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Understanding the Indo-Pacific Strategy: From the View Point of Subramaniam Jaishankar

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Abstract: In the narratives of international relations, the term ‘great game’ has been used to describe those events that have drawn the great powers into the conflict. In the 21st century, the region which is the confluence of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean is considered to be the arena of another ‘Great Game’ involving the US, China, EU, Russia, India, Japan, and Australia (Jaishankar, 2020, p. 182). Some call it a (Barauh, 2020). This region is increasingly been referred as Indo- Pacific region. In this essay, we shall understand the significance of the Indo – Pacific region from the perspective of India. Who would be a better person than the external affairs minister to explain India’s stance? We shall analytically discuss the insights and understanding of Subramanian Jaishankar from his newly released book ‘The India Way.’

The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ was first introduced by Dr. Gurpreet S. Khurana, Director of the National Maritime Foundation(Kuo, 2018). Even though such nomenclature leads people to think that India has a special role to play, it is rather a general mix of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. An interesting fact is known that during Obama’s office, the US decided to go with the name Indo- Asia- Pacific region encouraging India to be the ‘net security provider'(Ibid). However, Trump has made it short – calling it ‘Indo-Pacific’. The growing aggressive behavior of China in economic terms and physically in the South China Sea, and its string of pearls strategy engulfing the Indian Ocean region and extending its economic sea lanes till Northern Africa has become a cause of concern for the major powers. This makes the Indo- Pacific region a strategic hot spot of geopolitics.

China is India’s competitive neighbor with unresolved border issues. Accordingly, for India, securing its backyard – the Indian Ocean becomes a priority. However, India cannot challenge China’s rise and show the world that it belongs to the camp which will be hinged on containing China’s rise. Its huge titled balance of payments towards China shows strong economic dependence. It has to carefully manage the changing power dynamics and establish itself as one of the regional power in the upcoming multipolar world. Accordingly, India did not publicly declare Indo – Pacific to be the region of its strategic interest until 2018. It was in the Shangri La dialogue that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defined Indo- Pacific expanding the strategic interests from Western Africa to the shores of America(PMO, 2018).

The importance of the Indo –Pacific region is reiterated by India’s external affairs minister in his book ‘The India Way.’ He asserted that it is not just India, but all the great powers are shifting their focus on to this region to counter the emerging hegemon. In the following section, we shall analytically understand his stand on this new great game using structural realist constructs.

Importance of the region and the reason for calling it a contemporary new great game(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 162)

  1. For India, it is a logical step to move beyond Act-East policy.
  2. For Japan, movement into the Indian Ocean would be a long term strategy.
  3. For the US, it is a necessary region to uphold its global dominance.
  4. For Russia, it is a new emphasis on the Far East.
  5. For China, it is a necessity to emerge as the regional hegemon
  6. For Europe, it is the return to the region from which it withdrew.

These assertions are easily understood from the Hegemonic Power Transition theory (Kugler & Organski, 1989). According to this theory, the international structure is considered hierarchical. When the nation-states reach their maturity of productivity, other great powers will soon catch up to the status of the dominant power. In such a scenario, the friction arises between the dominant and the challenger. Here, the dominant power would be the US and the great powers would be China, EU, Russia, and also India. The great power which has reached the position to challenge the dominant power is China. Japan’s long term strategy, and the US necessity, and the EU’s return to the region shows its limited options. They have to concentrate on the balancing strategies in the Indo- Pacific region. Such balancing needs a strong anchor in the region making India be the only option. When it comes to Russia, its focus would be on securing its SLOCs (Sea lanes of Communication) from the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean region, and a free movement From Vladivostok to the South China Sea. However, Russia and India would not be strongly associated here because of the former’s strategic ties with China.

This region has not only come up in the foreign policy discourses with the growth of dominant players in Asia. Its importance has historical, cultural, and economic importance attached to it. India’s cultural influence can be traced to the extensive reach of Buddhism, temple architecture of South East Asia, and also migrations. Even during the colonial times, the trade between Europe and South East Asia was carried out in the confluence region of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Owing to the domination of the US and the fall of the UK, India’s role in this region both politically and economically dwindled. With China rising its stakes in the region, it has become inevitable for India to re-draft its balancing strategies and enhances its capabilities. With these challenging dynamics of the power relations between the great powers and the emerging multi-polarity, Jaishankar asserts that the Indian foreign policy strategy should adopt the real politic nature of Lord Krishna[1](Jaishankar, 2020, p. 49).

