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Analyzing the 2020 India-China Standoff

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Authors: Dhritiman Banerjee and Subarna Mustari*

The Galwan Valley clash between India and China which started on 15th June, 2020, was a result of building tensions between the border forces of the two nations since May 5along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that crosses through the valley in Ladakh. Such tensions have their roots, historically in the Sino-Indian War(1962), but more recently in both China and India’s expansion of military infrastructure along the LAC. In this article we would analyze the current Sino-Indian standoff and how this standoff would increase Sino-Indian competition in the other spheres of their influence.

Ashley J. Tellis asserts that the 2020 standoff is different from previous Chinese incursions in the LAC because unlike the discrete and localized confrontations of the past, the latest confrontations are taking place at multiple points in Ladakh which suggest a high degree of Chinese premeditation and approval of its activities from the very top of the Chinese leadership. He also states that the roots of this crisis began when India abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 dividing the state into two union territories namely Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, a move which amplified Chinese anxieties. China’s fierce opposition to this decision set the stage for the recent Chinese aggression on the Indian side of the LAC.

India’s construction of a feeder road that would connect with the road built last year from Darbuk-Shyok in Galwan Valley to Daulat Begh-Oldi was a trigger to Chinese Officials who saw this as an aggressive tilt in India’s border strategy. This road strategically connects Leh to the Daulat Begh-Oldi military airbase allowing expedient mobility of troops and equipment to the LAC. Control over this road requires a control of the Galwan valley ridgeline where the June 15 clashes took place. More importantly, control of the valley would provide India access to Aksai-Chin, which holds the Tibet-Xinjiang highway. West of DaulatBegh-Oldi is Gilgit-Baltistan, part of the POK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) region and part of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor). China is apprehensive of India’s strategic leverage in the region to compromise the CPEC. This could have a disastrous impact on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and China’s socio-economic and political stability. BRI also links to China’s own security concerns in Xinjiang and therefore any threat to the CPEC may be viewed as a threat to China’s unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. This road also raises China’s trepidations regarding Aksai-Chin which it occupied after the 1962 war.

Additionally, the remarks of Indian Union Minister, Amit Shah, in 2019,claiming the Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin to be within the territory of India had served China’s geopolitical and nationalistic insecurity no better.

However, India’s increase in military reinforcements along the LAC has been fairly recent compared to China’s long-term escalation of military presence in the area without much reaction from the Indian side. Considering these, the timing of the Galwan Valley clash, therefore, warrants two questions – First, why has India amplified its efforts along the border only in recent times? And second, why has China, despite its military superiority and claims of Indian wrongdoing, partially withdrawn its troops from the contested area?

India’s inferiority in military infrastructure compared to China but equal fever in national territorial interests gives her very little space to maneuver. However, China’s current investment in broader long-term goals might have given India that exact space. Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, China has forcefully pursued its other territorial claims, especially the control of semi-autonomous Hong Kong. Currently, Hong Kong seems to be a national priority for Beijing and the economic backlash from the more powerful US, a certainty. The US Senate on June 30thpassed sanctions on China that threaten over $1.1 trillion in funding. India’s equal threat to crackdown on Chinese Foreign Direct Investments and economic predictions of a 50% cut in Chinese FDI in India are bound to aggravate China’s conditions. Moreover, the inauguration of the Daulat Begh-Oldi Bridge amidst the height of the Hong Kong protests, China’s receding global image, and preemption of the possibility of international sanctions, points to a more strategized long-term approach than is usual for Indian defense.

These multifaceted threats justify China’s de-escalation of its current interests in the Galwan Valley. The military challenge of the LAC is a safe future gamble owing to China’s superior military resources and skill; but the national challenge of Hong Kong and apprehended economic challenges of subsequent international backlash demand a more urgent deliverance on China’s behalf. India, on the other hand, was presented with a small window of opportunity to scale up its defense along the LAC, which it seems to have taken advantage of.

