the territory not be used for training terrorists. India’s diplomatic framework has embraced tools for soft power. The strategic moves taken up by India can be seen as step towards uplifting women.

A feminist foreign policy would give India a chance to create a beneficial surrounding for peace, remove domestic barriers against women, and also help in building strong bilateral partnerships. With India being surrounded by adversaries along its borders, this approach would also allow India to show itself as a nation that gives importance to various issues; have a better performance in indicators and indexes that are curated to assess the development of countries and gender gap such as the Global Gender Index and Gender Inequality Index; set an example for other nations and contribute continuously towards women empowerment.

It could also be a starting point for an internal shift with regards to India’s domestic context, particularly in terms of preconceived patriarchal gender roles, in which women are seen to be inferior to men. Empirical research has mentioned that for a progressive social and economic development of a nation, gender equality is a requirement. By removing the prevailing barriers that restrict the participation of women and other communities that are marginalized, India would develop a more inclusive policy. Domestic policies need to have a gendered lens that can protect the marginalized. Without having a balance internally, a feminist foreign policy will not sustain.

An FFP will give a major boost to the country’s international relations when its committed to women empowerment and extensively build a stronger partnership with countries that have adopted feminist foreign policy, for example, countries like Mexico, Canada and Sweden or those that are supporters of gender equality. Thus, FFP would allow India to deepen its commitments and make an impact as an emerging power.

Giving importance to human security and gender issues, would put India in a better position to achieve its international power ambitions. India slipped to 140th rank from 112th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2020 – 2021. This is primarily due to the lack of political representation, absence of technical and leadership roles, inequal income, reducing women labour force participation rate, lack of proper health care and the literacy ratio gap between men and women.

A major boost for India would be a significantly better performance in the Global Gender Gap Index. This would lead to India becoming a role model for various countries. India can be an example by achieving gender parity in a variety of social indicators that is very important to assess a country’s development.

India’s record on women’s rights—or rather, women’s oppression—makes it far-fetched to quickly and successfully take on an FFP structure. Man-centric qualities are so profoundly instilled inside Indian culture that India has barely figured out how to achieve an adjustment of the arrangement of disparity at home. Subsequently, it does not have the credibility to take up feminist qualities in its international partnerships. An FFP approach may not just help India in cultivating imaginative ways of reasoning, yet in addition permit it to expand upon its traditional perspective on security, work with various representations, and develop strong bilateral partnerships.

Before adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy, India also needs to bring a change within the policies of the country. It is crucial for women to shape the outcomes and can’t just be receptacles, especially in peacebuilding, reconstruction and rebuilding. There are more women joining the Indian Foreign Service, but the Ministry has to make sure that they are taken up to the highest rank. The thought that women can’t handle challenging issues must be changed.

A feminist foreign policy would provide equal opportunity and basic human rights to women, girls, and other marginalised communities. A feminist foreign policy will aid India’s bilateral and multilateral alliances, as well as its attainment of great power status. For a feminist foreign policy to succeed, a country must first establish gender equality within its borders.

 Gender is clearly a significant factor in India’s development assistance. It must, however, be expanded to include other aspects of economy and security. Gender equality must be implemented within India. More women in government are needed.

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Crisis in Sri Lanka and The India-South Asia Challenges: Way Forward

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Authors: Dr Aditya Anshu and Nipun Tyagi*

Lot of articles and theories which are describing the current state of Sri Lanka and major factors that contributed towards the deteriorating performance of Sri Lankan economy. The ongoing Sri Lankan crisis has been examined by experts from global economic perspective and regional security but India as a country faces multi-faceted challenges, which must be managed sensibly. The approach of India should be balanced and crafted politically as well as diplomatically to protect the strategic Indian interest in Indo pacific region and to counter the influence of China and its expansionist policy.

To believe economist and experts on Sri Lanka, the blame initially was colored upon the COVID 19 pandemic for economic fall and disparity that engulfed the Island nation. It was argued trade has been adversely hit, the foreign remittances from the tourist were near to none, which possibly caters biggest foreign currency deposit. To add, the series of deadly bomb blast in 2019 at Colombo could be direct possible connection towards the decreasing number of tourists in Sri Lanka. Hitherto no expert or possible specialist cared to argue the failure of Rajapaksa brothers far-right nationalist policy of last 10 years was creating a liability trap for Sri Lanka along with creating deep cleavage in peaceful multicultural society.

The ramifications of the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia are also creating difficulties and is one of the other prominent factors for the sluggish economic conditions of Sri Lanka. The Russia – Ukraine war has further exacerbated the economic calamity of the country as Russia is the second biggest market to Sri Lanka in tea exports. On the other hand, Sri Lanka’s tourism sector is heavily reliant upon these two nations for the tourist arrivals. As a result, the Ukrainian crisis has further created an adverse graph of already ailing economy of Sri Lanka. 

