While the world was engrossed in an intensely fought battle for the Oval office between the Democratic candidate Joe Biden and the incumbent US President Donald Trump, far removed from the partisan politics of the US Capitol, a diplomatic event of significant importance took place in New Delhi.
The occasion was the third edition of the India-US “2+2” Ministerial dialogue which was held in New Delhi on October 27, 2020. While heavily covered in the Indian media, the American media gave it a miss.
The “2+2” Ministerial Dialogue is a relatively recent innovation in India-US relations. The mechanism involves the ministers of Defence and Foreign relations of the two countries meeting jointly to discuss vital aspects of their diplomatic and strategic partnership.
The US delegation was led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the then Defence Secretary Mark Esper while the Indian side was represented by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. On the agenda was the enhancement of the India-US Global Strategic partnership, deepening of the military engagement between the two countries, access to cutting edge US defence hardware and co-ordinated response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
From the Indian perspective the dialogue mechanism provides a framework for institutionalizing co-operation between the military and diplomatic establishments of both countries and provides a forum for better understanding of each others security compulsions and co-ordination of diplomatic moves on the world stage.
The “2+2” mechanism also addresses a deep-seated grievance in the Indian strategic establishment, that the US State Department and the CIA have historically been favourably disposed towards Pakistan given the long-term relationships built with the Pakistani military-intelligence complex during the Cold War, the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, and Pakistan’s position as a frontline state during the War on Terror. Conversely, the Pentagon has been much more favourably disposed towards the Indian assertion of Pakistan being a global hub of Islamic terrorism, as it has had to fight against ISI-backed Taliban insurgents for the last two decades in Afghanistan. The burgeoning US-India military-to-military relations are a case in point with the Pentagon keen on engaging with the Indian military at all levels.
From the US perspective, the dialogue provides a mechanism to enhance institutional understanding between the foreign and military establishments of both countries and to ensure that as India emerges as a counter-weight to China in the Indo-Pacific while balancing China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean. The US backing of India’s position since the current military stand-off with China began along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, was most conspicuous with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unambiguously supporting India’s position after the talks.
A key concrete takeaway from the talks was that India finally signed the three foundational logistics & communication agreements (BECA, LEMOA, COMCASA) which form the basis of India-US defence co-operation framework. The efficacy of the 2+2 dialogue mechanism can be gauged from the fact hat barely a month after the discussions the US allowed Indian Navy to lease two MQ-9B Sea Guardian surveillance drones, for training and familiarization purposes while India firms up a much larger order of 24 such drones via the Foreign Military Sales route. Interestingly, the Sea Guardian drones are based out of INS Rajali in Tamil Nadu in southern India, the same naval base where the Indian Navy bases its Boeing P-8I anti-submarine warfare and surveillance planes acquired from the US.
The joint statement at the end of the 2+2 talks also mentioned Afghanistan rather prominently. For the US a face-saving withdrawal from Afghanistan is a strategic priority. For both the US and India, an Afghanistan dominated by the Taliban, and with a security vacuum after the withdrawal of ISAF forces is a nightmare scenario, with New Delhi having experienced taking on veterans of the Afghan war in Kashmir after the Soviet withdrawal from Kabul in 1989 and 9/11 deeply imprinted in the US consciousness. India is also keen to preserve the leverage and goodwill it has accrued due to its infrastructure projects which have impacted the common Afghan populace significantly. Within Afghanistan significant sections of the city-dwelling populace who have enjoyed a sort of peace-dividend are worried about the withdrawal of Western forces and the blocking of Western funding should a radical Islamist regime take power in Kabul.
However, the enhanced India-US co-operation is not without its challenges for India. In the Indian context, the Indo-US alliance will primarily impact three key foreign relationships of India
India- Russia relationship – Russia will be wary of US overtures to India. The recent statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, exemplifies the disquiet in the Kremlin as the US aims to pull India into an ever-closer strategic embrace. As India seeks to diversify its weapon purchases and aggressively develop a domestic arms industry Russia’s pre-eminent position as India’s defence partner will take a hit. India will seek to compensate for this by partnering with Russia for high-end strategic systems like the lease of the second Akula class nuclear submarine, additional orders for the S-400 strategic air defence systems and the emergency purchase of Mig-29 fighter aircraft to shore up dwindling numbers in its air force. On the diplomatic front, there will be increasing pressure from the US at India to abandon its historic independent foreign policy and to line up Western position in the diplomatic arena. It will be a significant challenge for Indian diplomats to keep a balance between the Russian & US relationships.