Summarily, it can be claimed that adversarial relations between the two States is bound to worsen in the future and the two states will look to increase competition in their other spheres of influence including the maritime sphere. Therefore Asian waters are set to witness a more pronounced Sino-Indian rivalry. China will look to resolve its “Malacca Dilemma”, or in other words its over-dependence on the Malacca Strait for energy-security, and hence increase its presence in the Indian Ocean. An increase in Chinese presence would gravely intensify the rivalry with India which views the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as a strategic priority. Such intensification of China’s “string of pearls” strategy in the IOR which comprises of a combination of hard military tactics, political patronage, and an ever-widening list of economic dependents to gain a foothold in South Asia, will set up a direct altercation with India at sea. India will look to counter increasing Chinese presence in the region with multilateral diplomacy and with alliances with like minded countries and through forums like BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation). The recent naval exercises of the Indian Navy and the US Navy is proof of India’s intent of countering China in the IOR region. As India’s Naval capabilities are also inferior to China therefore it is important for India to pursue multilateralism in countering China and for that US-India relations have enormous significance. Therefore, geopolitical tensions between India and China are set to become more volatile in the future.

*Subarna Mustari is an undergraduate student of Political Science at Bethune College, Kolkata. Her interests lie in Political Science and International Relations as well as in history of war, colonialism and philosophy.

Dhritiman Banerjee is an undergraduate student at the Department of International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India. He has recently published for the Millenniumpost, a Kolkata based newspaper as well as contributed to publications like the Geopolitics and South Asia Monitor. His interests lie in International Relations in general and Strategic Studies in particular.

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South Asia

Bhashan Char Relocation: Bangladesh’s Effort Appreciated by UN

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Bhashan Char. Image source: dhakatribune.com

Bhashan Char, situated in the district of Noakhali, is one of the 75 islands of Bangladesh. To ease the pressure on the digested camps in Cox’s Bazar and to maintain law and order, Bangladesh has relocated about 18,500 Rohingya refugees from the overcrowded camps to the island since December last year. The Rohingya relocation plan to Bhashan Char aligns with the Bangladesh government’s all-encompassing efforts towards repatriation. The initial plan was to relocate 100,000 of the more than a million refugees from the clogged camps to the island. From the onset of the relocation process, the UN and some other human rights organizations criticized the decision pointing to remoteness and sustainability. UNHCR showed their concern over the island’s susceptibility to seasonal storm and flood. They proposed for a “technical assessment” of the Bhashan Char facilities.

An 18-member UN delegation visited Bhashan Char Island on March 17 this year to have a first-hand assessment of the housing facility for the Rohingya forcibly displaced Myanmar Nationals (FDMNs). Shortly after the UN’s visit, a team with 10 diplomats including heads of missions of embassies and delegations from Turkey, the EU, US, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands also went to the island on April 3 to appraise the facilities. All the members of the technical team opined that they are ‘satisfied’ with the facilities in Bhashan Char. The experts of the UN told, they will hand over a 10-page report of their annotations and they have already submitted a two-page abridgment. On April 16, they released the two-page synopsis after a month of the visit.  After the three-day study of Bhashan Char by the UN delegates, they recommended the Bangladesh government to continue the relocation process to the island in a ‘phased manner’. The team twigged three points – education for Rohingya children, increasing heights of the embankments and better communication system. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh A. K. Abdul Momen concerted to take the necessary measures to create a safe and secure environment for the Rohingya refugees until the repatriation takes place. The relocation is not the solution of the Rohingya crisis rather the over emphasis of the relocation and facilities inside Bangladesh is protracting the crisis and distracting the attention from the broader emphasis on the repatriation to Myanmar.

The UNHCR and other concerned parties should plan for a long run repatriation process. Repatriation is the only durable solution, not the relocation of the Rohingya refugees. For the time being, resettlement under the Asrayan-3 project is an ease for the FDMNs but in the long run the Rohingya crisis is going to turn as a tremendous threat for regional peace and stability. Besides, resentment in the host community in Bangladesh due to the scarce resources may emerge as a critical security and socio-economic concern for Bangladesh.  It is not new that the Rohingyas are repatriated in Myanmar during the Military rule. Around 20,000 Rohingya refugees were repatriated to Myanmar in the 2000s. The focus of the world community should be creating favourable conditions for the Rohingyas to return safely regardless who is in the power seat of Myanmar-civilian or military government. The UN should largely focus on repatriating the Rohingya refugees in a “phased manner”, let alone deciding their concern in the camps and the Bhashan Char. After the praiseworthy relocation plan, they should now concentrate on implementing speedy and durable repatriation. Proactive initiatives are essential from all walks for a safe and dignified return of the FDMNs. To be specific, the relocation is a part of the repatriation, not the solution of the problem. 