Jaishankar’s New Neo-realist stance on Indo- Pacific

Being a vivid structural-realist, he asserts that the Indo-Pacific policy should focus on strengthening India’s power as a regional dominant player. In achieving the same, it has to strengthen its centrality on the Indian Ocean by expanding the nation’s influence into the extended neighborhood. SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) is one such promising initiative that advances cooperative development without pushing the Indian Ocean Littoral states to the fear of India becoming the regional hegemon. BIMSTEC, IORA, IONS are some of the other initiatives highlighted and asserted that they have to be a dynamic and collaborative approach to strengthen the security apparatus.

Bringing the perspective of Organski’s power transition theory, today’s Indo-pacific region’s importance should be attributed to the rise of China which is a great power, and its challenge to the Dominant power, the US. The other great power(perhaps middle powers in the present geopolitical context) in the region will be India, Japan, and Australia. China’s rise as a dominant maritime power in the region is not a sudden and standalone change. The retrenchment of the US from this region is also opined to be the cause(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 184) for the change in power dynamics. Even though his explanations fall in line with the Organski’s propositions, Jaishankar’s strategies are more inclined towards defensive realism. His four-point framework for India to develop its Indo-Pacific strategy blow explain the Waltz’s balancing strategies in the uncertain Indo- Pacific region.

  1. Safeguard islands and littoral and make India’s capabilities available for others
  2. Deepening economic and security cooperation with maritime neighbors
  3. Collective action and cooperation to advance peace and security
  4. Integrated and Co-operative future for the region enhancing sustainable development

Concentric Circles Approach

Another approach provided is that – the strategy shall be developed in terms of concentric circles. First involves the core, the strengthening of India’s capabilities, and influence in its neighborhood. The second circle includes the ties with island states like Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Maldives, and Seychelles. Third, is the revival of the Indian Ocean as a community. The outermost circle is the periphery extending to the Pacific Ocean.

This conception appears to overcome both Makinder’s Heartland and Spyman’s Rimland theory. Heart land theory emphasizes on the Eurasian region to be the harbinger of the global control. Rimland theory states the same with an emphasis on the littoral region of Asian continent. Jaishankar’s concentric circles neither emphasizes only on the mainland or the Indian Ocean littoral which is the Rimland. The Oceanic region is considered to be the centrality.

Stretching the Neorealist perspective:

The Indian Ocean is not just a facilitator between the East and the West, it has got historical-cultural linkages across the Indo-pacific littoral states. India’s advantage in the region is its shared cultural history with its neighbors and East Asia. India’s Project Mausam is one such example where it promotes historical and archaeological research Soft power can be used to expand the cooperative development. Sectors such as technology sharing, tourism, education prove to be more practical for regional development.

While considering the African region, the total value of the Western Indian Ocean amounts to US$ $333.8 billion(wwf, 2017). India’s western coastline connects the oil reserves of the world and the untapped African natural wealth. There are a huge human capital and economic investments in the development projects apart from what the ocean itself provides. For the starters, India could use the established regional forums such as IORA and IONS where there are African member states.

Conclusion

Recognizing multi-polarity as the future, Jaishankar’s advocacy of having India’s strategic thought learning and making from its rich history is interesting and necessary. China is an immediate threat to both India and Japan. In such a situation, Jaishankar’s emphasis on the importance of a strategic alliance with Japan to uphold the strategic advantage in the Indo-Pacific region is welcomed. It is also opined that the contemporary region of the great game would culminate in having a multilateral setting with regional powers including the US at the high table. Notably, India’s strategic expansion of its naval interests also started with recent buzz around the Quad (Informal strategic forum between India, US, Japan, and Australia) also appears to have a strong push from Jaishankar.

