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Political Process Would Have Saved from Surrender in Indo- Pak War of 1971

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After independence on 14 August 1947, the objective resolution was passed on 12 March 1949 which provided guide lines for framing the constitution. Important clause was “Pakistan shall be federation, principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated in Islam shall be fully observed. It took nine years to frame constitution, major hurdle was the politicians from West Pakistan (W Pak) wanted parity between the two provinces although population of former East Pakistan (E Pak) was about 55 percent. Finally, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy from E Pak, in 1955, after elections agreed to three points, one unit, parity between two wings and Joint electorate. The constitution of 1956was effective from 23 March. National Assembly had total 300 seats, equally divided in two wings. It was abrogated in October 1958 when Martial was imposed by Gen Ayub Khan. This was a setback to E Pak. New constitution by Ayub was promulgated on 8 June 1962 which was presidential form of government, president head of state, as well as government.  Unicameral, national assembly of 150, equal members from each province. Most powers with center. Became a unitary form of government. Ayub Khan after signing of Shimla Agreement followed by political agitations instead of handing over powers to speaker national assembly Abdul Jabbar khan, from E Pak, as per constitution invited Gen Yayah khan to impose Martial law on 25 March 1969. This also became big irritant for E Pak. According to Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi book, Military and Politics in Pakistan, Gen Yayah Khan announced to hold free and fair elections on the basis of one man one vote and permitted political activities with effect from first January 1970 while martial law remained enforced. He also abolished one unit and West Pakistan was reconstituted into four provinces Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan. Reallocation of national assembly seats were, E Pak162, Punjab 82, Sindh27, NWFP 18, Balochistan 4 and Tribal Areas 7. Elections to be held under Legal Frame Order(LFO). National assembly to frame constitution in 120 days of its first meeting. The Constitution bill passed by the Assembly to be authenticated by President before promulgation. It did not clarify the important condition for the Bill to be approved by two third majority. Moreover, time limit for assembly to meet and place was not mentioned.  The imposition of conditions was generally not appreciated by politicians especially from E Pak. National and provincial assemblies’ elections were held on 7 and 17 Dec respectively. Two major parties emerged were Awami League 160 seats from E Pak and nil from W Pak, PPP 81 from W Pak and zero from E Pak, independents one from E Pak and 15 from W Pak. Other prominent parties were Qayyum League 9, Council Muslim league, JUI (Hazarvi) and NAP (Wali) 7 each. Awami league under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman had contest elections under six points which were part of their manifesto since 1967. These were almost for confederation but LFO clearly said federation to be maintained. It is pertinent to mention that as per Gen Matinuddin book Tragedy of Errors, GD ISI forecast was that none of party will get simple majority and it will be a collation government. This un expected result and politically volatile situation demanded an experienced, visionary, self-sacrificing, ruler with sharp political acumen.

Gen Yayah dismissed his nominated civilian cabinet on 17 Feb71, opportunities to get political advice from the politicians who maintain liaison at the grass root level diminished. Infect he should have selected sharp, unbiased, and loyal politicians from both wings who had not participated in the elections. The decision making was mainly by president advised by an inner circle of senior army officers. The president visited Dhaka on13 Jan, had detailed meeting with Sheikh Mujib and other Awami league(AL) leaders. He conceded the technical ability of the AL to go alone. However, he did express a desire for the AL to include W Pak politicians in the future government. On the way back Gen Yayah went to Larkana at the invitation Bhutto instead of calling him to Rawalpindi. According to Gen Pirzada, PSO to Gen Yayah, the president told Bhutto to sort it out with Mujib or sit in the opposition.  However, visit to Larkana created doubts in the AL and other politicians. Some politicians even believed that it was sell out to Bhutto. The president announced on 13 Feb for the national assembly members to assemble in Dhaka on 3 March 71(after 87 days of election). It was very late which gave time to politicians to manipulate and take advantage from the prevalent political environments.  Bhutto declared, he would break the legs of any of his party member who dared to attend the national assembly session and those who went without his consent would not be allowed to return. Publically Sheikh Mujib was not showing flexibility about his six points. Military hierarchy in W Pak was generally not in favor of handing power to AL. Gen Yayah called a meeting of senior officials in Rawalpindi on 22 Feb which was attended by Governor of E Pak Vice Admiral Ahsan (retd), Commander Eastern Command Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub, Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali, military adviser to governor E Pak, PSOs and DG ISI. He gave decision to knock sense in Mujib and postpone the assembly meeting till AL is crushed. Sahibzada Yaqub, Ahsan and Rao Farman Ali did not agree with the decision. On 25 Feb Mujib invited Yayah to visit E Pak and gave a hint to modify his six points but visit did not materialize. It created more doubts in AL leadership. On 1 March governor E Pak and Sahibzada Yaqub were told by PSO to president to convey to Mujib the postponement of national assembly session scheduled on 3 Mar for indefinite period.  Mujib was upset at the same time requested for the next date as he would not be able to control the situation. Now there will be pressing demand from my people for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). He further said,the parleys at Larkana have tilted the balance in Bhutto’s favor.Governor immediately sent telex to CMLA headquarters stating “I beg you to announce a fresh date tonight, tomorrow will be too late”. The plea went unnoticed, mid night 1/2 Mar announcement was made without giving fresh date. This became a turning point. The governor resigned and Sahibzada took over as governor. Sahibzada on 3 March when the situation started deteriorating invited Gen Yayah to come to E Pak for a political solution. His request was declined. Sahibzada sent a signal of resignation which is”the situation in E Pak has reached a point which will not admit a military solution. I had urged you to come to seek a political solution. I did not succeed. There is no military solution to the problem. A military solution would lead to large scale killings of the innocent civilians. It would not help in achieving the aim. I cannot accept a mission which would prove disastrous. I, therefore hereby offer my resignation.” (Tragedy of Errors p 160-185)