India- Pakistan relationship – Pakistan will gradually lose its importance in the American calculus especially as the US engagement in Afghanistan winds down. To compensate for the lack of American and Saudi largesse, Pakistan will further embrace the dragon. China will use Pakistan as a proxy to needle India militarily. Pakistan currently smarting from India’s sudden move to abrogate Article 370 and end autonomy for the Kashmir province, may embark on a small-scale military operation either jointly with China or with Chinese backing to alter the status quo in Kashmir. Given India’s new policy of defensive offence any such conflict may not stay limited to the areas along the LoC and it may hit back at targets in depth and also escalate the conflict to the air & naval domains.
India-China relationship – China seems to have taken an aggressive stance with neighbours with which it has disputes (India, Taiwan, Japan). This seems like a tactic by President Xi Jinping to channelize the simmering discontent among the Chinese masses due to the outbreak of Wuhan Coronavirus outwards towards its neighbours and keep a lid on dissent within the PLA and the Chinese Communist party. With India de-coupling the economies of India and China along with the Make in India initiative, will lead to a correcting of trade imbalance India and China. The stand-off initiated by China in Ladakh has effectively become a stalemate with a resolute Indian government and Army confronting the Chinese dragon head-on. The longer the stand-off continues, more will be the deepening of India-US partnership. If India and China can resolve the current stand-off and settle their boundary dispute along the inhospitable Himalayan regions, then the competition between the two countries can be limited to the economic and technological domains.
The India-US partnership is driven by shared goals and concerns about developments at the global stage. How the relationship evolves under the incoming Biden-Harris administration is to be seen, as Joe Biden may take a less stringent approach to the trade war with China than Trump. From the Indian perspective PM Modi has pursued a muscular foreign policy based on achieving national objectives and the deepening of the US – India engagement helps him achieve the target of growing India to a $5 trillion academy. The 2+2 dialogue provides a bedrock on which to grow the relationship further.
Is India fearful of internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute?
At the time of Partition, India knew that its policies with regard to the Princely states were inconsistent. So, it feared internationalisation of the Kashmir dispute. Vallabhai Patel, presented Kashmir to Liaquat Ali Khan in a platter, so to say, in exchange for Junagadh and Hyderabad. Liaquat Ali Khan did not accept the offer. Saifuddin Soz, former Congress minister and a prominent Kashmiri politician, told The Print Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV’s Walk The Talk show that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was happy to let Kashmir go to Pakistan in exchange for Hyderabad.
Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, took Patel’s offer to Pakistan on the exact day the Indian Army landed in Srinagar to push back intruders from Pakistan in October 1947. “From the very first day Sardar Patel was adamant that Kashmir should go to Pakistan. In the partition council, he tried his level best to convince Liaquat Ali to take Kashmir and leave Hyderabad-Deccan,” Soz said.
“But as Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan writes in his book,” Soz said, “Liaquat Ali neither understood history, nor geography. So, he did not accept the offer..”(Sardar Patel was adamant, give Kashmir to Pakistan, take Hyderabad. Nehru saved it: Soz, The Print June 25, 2018).
Till the 1990s, internationalisation remained India’s nightmare. Former Indian foreign-secretary Jagat S. Mehta’s formula. Mehta presented a formula which offered many concessions to Pakistan in exchange for a promise not to agitate the Kashmir dispute on international forums and keep it on backburner for ten years. He presented his ideas in an article, ‘Resolving Kashmir in the International Context of the 1990s’ (Hindustan Times editor Verghese also gave similar proposals). Mehta had also proposed (a) Conversion of the LoC into “a soft border permitting free movement and facilitating free exchanges…”
(b) Immediate demilitarisation of the LoC to a depth of five to 10 miles with agreed methods of verifying compliance. (c) Pending final settlement, there must be no continuing insistence by Pakistan “on internationalization, and for the implementation of a parallel or statewide plebiscite to be imposed under the peacekeeping auspices of the United Nations”. (d) Final settlement of the dispute between India and Pakistan can be suspended (kept in a ‘cold freeze’) for an agreed period. (e) Conducting parallel democratic elections in both Pakistani and Indian sectors of Kashmir. (f) Restoration of an autonomous Kashmiriyat. (g) Pacification of the valley until a political solution is reached.