However, his emphasis on the cooperation and multilateral setting have their difficulties. The difficulty is caused by the colonial rule which fragmented social harmony. It dissected the regions into small political units providing them a changed identity(Jaishankar, 2020, p. 192). This makes the restructuring of the Indian Ocean community a difficult task. With the growing skepticism towards China and the growing prowess of QUAD, India should assert its centrality by extending its developmental help towards its Indian Ocean littorals. The strength lies in making the Indian Ocean the transit hub for the Indo-Pacific region (Jaishankar, 2020, p. 188). Thus, strengthening the UNCLOS and advocating freedom of navigation on international waters should be the fundamental anchor point.

The book ‘The India way’ will give a clear perspective on the way the NDA II government approaches its foreign policy. It adopts a neo-realist policy with a flavor of cultural diplomacy. His approaches may be compared to Organski and Waltz as in the other chapters, he encourages the importance of nationalism and historical influence. The power substantiated by the public support and historical justification is opined to carry many responsibilities and pave the path towards the nation’s transition into the great power within the multipolar system.

References

Barauh, M. D., 2020. India in the Indo-Pacific: New Delhi’s Theater of Opportunity. [Online].

Jaishankar, S., 2020. The India Way. New Delhi: Harper Collins.

Kugler, J. & Organski, A. F., 1989. The Power Transition: A Retrospective and Prospective Evaluation. In: Handbook of war studies. s.l.:Routledge, pp. 171-194.

Kuo, A. M., 2018. The Origin of ‘Indo-Pacific’ as Geopolitical Construct. [Online]
Available at: https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/the-origin-of-indo-pacific-as-geopolitical-construct/

PMO, 2018. PM Modi’s Keynote Speech at Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore | PMO. [Online]
Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRndujMJ99M

wwf, 2017. Western Indian Ocean valued at US$333.8 billion but at a crossroads. [Online]
Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?290410%252FWestern-Indian-Ocean-valued-at-US3338-billion-but-at-a-crossroads#:~:text=Antananarivo%2C%20Madagascar%20%2D%20A%20groundbreaking%20new,absence%20of%20stronger%20conservation%20actions.


[1]A Hindu lord whose contribution to the Hindu philosophy can be understood from the texts of Mahabharatam.

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The Taliban-Afghanistan Dilemmas

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Source: Twitter

The Blitzkrieg winning back of Afghanistan by the Taliban with the concomitant US pullout established Taliban 2.0 in Kabul. But this has created a number of dilemmas for the stakeholding states. The latter include Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours, viz. Iran in the west, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north, China in the northeast and Pakistan to the east. Russia is also affected since it considers former Central Asian Soviet republics like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as its backyard and since Moscow has its own share of extremist-secessionist problems in Chechnya. It is also worried about Islamic fundamentalism spreading to its Muslim population concentrated around its major cities and the Caucasus.

The dilemmas are as follows:

I. If the US-led withholding of economic aid and international recognition continues in essence, then conditions– as it is they are bad enough in Afghanistan—will further deteriorate. This will lead to greater hunger, unemployment and all-round economic deprivation of the masses. Such dystopia will generate more refugees in droves as well as terrorists who will spill out to seek greener pastures beyond the country’s borders.

Such condition will in turn mean a life-threatening headache for not only Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours like Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and Pakistan but also for more distant lands. The liberal democracies of Europe. Germany, France, Italy, the UK and others have already had their share of refugees—and terrorists—when waves from an unsettled Syria hit them way back in 2015. Chancellor Angela Merkel even decided to act magnanimously and opened Germany’s doors to a million fleeing the civil war in Syria. Such acceptance of refugees from Asia and Africa in Europe, however, boosted right-wing parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and other movements throughout that continent. As a result the easy cross-border movements within the European Union came to be partly restricted in order to keep unwanted refugees out. Calls went out for hardening the external borders of the EU against more refugee invasion. The EU also made arrangements with Turkey to absorb and manage the refugee onrush in exchange for fat amounts of the Euro.

The prospects of a second such wave of refugees desperate not only to escape the clutches of the medieval Taliban but to find a promising future and remarkably better living conditions in the advanced lands of Europe are giving nightmares to the governments of the latter countries.

