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South Asia

Expanding Dimensions of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy

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“You can Change Friends, but not neighbours”-Atal Bihari Vajpyee, Former Prime Minister of India

With the changing dynamics of international politics and global equations metamorphosing from bi-polar (post the collapse of Soviet Union) to a Multi-polar world, India has been playing a vital role in the region. India’s foreign policy was always non-muscular, non-interventionist and un-exploitative. But in the altered scenario India is facing stiff competition from China over the superiority in the region and growing Islamic fundamentalism affecting the entire South Asian nations. The genuine questions that arise are what should be India’s foreign policy towards her immediate neighbours and how to tame the Pakistan-China axis?

India and the region

National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s commitment towards India’s immediate neighbourhood was visible when the leaders of all SAARC nations were invited for the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister in 2014. Immediately after assuming the office PM Modi visited Bhutan in his maiden foreign visit and had also travelled to Nepal on multiple occasions. He even stopped at Pakistan and met the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sherif as a good will gesture to enhance peace and mutual cooperation in the region. The government had also committed itself to various projects in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Iran and Maldives. Friendly summits were also organised along with China to strengthen diplomatic relations between the hostile neighbours.

India’s interest in the region traces back to the Nehruvian days. In the days of cold war, India’s position of Non-Alignment was aimed at stopping any form of Colonisation. Foreseeing a possible conflict with China even a ‘Panchsheel’ (The five principles for peaceful co-existence) doctrine was mutually agreed but the expansionist tendencies of China had cost India 1962 war and the Aksai-Chin territory. India had fought 4 wars with Pakistan in the years 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1998, even though India could defeat Pakistan in all successive wars this constant conflicts reflect the unstable relationship between the both nations. India’s involvement in the 1971 war eventually resulted in the formation of Bangladesh but the rising Islamic fundamentalism has created anti-India sentiments among the common people.

For a greater economic and cultural cooperation South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was founded in 1985 comprising of India’s immediate neighbours. But the organisation failed to achieve its target since the two major powers within SAARC i.e. India and Pakistan couldn’t come to an agreement on almost all the occasions. This jeopardizing of dialogue process has pushed India to further strengthen another initiative called Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi Sectorial Economic and Technical Cooperation (BIMSTEC) virtually excluding Pakistan. The advantage of India in the region is the historical and cultural ties between India and these nations.

India’s Neighbourhood worries

China had always been a threat to India’s geo-political interest in the region. With a booming economy China is able to roll out financial assistance and ambitious projects to smaller economies. The Belt Road Initiative (BRI) envisioned by China aims at connecting all the nations of the region by road. The peripheries of this project including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor poses challenge to India since it passes through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). China also invested heavily in Nepal, India’s longest standing ally. It needs to be noted that the agenda behind issuing large scale grants to poorer counties is ‘debt trap’, a neo-colonising strategy of China to which these counties fall prey to.

China is also posing security challenge to India by forming a strategy called ‘String of Pearls’ in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) extending from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan in Horn of Africa. India enjoys a special benefit due to its 7,500 KM long coastline. Now, the Chinese wants to encircle India with its naval bases and ports operated by them in friendly countries, examples being the Gwadar port in Pakistan and Hambantoda port in Sri Lanka. The Chinese standoffs with the Indian army at Doklam, Ladakh and their unwillingness to recognise Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India are bone of contention between India and China.

The rise of radical Islam and the anti-India rhetoric associated with it is yet another major worry for India. With the possibility of Afghanistan falling to the hands of Taliban, the fear looms large. Pakistan has been using Jihad as a proxy weapon against India. The rise of Wahabbian ideas are even evident in Bangladesh as a result even several of the army men are radicalised. The killing of an Indian army man by Bangladeshi border security force proves this argument. Infusing of large amount of money and speedy commissioning of projects are also in China’s advantage.

Modi government’s Foreign Policy

Multiple domestic factors influence any governments’ international policy. Some of those factors are political stability, economic growth, technological advancement and the global political scenario. With the NDA getting simple majority of its own in 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections India’s global positioning has been constant and  unaltered. The government also appointed S Jaishankar, a veteran diplomat as the External Affairs Minister to further professionalise India’s foreign approach.

Presently India’s foreign policy is crafted by the establishment keeping in mind the presence of hostile neighbours, Pakistan and China. It is therefore important to establish strong relation with the extended neighbours excluding the two.  India adopted new strategies to resist the looming threat from China in the region.  Modi government’s doctrine of SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) is to counter the Chinese strategy of dominating IOR with ‘String of Pearls’. India is also releasing financial assistance to its neighbours for development projects as Line of Credit (LoC) through Export-Import (EXIM) Bank which facilitates India’s export and import activities.