Mehta’s quasi-solution, re-coined as Musharraf/Qasuri solution, was advocated by the United States’ Institute of Peace also. . Voracious readers may refer for detail to Robert G. Wirsing, India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute (1994, St Martin’s Press).
UK MPs concern on Kashmir
To India’s chagrin, a day after debating persecution of minorities in India, the members of the British House of Commons turned to human-rights violations in the occupied Kashmir and “called for the European Union and the United nations to be given access to the disputed state and for Boris Johnson to raise the issue with Prime minister Narendra Modi and for the UK government to `use its influence with India and Pakistan’ and send its own delegation to assess the human rights situation (UK MPs call for Britain to `use its influence for human rights in Kashmir’, Times of India January 15, 2021). MP Naz Shah asked, `Without the UN rapporteurs allowed into the region and with every report in the region censored how can anyone assure this house that genocide in Kashmir is not taking place. The MPs expressed concern about the continuing lockdown and Internet restrictions in J&K as well as allegations of rapes, detentions without trial, unexplained and uninvestigated deaths disappearance, curfews, communication blackouts and mass arrests’.
The Indian High Commission in London shrugged off the allegation of “genocide, rampant violence and torture” as “unsubstantiated”.
Ten MPs, drawn equally from Labour and the Conservatives, took part in the debate on “Political situation in Kashmir” . India labeled them as “backbenchers”.
Conservative MP James Daly called for the UK government , “working with our European partners with President – elect Biden in America” to came up with an international programme through the UN that will give hope to those poor people in Kashmir”. Mp Sarah Own highlighted plight of Kashmiri under constant lockdown, “enforced by half a million soldiers” for ten months. She said, ‘I have heard[that there are] women in Kashmir that are terrified of being assaulted by the thousands of soldiers on their doorstep. Women fear for their lives and do not feel safe”. She urged the UK government to take position against Kashmir’s illegal annexation”.
Kashmir: An international issue
Earlier in June 2020, also, British MP Andrew Gwynne, Chairman of Labour Friends of Kashmiris, along with several other UK MPs had, in online conference, termed Kashmir “an international issue, requiring “ international intervention to resolve the dispute taking into consideration aspiration Kashmiris’ (UK MPS: Kashmir is an international issue’: `Reorganization of Indian-administered Kashmir in contravention of Geneva convention, UN resolutions, says lawmaker, Andalou Agency June 4, 2020).
With no cogent answer India indulges in malicious allegations
Instead of answering questions raised about human rights violations India alleged that “ImranKhan government in Pakistan reportedly spent Rs. 30 lakh on member of British parliamentary group visit to the country [Pakistan] and Pakistan occupied Kashmir [Azad Kashmir] (Pakistan paid Rs. 30 lac to British MPs to visit Pakistan, spread false narrative on Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir, Zee News, July 19, 2020).
Questions India parried
India is still to answer why it disallowed opposition leaders including Rahul Gandhi to visit occupied Kashmir while according VVIP reception to anti-Muslim group of EU MPS? Why it disallowed UK MP Debbie Abrahams to visit occupied Kashmir?
Debbie alleged she was denied as she had been critical of India’s decision to abolish special status of the disputed state. She tweeted, `Why did the Indian Government revoke my visa after it was granted? Why didn’t they let me get a visa on arrival? Is it because I have been critical of the Indian government on #Kashmir human rights issues?”
Madi Sharma, a self-styled `international business broker’ arranged anti-Muslim EU MPs all-expense-prepaid visit to occupied Kashmir. Why India did not publicise the expenditure incurred.