There seems to be a growing consensus among many in the international community that not only purely humanitarian but also larger economic aid to the Taliban-run Afghanistan should be extended—and without delay, if only to keep a lid on refugees—and terrorists—spilling across the borders. Islamabad apparently scored a remarkable ‘victory’ over New Delhi when its protégé Taliban replaced the pro-Indian Ghani government. Nevertheless, it is worried about the spillover into its territory across the Durand Line to its west. Pakistan, hence, leads this school of thought most vociferously[i]. It fenced its border with Afghanistan to a significant extent in anticipation of more refugees pouring in.  It has been joined in the chorus by Russia, the EU, China, and others. China, for instance, has emphasized the need for releasing funds to Afghanistan at its talks with the G-20 on 23 September.[ii] However, no such stipulation is seen in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) declaration released at the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 17 September, though the document mentions explicitly the need for an “inclusive” government that includes the left-out minorities. India’s presence at the meet may have prevented the inclusion of a funds-release clause.

II. But even if the US unfreezes the $9.25 billion Afghan assets under its control, and allows the IMF and the World Bank to make available other funds and assets to the funds-starved Taliban’s Kabul, a major problem will still linger. This is the question of ‘inclusive’ government, which the Taliban had promised among other things in its February 2020 agreement with the USA at Doha. The composition of the current Taliban government shows the mighty influence of the hardliners within the Taliban, elements like the Haqqani network and the secretive hardcore Kandahar Shura—as opposed to the seemingly more moderate Pakistan-based Quetta Shura. The Prime Minister of Taliban 2.0, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, is on a UN-designated blacklist; its Interior Minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is on the top of the FBI’s most-wanted list with a multi-million dollars reward hanging over his head.  

Although the Taliban did not officially take a formal position, a member of the new government in Kabul has also defied calls from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and from other quarters for forming a more ‘inclusive’ government. That would mean more Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and women holding important positions in the government, a phenomenon markedly absent in the current governmental setup dominated by male Pashtuns. The Taliban member shot back that the current government was as much ‘inclusive’ as it was possible to make and that the Taliban did not care for others to dictate to it what kind of government would suit Afghanistan.

If Taliban 2.0 remains essentially as it is today, with the minorities ignored, this would still create unrest and insurgency in the country. A civil war in the not too distant a future cannot be ruled out. This is the reason that even Pakistan, which certainly would not like to see its protégé Taliban’s power diluted, keeps harping on the ‘inclusive’ clause along with Russia and others.

A civil war will not be confined within the boundaries of Afghanistan but will attract intervention by neighbouring states and other more distant stakeholders like the USA.  Tajikistan will continue to back the Tajiks living astride its southern border with Afghanistan. Uzbekistan will do the same with the Afghan Uzbeks. Shia Iran will  stand up for the Shia Hazaras while the Western world will, in general, wish to see ‘human rights’ and especially ‘women’s rights’ given full leeway. The Chinese seemed to have cut a deal. They would extend economic aid to Kabul in exchange for assurances that no terrorism or separatism would go out of Afghan territory.

But Taliban 2.0, despite its smooth assurances at Doha and elsewhere, shows no signs of stretching significantly from its understanding of the Sharia law, which it said it wished to uphold as a framework within which all these rights would be respected. There are reports that the US is in talks with Russia seeking a base on Russian territory or again in Tajikistan for its future ‘over-the-horizon’ operations in Afghanistan, starting with monitoring purposes.

In sum, while option I, outlined above, promises an immediate disaster for South Asia and even beyond, option II holds out  only marginally better prospects. It still has the Damocles’ sword of the probability of a civil war hanging over the head. The ideal solution would be to widen the Taliban 2.0 government to include the deprived minorities with an eye on keeping an effective lid on social instability. But the prospects for such a solution seem far-fetched, given the apparent domination of the hardliners in Taliban 2.0 and the long-standing animosity between the northern non-Pashtun Afghans and the Pashtun Taliban.. Also, the attacks by other extremist groups like the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), al Qaeda, and the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and so on will unlikely cease, even if option II is fully implemented. These extra-Taliban extremist groups will only encourage the radical elements within the Taliban to opt for more aggressive actions, both within and outside Afghanistan’s borders.

The future in and around Afghanistan looks grim indeed.