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Afghan peace options

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President Biden’s decision to withdraw unconditionally all foreign forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 will leave behind an uncertain and genuine security concerns that ramifications will be born by Afghanistan as well as the region.

The Taliban seems least interested in peace talks with the Afghan government and appear determined to take control of the entire afghan government territory by force during post-withdrawal of American forces. Short of the total surrender, Afghan government has no possible influence to force the Taliban to prefer talks over violence. Resultantly, the apprehensions that Afghanistan could plunge into another civil war runs very high.

The consequences of yet another civil war will be deadly for Afghanistan and the whole region as well. Among the neighboring countries of Afghanistan, Pakistan will bear the severe burnt of an escalation of violence in particular. A civil war or possible Taliban takeover will surely upsurge and reinvigorate the Islamic militancy in Pakistan, thus threatening to lose the hard won gains made against militancy over the past decade.

The afghan and Pakistani Taliban, nevertheless, are the two sides of the same coin. Coming back to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan is surely emboldened and revives Pakistani Taliban and other militant outfits. Moreover, spread of violence not only reduce all chances of repatriation of refugees but possibly increase the inflow of refugees from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Furthermore, worsening of the security situation in Afghanistan will jeopardize the prospects of  trade, foreign investment and economic development initiatives such as china-Pakistan economic corridor. The chances of Gawadar and Karachi port to become a transit trade route for the region and link the energy rich region of central asia will become bleak until a sustainable peace and stability is achieved in Afghanistan.

It is against this background that the successful end of the intra-afghan talk is highly required for Pakistan, for its own sake.  Officially, Islamabad stated policy is to ensure the afghan-led and afghan-owned peace solution of the afghan conflict. It helped in bringing the Taliban on the negotiation table, which finally resulted in the signing of the Doha deal between US and Taliban. Further, Pakistan has time and again pressurized the Taliban to resume the dialogue. Moreover, Islamabad holds that, unlike in the past when it wanted a friendly regime in Kabul, it aims to develop a friendly and diplomatic relation whoever is on the power in Kabul.

Notwithstanding the stated policy and position of the Islamabad, the afghan government and the many in the US remains dubious of Pakistan’s commitment. Against these concerns, Islamabad categorically stated that it does not have complete control over the Taliban.

The success of the peace process will require coordination and cooperation among the all regional actors and the US and afghan government. Pakistan’s role is of an immense significance because of its past relation with the Taliban. There is no denying of the fact that Pakistan has not complete control over the Taliban. Despite, it has more leverage than the other actors in the region.

The Islamabad’s willingness to use its influence over the Taliban is her real test in the achievement of peace process. However, Pakistan has successfully used its leverage and brought the Taliban on negotiations table. Although, history is the testimony of the fact that mere cajoling won’t dissuade the Taliban from unleashing violence.

The prospects of intra-afghan talks will develop in success when the cajoling strategy is backed up by with credible threats of crackdown which may involve denial of safe heaven to militant leaders and their families, stopping medical treatment, and disruption of finance etc. on the other hand, strong arm tactics fail to bring the Taliban to the table, then Pakistan should make sure that its territory is not used to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

The afghan peace process has an opportunity for Pakistan to bury its hatchets with Afghanistan and start its diplomatic journey with a new vigor. While Kabul every time attach its failure with the Pakistan and shun away from its responsibility of providing peace to people of Afghanistan, it has a fair point about our pro Taliban afghan policy. Now that the US is leaving Afghanistan, it is high time that Pakistan bring forth a shift in its Afghanistan policy. Sustainable peace in Pakistan, especially Balochistan and ex-fata region is unlikely to achieve without Pakistan contributing to peace in Afghanistan.    