Madi Sharma: A Raw surrogate
EU DisinfoLab and India’s own NDTV exposed fake identity of NGOs run by Madi Sharma. The NDTV reached out to Ms Sharma. Having received no response, it asked, `Will the Prime Minister tell as to who is Madi Sharma? Why and in what capacity is Madi Sharma fixing an appointment of Prime Minister with a delegation of EU MPs on a personal visit and why is Government of India facilitating it? Where is the money to finance the entire trip coming from? Why has Ministry of External Affairs been totally sidelined?
Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi – whose delegation was turned back from the Srinagar airport – have questioned why European lawmakers were allowed amid such restrictions but opposition politicians in India were not. AFP has reported that the European parliament and European Union hierarchy were not involved in this visit. Several European embassies in Delhi were unaware of the visit. It also quoted an unnamed EU official in India as saying the visit was not official and the lawmakers had come at the invitation of an NGO, the International Institute of Non-Aligned Studies (IINS). It is a fake entity owned by the Srivastava Group of Companies, which was found to have been behind EP Today, a news and opinion website that largely drew its content from state-funded Russian media RT. EP Today’s address, the group’s Brussels office, and the International Council for Inter-Religious are all listed under the same address: 37 Square de Meeûs in Brussels. Since POLITICO’s reporting, incorporating research done by NGO EU vs Disinfo, both Facebook and Twitter had shut down the website’s presence on their platforms.
The visit, described as private, was sponsored by the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, a think tank, according to Madi Sharma’s emails. Its office in Delhi was locked.
Chris Davies, a British Renew Europe MEP, said Madi Sharma invited him to the India trip, promising a “prestigious VIP meeting” with Modi, according to the email he received from her. Davies said his invitation was rescinded after he told Sharma he wanted to meet local Kashmiris unsupervised.
Sharma had reached out to Davies in her official capacity as the director of WESTT, but it is unclear how a think tank with an operating budget of less than €25,000 and one full-time staff member had direct access to the Indian prime minister’s office, its top military officials and its foreign minister — who featured on the trip’s itinerary. Davies tweeted `the visit a “PR stunt.”
Sharma’s work is also heavily featured on the website EP Today, including her trips to the Maldives and Bangladesh. Sharma herself has written op-eds for the website. In one article she called India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status — widely condemned by human rights groups — a “victory” for Kashmiri women. But, she did not respond to NDTV’s repeated requests for an interview.
Madi Sharma was present when the European MPs met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
India is reminded of the proverb `Pot calling kettle black’. It should do some soul searching instead of blaming Pakistan for portraying Kashmir’s real situation.
More about how democracy should be elected -Interview with Tannisha Avarrsekar
Tannisha Avarrsekar, a political activist who wants to increase equality in the representation of political candidates in India. In this interview, Tannisha discusses more about her journey, political beliefs and her platform Lokatantra.
Why did you start Lokatantra?
I started it because I wanted to make politics more accessible for the youth.
I moved to London for my undergrad when I was 18, so 2019 was the first election that I was able to vote in. But after I came back, I found that gathering information about the registration process, as well as probable candidates took more time and effort than it should.
I began realizing that for citizens like me, who wanted to be more politically aware or socially conscious, there was the dearth of a platform where they could educate themselves and engage with those they were considering electing. And that’s how Lokatantra came along.
Tell us more about Lokatantra.
Lokatantra.in is an online political platform that aims to make the youth more politically aware and socially conscious. It attempts to bridge the gap between voters and politicians by empowering voters with comprehensive information about their candidates and the voting process, after verifying its authenticity and organizing it in a manner that makes it quick and easy to understand. It also does telephone voter registrations for those having trouble with it.
On the flip side, the social enterprise also collects data on citizens’ opinions on key issues through polls and surveys, and then analyses and publishes the results, to aid in the decision-making of leaders. In this way, the platform sheds light on the accomplishments of politicians- especially independents who can’t afford expensive campaigns, as well as the troubles of the common man.