[i] Incidentally, the Pashtuns living on both sides of the British-drawn Durand Line of 1893  do not recognise it, and that includes the Taliban)

[ii] Reid Standish report, gandhara.org of rfe/rl.org, 27 September 2021, accessed 14 October 2021, 09.07 Indian Standard Time (IST)… All times henceforth are in IST.

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How India utilised the AFSPA to suppress freedom movements?

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The freedom movements in the volatile north-eastern state of India predate the Partition. The Englishman realised importance of the North East as it could provide a corridor to the Japanese in World War II. India applied the Armed forces Special Powers Act first to the north eastern states of Assam and Manipur, a cauldron of unrest. The act was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north eastern region of India. The states affected by the draconian law included Assam. Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland, also known as the seven sisters. The forces brutally applied the AFSPA to the states. It ignored outcry by people against has mounting incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape and looting. Indian government continued to extend the initial period for imposition of the law ad infinitum sometimes with ex post facto notifications. Its pleas were without AFSPA all the north eastern states will secede from India.  

Gunpoint diplomacy

A large part of the original region that constitutes the seven states of the republic of India had strong political, economic and socio-cultural links with South East Asia. The great Hindu and Muslim empires that reigned over the Indian subcontinent never extended east of the Brahmaputra River. The British colonists were the first to repress freedom movements. . In the early nineteenth century they moved in to check Burmese expansion into today’s Manipur and Assam. The British, with the help of the then Manipur king, Gambhir Singh, crushed the Burmese imperialist dream and the treaty of Yandabo was signed in 1828. Under this treaty Assam became a part of British India and the British continued to influence the political affairs of the region.

The resentment against the Englishman led to the bloody Anglo-Manipuri Conflict of 1891. The British were subdued by the fighting spirit of the local people. So, they preferred not to administer directly but only through the King.

During the Second World War, the Japanese tried to enter the Indian sub continent through this narrow corridor. But back home when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were A-bombed they retreated from the Imphal and Kohima fronts.

A buffer zone

Before leaving India, the British pondered over many proposals for post-Partition of India. The local people were however never consulted. Finally the British divided the region such that some parts went to Pakistan but the lion’s share to India.

Over the years local democratic movements erupted as the people aspired to a new social and political order. One important example is a strong popular democratic movement against feudalism and colonialism in Manipur, led by Hijam Irabot Singh.

The treacherous annexation of Manipur

The post-Partition India reconstituted the kingdom of Manipur as a constitutional monarchy by passing the Manipur Constitution Act 1947. Elections were held under the new constitution. A legislative assembly was formed. In 1949 V.P Menon, a seminar representative of Government of India, invited the king to a meeting on the pretext of discussing the deteriorating law and order situation in the state in Shillong. Upon his arrival, the king was forced to sign under duress. The agreement was never ratified in the Manipur legislative Assembly. Rather, the Assembly was dissolved and Manipur was kept under the charge of a Chief Commissioner. There were strong protests but using violent and brutal repression the Government of India suppressed the democratic movement in Manipur and has continued applying the same methods ever since.

Colonisation of Nagaland

The inhabitants of the Naga Hills, sprawling across Indo-Burmese border, formed Naga National Council (NNC) aspiring for a common homeland and self governance. During 1929, the NNC petitioned the Simon Commission for independence. The Commission was examining the feasibility of future of self governance of India.

The Naga leaders forcefully articulated the demand of self governance once the British pulled out of India. Gandhi publicly announced that Nagas had every right to be independent. Under the Hydari Agreement signed between NNC and British administration, Nagaland was granted protected status for ten years, after which the Nagas would decide whether they should stay in the Indian union or not. However, shortly after the British withdrew, the new Indian rulers colonized Nagaland and claimed it to be Indian Territory.