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Pakistani Fanatics and their Foreign Policy Overtures

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A prudent leader ought to have regard not only for present troubles but also for future ones. They must prepare with every energy because, when foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time. Through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that everyone can see them, there is no longer a remedy. These words are famously attributed to 16th-century Italian Philosopher Machiavelli, advising the ruler about statecraft, in his Magnus Opus, The Prince.

A similar kind of ignorance and obliviousness against which Machiavelli was warning to the ruler of the state was reflected by the government of Imran Khan when protests by a radical religious organization (TLP) shook the country from 11-20 April. Previous to this latest episode, TLP has also staged various sit-in and violent protests by which they effectively froze all life in twin cities as well as in various cities of Punjab.

2017 Faizabad interchange protest was the zenith of its anarchical behavior. In that protest, TLP demanded the resignation of the law minister altering the oath declaration in the election bill 2017. Preceding, the court heard a plea on the stated matter. Justice Qazi Faiz Essa while hearing a plea on the case, remarked; “The ambitious leadership of a fledgling political party [TLP] projected itself as the defender of the Muslim faith. They provoked religious sentiment, stoked the flames of hatred, abused, resorted to violence, and destroyed property worth Rs.163 million.”  Another takeaway from the ruling of the Supreme Court goes like, “Protestors who obstruct people’s right to use roads and damage or destroy property must be proceeded against by the law and held accountable.”

Qazi Faiz Essa’s observation is enough to make a viewpoint on the organization. It is recommended that steps must be taken to curtail the reach of TLP. But allowing its leaders to further myth-spin bogus and inflammatory narratives, catch the attention of masses, effect normalcy in the country, and take hostage federal and provincial capitals many times after that shows sheer incapability on behalf of the state.

Moreover, the recent episode is also another criticism of religiosity interwoven within Pakistani society that has been exploited by opportunists to gain the support of the masses since its birth. TLP, an amalgamation of religio-political narrative, first appeared on the scene when it demanded the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the person who assassinated Governor Punjab Salman Taseer for criticizing blasphemy laws. After the execution of Qadri, Rizvi laid the foundation of Tehreek-E-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) for the purpose to protect the Blasphemy laws of Pakistan under the banner of protecting Honor for Prophet (PBUH). TLP is the political wing of TLYR which emerged as the 5th most popular political group in the electoral race of 2018. These numbers are a barometer to show that the party has gained considerable support among the masses for its narrative

Though the rise of TLP is attributed to fault lines within the domestic political culture of Pakistan and cultural cleavages that exist in the society. The recent protests were the result of its activeness in international affairs relevant to its narrative. The group tried to dictate the foreign relations of Pakistan. In the latest episode, TLP took on the streets again and demanded severing diplomatic ties with France. In the short aftermaths of TLP protests, European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling the review of the GSP+ status of Pakistan for abuse of blasphemy laws and expressed deep concerns over prevailing anti-French sentiments.

To add insult to injury, all of this is happening at a time when Pakistan is looking to create a soft image for herself, seeking an effective role in regional and international organizations for political and economic benefits, lobbying to move out of FATF grey list, and initiating an international campaign to unmask Indian state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, etcetera. Unfortunately, this has seriously jeopardized our pursuit of national interests and can nullify progress.

Disrespect for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is an issue sensitive to all Muslims but there is always a better way of doing things. The goal should be to stop disrespect and blasphemy and not forging further cause of hatred. On the other hand, the French president defended the acts as Freedom of Expression – a value so dear to the west – so even if Pakistan sends the French Ambassador back and suffers all the losses, is there any assurance for improvement in a situation regarding blasphemous content? What will be the next step of TLP if this continues? What will be the alternatives for Pakistan after that? Surely, this calls for some reflection on self-proclaimed defenders of religion. Government, on its part, must opt for softer and diplomatic ways in reaching out to France and making them realize the severity of the issue for Muslims.

To sum up, State ought not to be bogged down by religious pressure groups and fanatics like TLP for the reason being that they have not understood long-term national interests. Pledging to Khadim Rizvi on moving the parliament about French ambassador was never a wise act. One should have been vigilant enough to access the Omens. Furthermore, the government must impart this to such groups that they must not test the nerves of the state. It is in the interest of the state as well as government to not let things slip out of hand and go this further hereafter where one more episode similar to this makes international isolation inevitable.

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