The Lokatantra.in website and mobile application prides itself on its treasury of information about each and every candidate from the Mumbai City district. This extensive material includes details about these candidates’ educational qualifications, past political affiliations, career highlights, controversies, criminal records, and standpoints on critical debates. The platform also allows users to ask candidates questions, as well as rate them so as to help other voters from their constituency make their choice.
What do you think can make journalism more neutral?
More crowdfunded platforms. Limits on investments by big corporations, and complete transparency in the finances of media houses. Also, stricter penalties on misinformation.
Why is equal representation in politics important?
Equal representation in politics is important because it encourages newer political faces and fresh ideas into our country’s governance, which has been largely polarized and dominated by big political parties, with old loyalists and deep pockets. It allows us to choose our leaders based on more than just their party symbol and spending power, and instead take into account their character, ideology and objectives.
How is Lokatantra a unique platform? What do you do differently?
Before an election, Lokatantra interviews all the candidates standing, with a uniform questionnaire to gather their opinions on issues that play a key role in deciding who to vote for and are yet often not a part of mainstream discourse. The answers from these interviews are then fed into an algorithm, which allows voters to answer the very same questions, and then ranks the candidates in their constituency based on how much their political opinions match. What makes this quiz truly extraordinary is the fact that it takes into account the nuances of one’s answers, by letting you weigh how much each issue affects your vote.
We also spend a lot of time answering personal questions and engaging in individual conversations about politics, with members of our community that message us.
Tell us more about your personal political affiliations.
As the face of a politically neutral platform, I’m not permitted to have political affiliations. But I would describe my personal ideology as socially liberal and fiscally conservative.
What do you think are the biggest electoral problems India is facing at the moment and what do you think are the solutions?
I think it is the shocking mass disappearances of voter names from electoral lists, which has caused erosion of public faith in the democratic process.
A colleague of mine- Siddhant Kesnur and I, recently wrote a policy memo about the solutions to this, and if I had to pick one that I think would be most effective it would be stopping the misuse of the ECI’s Form 7, which is an application for voter deletion that ridiculously enough can be sent on behalf of any citizen by any citizen. Simply communicating the receipt of this form to those on whose behalf it has come in, would significantly curb its abuse.
What do you think will pose the greatest challenge to India’s growth in the future?
The move from patriotism to nationalism. In May 2018, Kaushik Basu the economist had cautioned Bangladesh saying that “vibrant economies have been derailed by zealotry many times throughout history”. He had given three examples to support his point: (1) the golden era of economic growth in Arab cities like Damascus and Baghdad which passed when religious fundamentalism began to spread about a thousand years ago (2) Portugal’s position as a global power in the 15th-16th century, which ended when Christian fanaticism became it’s driving political force, and (3) Pakistan’s economy, which after performing fairly decently started slipping from 2005 onwards because of military rule and Islamic fundamentalism.
It makes me sorry to say that the extremist rhetoric we witness in India these days is an alarming harbinger of this kind of zealotry, which has the potential of not just derailing us economically but also causing lasting damage to the social and cultural fabric of our nation.
India: Metamorphosis from disinformation to stark lies
When European Disinfo Lab exposed India’s disinformation network, India apologized. But, the portents are that India continued spreading disinformation, nay stark lies against Pakistan. India’s usual modus operandi was to employ dubious thinktanks and journalists of doubtful credentials to tarnish Pakistan’s image. For instance, Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a registered Canadian charity, published a Pakistan-bashing report ‘Khalistan—A project of Pakistan’ which found mention in almost all leading Indian newspapers. Now, Indian government has told its Supreme Court that farmers’ protest in India are being pro-Pakistan and pro-Khalistan elements. The SC has called upon Indian government to submit an affidavit about its allegation along with corroborative evidence.
Another pro-India “thinktank”, spouting venom against Pakistan is the “International Terrorism Observatory”. It is chaired by Roland Jacquard. Prestigious French newspaper Le Monde (The World) pointed out in 2015; he is the only member “without publications, without a website, without postal address and without any legal existence”. He runs a bookstore stacked with books on “networks of Islamist terrorism’. According to journalists Didier Bigo, Laurent Bonelli and Thomas Deltombe, Roland Jacquard’s claim of being a media expert is questionable.