Terrorism and religious extremism have been key challenges in the South Asian region. Afghanistan is worst hit with these crises. Due to its geographical location as gateway to Central Asia India has both strategic and economic interest in the nation. India financed and built a new parliament building for Afghanistan which was inaugurated by PM Modi in 2015. In 2016 he also inaugurated Afghanistan – India Friendship dam in the Herat province underlying India’s commitment to rebuilt the war torn nation. For the other projects India has provided a financial assistance of $ 3 billion over the years. India had also partnered with Iran to counter China’s access to Gwadar port of Pakistan. India pledged $85 million for the development of Chabahar port and a three way memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between India- Afghanistan – Iran worth $21 billion Chabahar – Hajigak corridor.

Myanmar has a key part in NDA government’s ‘Act east’ policy since the nation is India’s ‘land bridge’ to south east nations. During the 5 year tenure of NDA 1 a sum of Rs 1,300 crore was allotted for Myanmar for various projects. India is also wary of the proposed China-Myanmar Economic Corridor as part of BRI. NDA 1 extended 2 LOCs worth $6.5 billion to Bangladesh which goes into community level development projects, construction of educational institutions and so on. China has been trying to woo Nepal with multiple infrastructural projects away from India. Being an inevitable partner India spends on an average Rs 330 crore annually for various projects in Nepal. The government was quick to grand $1 billion LOC following the earthquake in 2015. India also highlights the cultural similarities of Nepal and India. Bhutan is a key partner of India and as a buffer state to China has its strategic importance. India has been developing hydropower plants in Bhutan and had also donated $4.7 billion dollar from 2000-2017 as aid for Bhutan. With the Change of government in Maldives and declaration of their ‘India first policy’ the relationship is projected to improve substantially. NDA 1 had also given a financial assistance of $1.4 in its tenure. India’s relationship with Sri Lanka had been in shady lines due to the latter’s pro-China tilt. But the geographical location of Sri Lanka is significant for India’s security and economic interests.

Conclusion

India was always been projected as a soft power in the global political discourse. But post 2014 it marks a transition of India to a hard power determined to position itself as an alternative to China. India is a key strategic partner of United States and its allies in the Asia-pacific region. It is also important from the part of India that the neighbourhood soil is not used for anti- India activities. To prevent any such adventurism India has done cross border military actions in both Pakistan and Myanmar to target terror camps. To counter China’s influence India should boost its own economy and strengthen its military might. China has been trying to appropriate the Buddhist legacy through propaganda. Buddha, Bollywood and Cricket can be effectively used for people to people connection in South Asia which eventually fosters diplomatic relations. With the government’s target of making India a $5 Trillion economy and reconstructing institutions to make it more competitive, India has the potential to ouster Chinese influence in the region.

The writer is currently pursuing masters degree in History from the Department of History, University of Hyderabad, India. Publishes articles on topics pertaining to International affairs, History and Indian politics.

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South Asia

Cease-Fire Review: A ray of hope

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Pre-Negotiations are very much crucial to achieve the state of “Negociation Continuelle” (continuous negotiations) the only way due to which conflicting parties go for sustained mode of talks.  On 25th February Director Generals of military operations (DGMO’s) of India and Pakistan contacted with each other to review cease fire agreement, on line of control (LOC), which was held back in 2003.  Both States reaffirmed cease fire agreement and to restart weekly hotline contact at DGMO’s level. The agreement was largely violated by both states for several times and they were accusing each other for violations. But one thing is common that on both sides Kashmiris are suffering, they are raising their children in an environment of fear and severe violence. India and Pakistan are both nuclear capable states of South Asian region and are considered as the custodian of regional peace and stability. And without shadow of a doubt regional peace and security is a collective responsibility of the responsible states. Pakistan and India are the main conflicting parties of South Asian region and Kashmir is the bone of contention between them. Kashmir has been a question of integrity for both States. The Line of control also known as working boundary, divides Indian Kashmir from Pakistani Kashmir. There are several resolutions have been passed by the UN General Assembly to address the Kashmir issue but never implemented. UN wants to solve this issue according to the hopes of Kashmiris. The initiation of bilateral talks in the present outrageous environment is not less than a blessing in disguise and it will be fruitful for all the stakeholders; India, Pakistan and Kashmiris as well. This peaceful move from Pakistan and India is highly appreciated globally because Kashmiri diaspora is present worldwide and they are very much concerned with future of their homeland.

Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi, with his hostile ideology of “Akhand Bharat” assumed office in 2014. His political adventurism based on jingoistic-cum-hawkish policies dragged India State to the verge of staunch illiberalism where identity crisis burst up, which is more lethal than previously existing class crisis. Every community including lower class Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc. all are vulnerable to the identity crisis.  On 30th May 2019, he sworn for his second tenure as prime minister of the world’s so called largest democracy. He came with another adventurous mandate and the first demonstration took place when he suspended special status of Kashmir and abrogated articles 370 and 35A. His ideology is regarded as Nazi-inspired ideology because in contemporary scenario only RSS community and other proponents of Hindutva are only considered as “Real Hindustani”. All minorities are suffering in India because their basic living rights are kept aside. The ongoing farmer’s protests shook the foundations of the state, hundreds of thousands of farmers rushed to the Delhi against the anti-famer laws passed by Indian Parliament.

In India Separatist movements are getting pace; minorities are unsatisfied with governing approach of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reuined the secular and democratic face of India. On the other hand, Foreign policy of India is facing severe challenges because PM Narendra Modi’s approach is hostile based on hatred and prejudice. These attributes are fatal for State’s reputation at foreign lands; the recent India-China standoff was just a teaser of BJP’s whole story related to foreign relations. In addition to this, Economic goal of 2025 of India is again became a distant dream just because of belligerent policies of ruling regime.

In contemporary scenario if we look towards India, only Modi-Media nexus will be seen. But in reality the situation is getting worse day by day. The review of cease fire agreement, offered by India, is a positive step towards the regional peace. It is appreciated by both civil and military administrations of both states. When PM Imran Khan assumed office he offered dialogue to his Indian counter-part but Indian Premier refused to go for any sort of talks. India always took a position that to initiate talks first of all, Pakistan has to stop the cross-border terrorism. Both terrorism and talks can never go side by side, this Indian claim is not based on empirical evidences because Pakistan has been facing menace of terrorism  since 2001 and leaving no stone unturned to root out terrorism and safe havens for terrorists.

Currently, India is facing deep internal and external challenges. It is in the interest of India to have peace talks with Pakistan. On the other hand, it is a ripe moment for Pakistan to act decisively because it is the only time when India can review its decision of 5th August 2019.Moreover, it is a ray of hope to establish peace in entire region. This is the time when bi-lateral diplomacy can turn the traditional regional political dynamics. Both states are facing same problems when it comes to poverty, climate change, social security and the list goes on. The realm of these talks should expand and concern parties have to include economic and political regimes in front of each other otherwise momentum of talks will be lost. Regional connectivity is important to have eternal peace, Pakistan and India should review SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) that would provide basis for economic, cultural as well as political connectivity. Major Powers should also play their important role because world cannot afford rivalry between two nuclear states. Now, America is under a democrat President, and they should check every internal and external move of their Strategic and defense ally in Asia-Pacific region. Negotiations between India and Pakistan are in the interest of all other regional and extra-regional actors. Both states should adopt flexible approach while discussing the core issues and should avoid blame game. It will enhance the chances of continuous negotiation which is a pre-requisite for peace and progress.

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South Asia

What does the Kashmiri want?

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Friday prayers in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. © John Isaac

A group of envoys visited the illegally-occupied Jammu and Kashmir State ostensibly `to take first-hand account of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir and government’s efforts to restore normalcy’ (Hindustan Times February 17, 2021). Srinagar welcomed the envoys with a spontaneous shutdown. Prior to the visit, political leaders and human-rights activists were detained. The envoys did not visit Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti or any of the other opposition Kashmiri leaders.

The Hindu dated February 17, 2021 reported ‘The J&K government showcased “deepening democracy” to visiting 24 foreign diplomats, who arrived on a two-day tour of the Union Territory (UT) on Wednesday amid a spontaneous shutdown in Srinagar and alleged detention of recently elected National Conference (NC) district council members in Budgam’.

Post-special-status abolition situation

After abrogation of the special status, India took a number of steps to silence public dissent_diurnal and nocturnal search operations to hound, kidnap or kill the Kashmiri, Internet ex-communication, blatant use of draconian laws against ordinary Kashmiris and their leaders alike. A law was passed to jail parents of stone-pelters., if any. Meanwhile local body elections were held in which the ruling BJP was cut to size. But, India, as reported b y the Hindu also, showcased the elections in international media as a proof of popular participation and contentment of the people with the status quo.