When Rajapaksa-led governments, liaising with extremist Buddhist ideology, entered with full majority in Sri Lankan political regime post 2009. This resulted in the end of over the ground ethnic persecution of Tamil and other minorities community. However, the persecution and intimidation continued in more subtle and systematic way for Tamils and other minority groups resulting division, hate and selective development. Being anti-minority became the symbol of jingoistic nationalism which helped Rajapaksa winning elections for next two decades.

On the Indian domestic front, Congress and other opposition parties are comparing Indian economy and its slothful growth with Sri Lankan crisis and blaming government for inflation, food crisis, rising unemployment and imbalance of economic situations. Significantly, inter-religion conflicts, caste division, income disparity and rising unemployment in India has been severely criticized by opposition parties and civil society groups drawing similarity of parallel class conflicts in Sri Lanka during the period of 1990 till now. The political parties alleged that ruling BJP is adopting the same Sri Lankan pattern to prosecute the minorities and ignoring economic turbulence which can be resulted for crashing Indian economy in the long run. But in view of scholars and academics it would be too early to comment on the opposition political parties assertion on government and about the Indian economy’s performance, nevertheless India needs to seriously monitor the situation with caution that is developing in Sri Lanka on various-fronts.

The first and the foremost issue which needs to be handled cautiously will be that of displaced migrants landing on Indian shores. The impact of the Sri Lankan crisis can increase the burden of refuges towards India. It will be very challenging for India to absorb the possible migration from Sri Lankan for food, shelter, and job opportunities; creating clusters in southern cites in which they can be deprived of basic human needs and rights. To cater women and children will not only be tasking for India but also can create a situation like Rohingya crisis. The proximity of Sri Lankan peoples to southern Indian states can help them to enter Indian territories which may disturb the sovereignty, regional stability, and could be the cause of national security of the country. “There is no accurate data on the number of refugees, but India has about 400,000 refugees including 238,222 recognized and documented refugees according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Report, 2021.

The second issue of concern for Indian government is to handle security challenges, regional security, peace and maintenance of law and order in India and South Asia. There are several reports which indicated the presence of Islamic State (IS) and other terror outfits active in southern states of India which can manipulate and employ the poor migrants landing on Indian shores for terror and illegal activities.  Investigation in a series of cases by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), a federal agency to counter terror has revealed numerous times about the strong presence of Islamic State (IS) in the southern states of India.  The Ministry of Home Affairs confirmed in the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) of Parliament on 16 September 2020 about 17 cases registered related to the presence of Islamic State (IS) by in southern States of Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu resulting to arrest of 122 accused.

There is no doubt that deep set networks for terror finance, extreme ideology and human resources connected with Sri Lanka exist in parts of Southern India. It is already evident after the terror events of 2019 in Sri Lanka and activation of all these will spell potential threat to security of South-Asia in general and India in particular.  The IS and other terrorist organization may take the advantage of internal violence and fragile administrative capability in Sri Lanka and can become serious threats for India’s national security.

To extend further, it would be very dangerous for the country like India to have the political and economic instability in neighboring countries as near as Sri Lanka. This might trigger a ‘domino-effect’ in the region, creating socio-economic imbalance in South-Asia.  The recent political and economic changes in Sri Lanka have created a threat for India’s vision for regional stability and security in South-Asia region.  In 2014 government of India launched Act East policy focusing on boosting economic co-operation, building infrastructure for greater connectivity, improving important strategic & security ties, and Greater focus on defense cooperation with East and Southeast Asia countries. India’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy towards Sri Lanka had resonated with Sri Lanka’s ‘India First’ foreign and security policy in 2020. Therefore, the role of India becomes very important as well as challenging, to help the Sri Lanka maintain its peaceful internal order and to counter the debt trap policy of China.

Geopolitical experts have also argued that India can make use of this opportunity to revamp its diplomatic ties with Sri Lanka, which have been at distant owing Sri Lanka’s proximity with China under Rajapaksa’s rule. It would be strategically and geopolitically important for India to extend assistance to Sri Lanka during this crisis times for a better and conducive atmosphere in southern Indian ocean area.

Sri Lanka’s economic collapse may be an opportunity for India to swing the pendulum back with massive financial assistance to Sri Lanka. This has been followed up with India’s four-pronged economic and financial assistance approach to Sri Lanka. It includes credit lines for the import of food, fuel, and medicines; currency swaps to boost foreign exchanges; modernization; and holistic investments, in the sectors of renewable energy, ports, logistics, infrastructure, connectivity, and maritime security.