The Naga National Council proclaimed Nagaland’s independence in retaliation, and the Indian authorities arrested the Naga leaders. The AFSPA was used to violently suppress the democratic aspirations of the people of North East. In 1975, some Naga leaders held talks with the Government of India which resulted in the Shillong Agreement. Democratic forces of Nagaland smelt a rat in this deceptive agreement and rallied the people for national liberation of Nagas. One of the organizations which articulated the democratic demand of Naga people is National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

Mizoram

Mizo National front was a phenomenal product of a famine. In the Lushai Hills of Assam in the early sixties a famine broke out. A relief team requested for help from the Government of India. But there was little help. The relief team organised themselves into the Mizo National front (MNF) to liberate themselves from the neo-colonial occupation of India. Against the democratic aspirations of the people Indian army moved in. The rebellion was so strong, that the Indian air force had to bomb the villagers. The armed forces compelled people to leave their homes. This devastated the structure of Mizo society. In 1986, the Mizo Accord was signed between MNF and Government of India. This accord was as deceptive as the Shillong Accord made with the Nagas earlier. To promote dominance by high caste Hindus, India clubbed poor non-feudal ethnic groups with Adivasis, cheating them in the name of scheduled tribes and in the process forcing them to be marginalized and stigmatized by the upper caste ruling elites of India.

Gradually it became the neocolonial hinterland for exploitation by the Indian state, where local industries were made worthless and now the people are entirely dependent on goods and businesses owned predominantly by those from the Indo-Gangetic plains. The new Indian unscrupulous businesses pull the economic strings of this region.

Tripura

In Tripura the indigenous population has been reduced to a mere 25% of the total population of the state because of large scale immigration from the North east and Bangladesh.

A series of repressive laws were passed by the Government of India in order to deal with this rising National liberation aspiration of the people of North east. In 1953 the Assam maintenance of Public Order (Autonomous District) Regulation Act was passed. It was applicable to the then Naga Hills and Tuensang districts. It empowered the Governor to impose collective fines, prohibit public meetings, and detain anybody without a warrant. Indian atrocities from 1980 onwards include: the massacres of civilians at Heirangoi thong (Manipur) in 1984, at RIMS Manipur in 1995, at Malom (Manipur) in 2000; the horror of army torture and violence on civilians during operation Blue bird (Manipur) in 1987 and operation Rhino (Assam) in 1991. Indiscriminate firing on civilians by armed forces personnel when their own vehicle burst in the town of Kohina (Nagaland) in March 1995, the shelling and destruction of the town of Makokchung (Nagaland) in 1994, the enforced disappearances of Loken and Lokendro (Manipur) in 1996, and the rape of Miss N Sanjita (who subsequently committed suicide) (Manipur) in 2003.

Concluding remark

After the Partition, India emerged as the new-colonial power. The North East still yeans for freedom.

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The myth of “shared values”

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PM Narendra Modi and US Vice-President Kamala Harris during a press statement. (Photo: Twitter/@MEAIndia)

The Indian prime minister’s visit to the USA underlines a paradigm shift in the United States’ policy: a shift from Europe to Asia. The shift is dictated by India’s constant pressure on the US to do its part of the quid pro quo for India’s joining the Quad, a conglomerate to corner China. Like the USA, India also is embarrassed at the fall of Kabul. India wants that the Taliban would shut their eyes to the reign of terror in the occupied Kashmir. In its disappointment, the USA, like a rueful baby, is doing everything on India’s bidding to further isolate Pakistan.

Still the portents are that not everything is hunky-dory with Indo-US relations. The US wants India to cancel its deal to purchase the S-400 air defence system from Russia. The US has given India a muffled message that unless the deal is cancelled India may face sanctions. India is hopeful of getting a waiver.After all, India became a member of the nuclear club without signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty. India has been a recipient of the US favours in the past also.  In July 2003 India turned down the US request to provide 17,000 troops to shore up America’s war in Iraq. Then, India under prime minister Manmohan Singh also refused to support any US attempts to isolate or topple the Iran government. Manmohan wished Russian diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear programme would succeed.The US companies have invested $ 200 billion in China. Yet, she is perceived as the number one competitor to the US. The reason is that China may surpass the US in terms of Gross Domestic Product growth in the near future.

