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The Political Economy of Post-Galwan Valley Faceoff: Calibrated Moves and Restraints

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Sino-Indian Relations and the Border Dispute

India and China share a 3,488 km long contentious border over which they fought a brief war in 1962. Since then both sides were involved in a number of minor skirmishes at the border, but none of them have matured into a full-scale war. Though many rounds of talks were held between the two sides, a resolution to the border dispute still remains out of reach. In the aftermath of standoff at Doklam in 2017, which then marked a new low in their bilateral relations in decades, sincere efforts were taken by both sides to ‘reset’ their overall relations. The informal summits that were held at Wuhan in 2018 and at Mahabalipuram in 2019 between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were orchestrated towards this end. At a time when their bilateral relations have begun to show new promises, the recent incident at Galwan valley in Ladakh has posed a renewed challenge to the leaders of both the countries.

Asymmetry in Sino-Indian Bilateral Trade

Both India and China have a soaring economic relationship between them. The trade between the two countries amounted to $90 billion in 2019. Their bilateral trade is heavily skewed in favor of China, as it enjoyed a trade surplus of about $55 billion with India last year. In terms of percentage share, while China holds 14% share in India’s total imports, the latter makes up for less than 1% of total Chinese imports. This asymmetry is also compounded by the nature of goods traded between the two countries. While India exports mostly primary goods, like cotton, copper and precious stones, its imports from China comprises machinery, power-related equipment, telecom, organic chemicals and fertilizers. Of the total Indian imports from China, electro-mechanical and chemical products make up for more than two-thirds of the import basket.

As India’s exports to China comprise mainly of primary goods, it would be easy for China to find a replacement. On the other hand, the economic cost involved in finding an alternative to cheap Chinese goods will be huge for India, as it would hurt the competitiveness of Indian exports. This is because a major chunk of Chinese exports to India fall under the intermediate goods category, which are in turn used as inputs by key industrial sectors like automobiles, and pharmaceuticals. Thus, the current bilateral trade structure exposes the vulnerability dependence of India on imports from China. In this scenario, the Indian government’s recent announcement on national self-reliance is a step in the right direction. But at the present moment, the costs to India from any alternate policy would be unbearable. Therefore, the Indian government seems to have faced a serious dilemma as calls grew louder demanding a blanket ban on all Chinese imports.

Vulnerability Dependence and Conflict De-escalation

There is no dearth of liberal literature dwelling on the link between economic interdependence and absence of war between dyads. They argue that the economic costs of war would act as a deterrent on both sides in a situation involving economic interdependence. In the case of India and China bilateral trade relations, we have already seen that the dependence is highly asymmetrical, which makes India vulnerable to Chinese economic statecraft. Therefore, in a situation involving conflict between the two countries, the economic cost will be borne disproportionately by the Indian side. Still, this country level data does not capture a true picture of vulnerability, unless one looks at the effect of a ban on Chinese imports on the average Indian population.

It is well-known that the China goods are known for their price competitiveness on the global stage. This is true in the case of electronic goods and also for a range of other consumer goods, which include bicycles, furniture, toys, shoes, and mattresses. Therefore, a blanket embargo on the Chinese imports would hurt the average Indian consumer, who could not afford an alternate product even at slightly increased prices. Hence, it would not be in the interests of the median Indian voter if the Indian government decides to impose embargoes on Chinese goods. Based on these political calculations, no rational government would be willing to slap higher tariffs, let alone a blanket ban on Chinese imports. Also, the interest groups associated with those industries benefiting from trade with China must have played a key role in moderating India’s response to any incident involving China. Therefore, in spite of having a menu of signaling options to choose from that includes costly ones like trade sanctions, the Indian government decided to impose a ban on 59 Chinese apps, thereby opting for a relatively milder option. Thus, vindicating the liberal arguments on the link between economic interdependence and conflict, the Galwan valley incident, despite being the deadliest in decades, has subsided without further escalation into a full-scale war.

Is Geopolitics behind China’s restraint?

Realists argue that under conditions of asymmetrical interdependence, while the weaker partner in a dyad would exercise restraint, it is unlikely that the stronger partner would be deterred. However, on the contrary, while the Indian government succumbed to surge in nationalism after the Galwan incident by imposing the mobile apps ban, Chinese government is observed to have kept its nationalism under check and refrained from taking any retaliatory actions. This is in marked contrast to the CCP’s response to incidents involving Japan, during which it was often seen to have fanned Chinese nationalism. Also, China has once briefly banned the export of rare earth metals to Japan over an incident involving the disputed Senkaku islands. Likewise, China punished the Philippines by imposing restrictions on banana imports in retaliation over their maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Even in its recent discomfiture over Australia’s decision to call for an independent investigation on the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, China has imposed 80% tariffs on Australian barley imports. But following the Indian government’s decision to ban Chinese apps, the latter is quite reluctant to flex its economic muscle and reserved its response to expressing strong concerns over the ban. In recent years, India is openly observed to be inching closer to the US, as the latter is keen to enlist India as a partner in its strategy to contain China. At a time when its relationship with the US has been deteriorating, China views any alliance between India and the US to be not in its interests. Considering its proximity to China and its propensity for strategic autonomy, India has also been careful about maintaining a balance in its relations between China and the US. Therefore, given their soaring bilateral trade and investment ties, both India and China realized that it is in their mutual interests to reset their bilateral relations. Given this scenario, China is wary that the recent border skirmishes would further push India into the arms of the US. Therefore, despite being in a strong bargaining position vis-a-vis India, China has maintained a relative silence after the Galwan valley incident and agreed to rapid de-escalation to minimize the rupture in bilateral relations.  

The author is currently pursuing Ph.D. as a Junior Research Fellow (JRF) in the Centre for Canadian, US, & Latin American Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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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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