As a friendly and cooperative neighbor, India must carry multiple role and responsibility for Sri Lanka’s political stability, economic recovery, and strategic security where with right-intent diplomatic strategy is the key to determining India’s geopolitical influence in the region to counter interventionist China and its not so friendly policies. We cannot ignore the fact that turmoil in Sri Lanka is always perceived to influence India. That was in a speech by the then US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in the 2009 edition of the “Shangri La Dialogue”, when he said, “We look to India to be a partner and net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond…”. It  is the time for India to come forward and prove it .

*Nipun Tyagi is scholar of Defense & Strategic Studies and Currently looks the International Office at Bennet University, India.

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Understanding Current Economic Havoc in Pakistan

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Economic position of Pakistan is incompatible with its economic potential. It has wide range of natural resources encompassing, reserves for chemical, industrial, and textile businesses. It also possesses prevalent network of rivers i.e. support for agro-production and huge potential of hydroelectric energy generation. As well as, it has opulent mountainous ranges containing precious minerals like copper, gold, granite etc. Above and beyond, the country is rich in other economic ignitors like agro-industry, livestock, construction industry, tourism, and small manufacturing industries. Despite such huge economic capability and ingenious global-market-penetration capacity, the country still fails to turn its status as a developed economy.

Surely, one will eagerly strive to dig out the stumbling block that halts economic development in the country. Reason is apparent i.e. archaic, oblivious and biased policy mechanism, comprised of, obsolescent policy framework, egocentric political frat and inapt intervention of transnational entities in policy structure.

Policymaking fraternity in Pakistan seems inept at managing the crisis with prescience due to unawareness of modern-global policy making tools. They appear to be inexperienced in dealing with the colossal economic disorder because of frail strategic approach for resource management and lack of expertise to prioritize best choice during policy formulation. This incompetence, in policy machinery, paves the way for an unending jumble of economic crisis in the state. 

Moreover, the policies in Pakistan remained prey of vested interests of political leaders. The elected public representatives appear to be more focused on personal gains regardless of public welfare. So forth, the country’s political culture is transformed from serving people to tug of war for reigns of governance. This paradigm shift in political role of leaders created an environment of wandering competition between different political groups. On one hand certain political groups have joined together to jolt their common opponent through all possible gambits. On the other hand the latter try to revive its governance control by hook or crook. Resultantly, the economic affairs of the state are ruined by the unsympathetic leaders, who, deemed to fail in addressing the remedies to eradicate the current economic turmoil from the country.

Additionally, the transnational companies cause a severe threat to economic activity in Pakistan. They play a major role in downgrading the policy making process in the country. The companies influence the policy makers to drive the policies in their favor to boost their market share for retaining their decades-long monopoly in open market. This monopolized market structure minimizes the opportunity for new entrepreneurs and creates a gap in demand and supply of commodities. Resultantly, a market in-equilibrium appears in the country which further exaggerates the rise in prices and leave people with minimal choice of commodities.

Consequently, the above perils drowned the country into economic catastrophe. Foreign debt burden, imbalance of payments, high inflation rates, low production and depreciation of currency created a dilemma of muddle for financial institutions of the country. Most of the industries including automobile, textile, stock market, agricultural production and transportation are at the brink of fiasco. The incumbent government is looking feebly towards IMF for bailouts on hard conditions that further will increase debt burden on the ex-chequer of Pakistan. State bank reserves are declining swiftly. Consequently, tax burden on public commodities is increasing day by day. Simultaneously, consistent increase in dollar rate puts pressure on Pakistani rupee. Import of products like Mineral fuels including oil, electrical equipment, iron, steel, pharmaceuticals, Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes, plastics, plastic articles, organic chemicals, oil seeds, in short, each and every commodity of day to day utility has become more costly. Down to that an overall inflation is raising its head which further ignites poverty in the country. Moreover, hike in petroleum prices owing to twofold reason i.e. global price increase due to Russia-Ukraine War and IMF conditions to impose petroleum development levy, aggrandized heavy tolls on transportation, food industry and  other economic activities around the country.

 Thus, for a prosperous economic state, it is need of the hour to ponder over the above roots of the current economic turmoil and eradicate the menaces with prudence and efficient manner. Policy makers should adapt modern approaches while policy formulation. They should include most of the options with clarity and succinct way to remove all kinds of uncertainties and to prioritize the best one amongst the chosen ones for implementation. Politics should be for public service not for self-interests. Political groups should reevaluate their vision and endeavor for the country to make it a shining star in the galaxy of the world. Policy implementation should be equitable and equal. Intervention of transnational business groups and pressure groups in policy procedures should be condemned. Market competition must be supported through easy and doable policies for new entrepreneurs. So that, a healthy competition between the entities may be created to maintain market equilibrium and eradicate monopoly of fewer business units.  

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