Gen Tikka Khan was immediately ordered to proceed to E Pak to take over from Sahibzada Yaqub. From 2 Mar killing, burning, looting, ambushing, brick batting and molestation of non-Bengalis was at the peak. A large number of Bihari, and W Pakistanis were killed by AL militants. Shops were gutted, their houses looted, women raped and bodies mutilated. Mujib addressed a large gathering in Platen Maidan on 7 Mar and denounced the military leadership for favoring a minority party and not handing over power.  He gave additional four points which included immediately lifting of martial law, transfer of powers to majority party, army to return to barracks, judicial inquiry for killing of some innocent people on the night 1 / 2 March. He ended speech by saying “our struggle is for freedom”. He did not use the word independence nor in clear words he demanded an independent state of Bangladesh.On 14 Mar, Bhutto made a public statement, “power should be transferred to both the majority parties.” It may be indication of accepting the confederation. Gen Yayah went to E Pak on 15 Mar and stayed till25. Hectic discussions took place on the constitutional frame work between AL and the experts of the president.  Later Bhutto and other leaders from W Pak also joined. No agreement emerged because AL strict to confederation which was not acceptable to the president. The 25 Mar date of national assembly meeting was postponed. According to book Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership by Gen Fazal Muqeem p52, Gen Yayah called Gen Tikka and Rao Farman Ali and asked them to finalize ops order for “Operation Search Light”. Killing of a few thousands would not be too high a price for keeping the country together. Show them the teeth and they will be quiet. The main objective of operation was to create conditions for selecting a civilian set up. The military crackdown began mid night 25/ 26 March. Upon reaching Karachi the president made announcement of banning all political activities, imposing complete censorship and denouncing Mujib’s actions as an act of treason. Mujib was arrested the same night. On 26 Mar Major Zia ur Rehman announced on radio, East Pakistan as People’s Republic of Bangladesh. This day is now celebrated as a National Day in Bangladesh.

      Major task was to dis arm 6 battalions of East Bengal regiments (EBR) and personnel of East Pakistan Rifles(EPR) about 16000 and Raza Kars 45,000. There were Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters) well trained for insurgency operations in addition. By 31 of May writ of the government has been restored. However, some personnel of EBR and EPR crossed the borders to India with weapons intact and joined Mukti Bahini.  Casualties were enormous on both side during the civil war. Mujib claimed 3 million, Indians 1 million, and Tikka khan 34,000.  According to Indians about 10 million crossed the borders to India as refugees. Military action was strongly denounced by the world especially India. In June Lt Gen Amir Abdullah khan Niazi arrived E Pak as Commander Eastern Command.