US ennui
To Modi’s chagrin, the US president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris underscored the importance of democratic values in their meetings. Biden quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s message of tolerance to allude to prevailing intolerance of BJP’s government, an avatar of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Harris stressed the need for democratic countries to “defend democratic principles and institutions. Her remarks amounted to a diplomatic nudge to the Indian leadership amid concerns about “democratic backsliding” in India (Freedom house and the Economist downgraded India).
Before Biden and Modi joined their delegations for bilateral talks, the US President had made opening remarks: “Our partnership is more than just what we do. It’s about who we are…. It’s rooted in our shared responsibility to uphold democratic values, our joint commitment to diversity, and it’s about family ties, including four million Indian Americans who make the United States stronger every single day.”
Harris said at a joint media appearance with Modi before their first in-person meeting at the White House: “As democracies around the world are under threat, it is imperative that we defend democratic principles and institutions within our respective countries and around the world, and that we maintain what we must do to strengthen democracies at home.
She had earlier openly differed on Twitter with Jaishanker when he refused to attend a meeting with the House foreign affairs committee because the US legislators had rejected his request to exclude Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who had been critical of the Modi government’s Kashmir policy.
“It’s wrong for any foreign government to tell Congress what members are allowed in meetings on Capitol Hill,” Harris had tweeted in December 2019.
Shared values
As for “tolerance”, the US invasions of Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan leave no doubt about how much the US believes in what it professes.

India’s democratic “tolerance”

Since British raj days, India’s north east had been a simmering cauldron of freedom movements. British colonists held sway over the North East at gun point. In footsteps of the British colonists India suppressed freedom movements in the volatile North East through a slew of draconian laws. The most atrocious law applied to the region was the Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1958. It was later extended to the disputed Jammu and Kashmir state also.

The AFSPA violates the fundamental constitutional rights of right to life, liberty, freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly, free movement, practice of any profession, and protection against arbitrary arrest and freedom of religion, as enshrined in Articles 21, 14, 19, 22 and 25 of the Indian Constitution.   AFSPA has been used in these regions to inflict thousands of deaths, custodial deaths and rape, torture, encirclement of the civilian population, combing operations, looting of private citizen’s property etc. Thousands of youth have simply disappeared.

Onus of proof on the accused

The AFSPA holds an accused guilty until proven innocent. This law violates legal maxim Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (“innocent until proven guilty”).

A quasi-emergency

A governor of an Indian state could through a notification declare a state to be “disturbed” without consulting the state legislature. The law gives armed forces immunity from any accountability. The law is not “in aid of civil authority” but “in place of civil authority”.

Powers of officers

Section 4 gives the following special powers to any commissioned officer, warrant officer or non commissioned officer of the armed forces in a disturbed area: (a) If in his opinion, it is necessary for maintenance for public order to fire even to the extent of causing death or otherwise use force against a person who is acting in contravention of an order prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or of things capable of being used as weapon. (b) If in his opinion, it is necessary to destroy any arms dump or fortified position, any shelter from which armed attacks are made or are likely to be made, and any structure used as training camp for armed volunteers or as a hideout for armed volunteers or as a hideout for armed gangs or absconders. (c) Arrest without warrant any person who has committed a cognizable offence and to use whatever force is necessary to affect the arrest. (d) To enter and search without warrant any premises to make an arrest or to recover any person wrongfully confined or to recover any arms, ammunition, explosive substance or suspected stolen property.

Section 2 (c) of the Act also clearly shows the close affinity between AFSPA and those laws governing the military such as the Army Act (1950). It reads, ‘All other words and expressions used herein but not defined in the Air Force Act 1950, or the Army Act 1950, shall have the meaning respectively assigned to them in those Acts’.

A war against own people

The act applies toacts that are ‘likely to be made’ or ‘about to be committed’. This presumption is characteristic of war zones. In a war situation, any officer whether he is a commissioned, junior commissioned or non-commissioned officer-leading his men in the field is the judge as well as part of the body that executes his judgments.

The AFSPA grants armed forces personnel the power to shoot to arrest, search, seize and even shoot to kill. Thus it violates the Right to Life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees the right to life to all people. The AFSPA also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). India signed the ICCPR in 1978, taking on the responsibility of securing the rights guaranteed by the Covenant to all its citizens. In particular, the Act is in contravention of Article 6 of the ICCPR guaranteeing the right to life.

Concluding remark

India is often called “the world’s largest democracy” by the West. Western notion of democracy (Westminster model) is that it is government of the people (masses, not classes), for the people and by the people.  In truth, Indian democracy is in name only, not in substance. The “shared values” are a ruse.  

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