India-sponsored think tank International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies run by Srivastava Group of India shot into limelight when it paid for the travel and accommodation of an unofficial far-right delegation of 23 European Union parliamentarians to Srinagar on October 30, 2013. The trip was arranged by Indian intelligence surrogate, Madi Sharma, who posed as a self-styled “international business broker”.
India’s metamorphosis from disinformation to stark lies
It appears India has now realized that its disinformation is losing clout. So, instead of banking on dubious journalists and think tanks, it has begun to churn out lies against Pakistan through its own agencies, including the prestigious India Today.
Almost all media outlets and TV channels disseminated the false report that an ex diplomat has admitted that India did actually kills 300 men in Balakot air strike on February 26, 2019. Some channels have retracted the false rreport while others are staying mum.
What did the news agency ANI say?
The statement falsely attributed to diplomat Agha Hilaly was carried by several news organisation, including India Today, and was based on an input by news agency ANI. The News agency ANI quoted Pakistani diplomat Agha Hilaly as saying, “India crossed the international border and did an act of war in which at least 300 were reported dead. Our target was different from theirs. We targeted their high command. That was our legitimate target because they are men of the military. We subconsciously accepted that a surgical strike — a limited action — did not result in any casualty. Now we have subconsciously told them that, whatever they will do, we’ll do only that much and won’t escalate.”
The video was misattributed and the quote was actually a snippet of a larger quote made by former diplomat Zafar Hilaly in a television debate.The full quote by Zafar Hilaly is as follows:: What India did was an act of war. By crossing the international boundary India committed an act of war in which they intended to kill at least 300 people. Coincidentally, they [Pakistani people] did not die and India bombed a football field. “Hilaly has also said that the viral video is edited and does not represent his full quote. He also shared the full video on his Twitter account. A fact-check by “Alt News” found that the comments were misreported and the ex-diplomat who made the comments was “Zafar Hilaly”.In the debate posted on YouTube by HUM news as part of a program called “Agenda Pakistan”, Hilaly had said, “What you did, India, was an act of war. India ne jo kiya, international boundary ko cross karke ek act of war. Jisme kam se kam 300 logo ko unhone marna tha. (What India did was an act of war. By crossing the international boundary India committed an act of war in which they intended to kill at least 300 people).”Zafar Hilaly also tweeted a video saying his statement was spliced and edited. Alt News said a version of the video posted on Twitter had an abrupt cut “around 0:7-0:9 seconds” and the word “marna (to kill)” sounds as if Hilaly said “mara (killed)”. The news has since been removed by websites.
A basic principle of disinformation is ‘never lose sight of truth’. A half-truth or even .005 per cent to 5% untruth, a twisted truth, or sometimes a truth concealed may appeal more to readers or viewers than a stark lie. Goebels is not alive to tell that he never said ‘the bigger the lie the more it will be believed’. Pathological lying is not the art of disinformation. Psychologists would tell that, even under stress, a mature person would suppress truth rather than tell a lie.
Richard Deacon says, ‘Truth twisting…unless it is conducted with caution and great attention to detail, it will inevitably fail, if practiced too often… It is not the deliberate lie which we have to fear (something propaganda), but the half-truth, the embellished truth and the truth dressed up to appear a something quite different’ (The Truth Twisters, London, Macdonald & Company (Publishers) Limited, 1986/1987, p. 8).
He gives several example of disinformation including sublimininal disinformation by which the truth can be twisted so that the distortion is unconsciously absorbed, something which both television and radio commentators have subtly perfected’. (Ibid. p. 9).
Role of India’s foremost intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in conducting disinformation campaigns has, by and large, remained hidden from the media watch. It is now being exposed. RAW is burning midnight oils to exploit USA’s sensitivity about certain ticklish subjects like Hawala transactions for funneling funds to “terrorists’, nuclear proliferation, use of missiles to hit aircraft, and development of chemical biological and nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
The RAW’s disinformation campaign, often bordering on lying, is well reflected by innocuous-looking news (unsupported by reference to information sources) that appear, from time to time, in Indian media. Hilaly debacle is a case in point.
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