Have the Kashmiri resigned to their fate

The mysterious silence in the Valley during the envoys’ visit speaks volumes on how much the Kashmiri hate India. However, it appears the Kashmiri could have shown their ennui through some mode of peaceful protest.  They could draw lessons from the Occupy the Wall Street or Precariat Movement in the USA.

Occupy has six letters. A group of six persons mostly celebrities in their fields, stand up at some busy street holding letters O,C, C, U, P, and Y. The Kashmiris also could have displayed the letters in word `AZADI’ through a group of five persons.

Apathy

Arnold Toynbee, in his Challenge and Response Theory postulates that if a challenge is too onerous a nation may become apathetic. In similar vein, Ibn-e-Khaldoon suggests that survival of a tribe (nation) depends on cohesion (asabiya, nationalism) of a tribe faced with life-and-death threat around its frontiers.

Amy Chua (Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations) talks about static or dynamic response of a society as shaped by group instincts of various components of a society.

Applying Amy Chua’s framework to Kashmir situation

Amy Chua challenges the view that the conventional mechanism of demokratia (government by the people) is a panacea for all the problems of a society. Thus the recently-held local level elections or even `state assembly’ elections in occupied Kashmir are no panacea for the Kashmiris’ simmering discontentment, their revulsion to yoke of Indian rule. Chua, in her afore-quoted book analysed situation in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Venezuela, besides so-called terror tribes including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Kashmir in Chua’s framework would suggest it is naïve to believe that Kashmiris are resigned to their fate. By analogy, even a thousand years of exploitation by a microscopic Chinese population did not subdue the Vietnamese hatred of the Chinese. As soon as the Americans left Vietnam, the native Vietnamese prowled upon the rich community of Chinese like a pack of wolves. The Americans plunged into decade long futile war with Vietnam without realizing that the Vietnamese were not Chinese stooges.

The indomitable fighting spirit

Indian forces had been using pellet guns to blind the Kashmir. Now, former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, they have begun to use even chemical weapons against the Kashmiri.

Let us have a glimpse of the dogra’s reign of terror in Kashmir. To stifle the Kashmiri’s fighting spirit, the dogra punished even Kashmiri children who played with fork-slings (ghulail) and stones (Muhammad Yousaf Saraf, Kashmiris Fight for Freedom, vol. 1, p. 50). Under the dogra rule, the Kashmiri were treated no better than beasts of burden. Instead of donkeys and horses, Kashmiri Muslims were used to transport goods across Gilgit, Leh and Skardu. They carried luggage on their backs across glaciers as high as 17,000 feet. Thousands of them perished along the way each year owing to frost bites, fall from a precipice, and hunger or sickness. The dogra caravans were not humane enough to stop for a while in the snowy passes to look after the injured porters (or ‘human beasts of burden’). Besides performing the forced labour, the Kashmiri had to pay heavy taxes. Whole of their produce was confiscated by the dogra. Little was left for tillers and their children to eat. On every item, the oppressed Kashmiri had to pay multiple taxes. Take shawls. Not only the shawl-makers were taxed, but also the other intermediaries like importers of pashmina (wool) from Ladakh, and storekeepers, whether wholesalers or retailers (ibid. p. 280-81).

The regressive revenue system resulted in a famine during winter of 1877. People began to die of starvation. Instead of releasing grain stocks from the royal go-downs, the maharajah’s constabulary drowned the starved, crying people in the Wullar Lake. Saraf writes: “Whole boat-loads of starving people have been conveyed by the Maharajah’s officials to the Woolar Lake, and there drowned” (ibid. p. 294).

The reign of terror by Indian forces (now estimated at about nine lac regulars and security personnel) who replaced the maharajah’s constabulary on October 27, 1947 is no less gruesome. International human-rights organisations, as well as India’s National Human Rights Commission, have brought into limelight the Kashmiri’s mysterious disappearances, their custodial deaths, and countless rapes of hapless Kashmiri women.

Like the dogra, Indian rulers are mercilessly exploiting Kashmiris’ economic resources. Bulk of locally-generated electricity is being diverted to Indian states. The tourism industry is in shambles. Highly – educated people have no jobs. With no inflow of tourists, the shopkeepers have no business. Unlike the occupied Kashmir, all the socio-economic sectors in Azad Kashmir are progressing by leaps and bounds.

Toynbee’s Challenge and Response Theory suggests that if the challenge is too strong, a nation becomes apathetic. Ibn-e-Khaldoon’s asabiya (spirit of national cohesion) also suggests that a nation’s spirit is likely to be smothered by a challenge which is too heavy. Historical lessons do not apply to the Kashmiri’s struggle. Neither Indians, nor the dogra could gag them. The struggle for freedom has continued unabated.

The lesson from Kashmiris’ struggle for freedom is that repression or palliatives like elections in occupied Kashmir are no good. The Kashmiri wants “freedom”. Their group instinct is `resistance’. But they need to learn from peaceful resistance movements like the Occupy and the Precariat.

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Pakistan Day Celebrations: Civilian Participation

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Pakistan got independence on 14 August 1947 by hectic political struggle from the platform of All India Muslim League (AIML) under the dynamic leadership of Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The presidential address at Allahabad on 29 December 1930 of Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, accelerated and gave more clarity to the movement. He presented the idea and concept that Muslims are a separate nation by emphasizing that a nation is distinguished from the other based on religion, customs, and traditions. At the same time, he strongly disagreed with the Western concept of religion as a private affair. Iqbal explained that Islam is a way of life and thus Muslims are a separate nationand accentuated that unless their rights areprotected, it is impossible to establish peace and tranquility in the sub-continent. The determined political struggle of AIML led to March 23, 1940, Lahore Resolution, at its 27th annual session. The Quaid addressed the session on the first day andstressedthat Hindus and Muslims follow two different religions, philosophies, social customs literature and this made them two distinct nations.

The contents of the resolution, according to Story of Pakistan are“No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may benecessary. That the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign”. It strongly rejected the concept of United India. The word states wassubstituted to one state by a resolution passed at the 1941 Madras session of the AIML which stated, “everyone should clearly understand that we are striving for one independent and sovereign Muslim State.” Moreover, in all speeches, the Quaid used the word “an independent homeland” or “an independent Muslim state”.Pakistan and India became dominions on 14 and 15 August 1947 respectivelyby the Indian Independence Act, 1947, based on the Mountbatten Plan of 3 Junepassed by the parliament of the UK on 18 July. Keeping in view the atrocities being committed by RSS, a militant wing of BJP in Indian Illegally occupied Kashmir (IIoK), and minorities especially Muslims in all over Indianot being allowed to practice religion freely, havevery sturdily substantiated the decision of AIML to fight for a separate state for Muslims. It elucidates their political acumen and far-sightedness. 

Pakistan remained a dominion for about nine years till thefirst constitution as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was adopted on 23 March 1956.Thereafter 23 March was celebrated as “Republic Day” (Yome Jamhooria)every year to commemorate the Lahore resolution and adoption of the constitution.   After the imposition of martial law by Ayub Khan in Oct 1958,it is being celebrated as“Pakistan Day”. Probably the plotter of the coup could not celebrate constitutionalism and democracy on March 23 so ‘Republic Day’ was replaced with ‘Pakistan Day.  The main feature is a three-servicesparade in Islamabad followed bythe display of military weapons and equipment. Floats of the provinces also march past. The flypast by Army and Navy combat aircraft displaying their weapons and equipment.The flypast by PAF fighters and aerobatic.

The celebrations are spread over about two and half hours.Pakistan Day has taken the shape of a Defense Day which was not originally intended. Moreover, Army, Navy, and Air Force organize their respective Defense Days on 6,8, and 7 Septemberevery year. The events of the Pakistan Day parade give an impression especially to civilians that military strength is the only most important component of national power. The remaining such as economic capacity, natural resources, industrial capacity, national cohesion, political structure, and leadership, etc. which are also very vital needs to be given projection. Therefore, parade proceedings may be modified to include more participation of civilian-related events. The latest inventory and indigenously developed weapons and equipment may be displayed to reduce timings. The PAF fighters may only carry out professional flypast andaerobatic performance similar to the aerobatic display team, like “Red Arrow “may be excluded. It is pertinent to mention that most of the countries have prohibited aerobatic display in public places to avoid any untoward incident. It is suggested that floats carrying students who have topped in the boards and universitiesand have done distinct research work in the past year may be added. Similarly,floats carrying civilians who have been awarded Pride of Performance and other awards, businessmen who have been bestowed awards, sportsmen who have brought honors for Pakistan may also be included.  Few industrial floats may also be added with indigenously manufactured machinery and other items.Floats carrying agricultural products and livestock may also be considered.Citations are read as the float passes the dais. Moreover, in Islamabad and the provincial capitals industrial exhibitions may be organized which may include indigenously developed machinery and other items.The civilian participation in Pakistan Day celebrations will certainly add colors and act as a source of pride for them as well as for the nation.

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