This situation provided a golden opportunity to Indira Gandhi to dismember Pakistan. She called her COAS Gen Manekshwa in April and asked him to be ready for attack.  Keeping in view, rivers& hills, marshy land, a difficult terrain in E Pak, and time required for deployment of troops, his cautious reply was “if you want me to go for war now, I guarantee you 100 percent defeat, but if you give me some time I can guarantee you 100 percent success. It is obvious that India had decided to go to war in April and preparations / planning started thereafter. Our Intelligence set up should have kept the government abreast to the development and counter plans made accordingly in both wings of Pakistan. According to Abdul Sattar book, Pakistan’s Foreign Policy p129,the announcing of Henry Kissinger’s visit to Beijing on 9-11 July 1971 and invitation to visit China by Nixon stunned the world. Moscow’s reaction was angry and quick. USSR signed the treaty of Peace, Friendship and cooperation on 9 August 71 with India. Its article IX committed the two countries to mutual consultation in the event of an attack or threat of attack, in order to remove such threat and take appropriate effective measures to ensure their peace and security. Infect USSR provided an umbrella to India against intervention by China. Indira Gandhi before starting war visited almost all the important countries of the world including USA. Pakistan protested on 21 Nov that India without a declaration of war has launched an all-out offensive in E Pak. There was vast difference in relative strength. India deployed 8 Infantry divisions,1 para brigade, 32 para military battalions and support of 100,000 Mukti Bahini.  Pakistan Army was comprised of 3 Infantry divisions, I3 para military battalions. Indian Navy had deployed an aircraft carrier and 8 Destroyers / frigates and Pakistan Navy had gun boats and improvised crafts with guns for inland operations. IAF had 11 air squadrons and PAF only one. The outcome of war in this theater was obvious. It was the time factor. As a plan for counter offensive in the West, PAF carried out pre – emptive strikes on several Indian air bases along the western coast on 3 Dec. The reasons of 11 days’delay have a question mark. If we had started earlier the chances of UN Security Council resolution for cease fire would have been better, which would have avoided humiliating surrender. Now it was an all-out war on both fronts. After the news of Indians troops having crossed the borders of E Pak, friendly countries advised Agha Shahi permanent rep in UN to take up the Indian aggression to UN. The government advised not to go to security council unless directed. After our counter offensive on 3 Dec, USA moved a draft resolution for cease fire with certain conditions on 4 Dec which was not supported by USSR. Similarly, China moved draft resolution on 5 Dec which was also not supported. The Soviets on 6 Dec accepted a draft resolution (UN document S/ 10425) dated 5 Dec, sponsored by Belgium and 5 other countries calling upon the governments of India and Pakistan, as a first step for an immediate cease fire.The government of Pakistan should simultaneously take effective action towards a political settlement in East Pakistan giving immediate recognition to the will of people of East Pakistan as expressed in the election of Dec 1970. Since it was supported by USSR it may have been considered by Pakistan. Bhutto as a foreign minister arrived USA on 10 Dec.The famous Poland resolution was moved on 14 Dec. It contained cease fire and transfer of forces to pre-set locations and transfer of power to elected representatives.  The contents were approved by the government of Pakistan. (contents were similar to Soviet supported resolution of 5 Dec). However, Bhutto was not available on 14 Dec. When the Security Council met on 15 Dec, news had reached that surrender of the Pakistan armed forces was being arranged on 16 Dec. However, Bhutto made a fierce speech in Security Council which hardly had any effect on the war scenario. According to book on foreign policy by Abul Sattar p133, Indira Gandhi intensions to occupy more spaces of West Pakistan was stopped by USA. Message was conveyed to India through USSR that USA has defense pact with Pakistan. US had moved its fleet to Bay of Bengal in this time frame, but Soviet ensured that India will not occupy more spaces and will accept cease fire on western war theater. On the Western front, Pakistan lost 51,39 square miles. On Eastern front surrender document was signed between Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, the GOC-in- C Indian Eastern Command and Lt Gen A.A.K Niazi, Commander Eastern Command at Ramna Race Course Dhaka at 1631 on 16 Dec 71.It was the biggest surrender after WW-II.  About 93,000 soldiers and civilians were taken as prisoners of war. It is evident that military hierarchy of Pakistan made series of mistakes. Pakistan would have remained intact if initial LFO giving details of election had included that constitution bill should be passed by 2/3 majority. AL had to take elected members from W Pak to pass the bill. Date and place of meeting of elected assembly members within 45 days should have been given in LFO. Gen Yayah may have taken sincere, experienced and unbiased politicians in his cabinet from both wings who were not participating in election instead of completely banking on the advices senior army officers. Advice of the governor of E Pak, Vice Admiral Ahsan and Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub Commander Eastern Command not to postpone date of meeting of assembly on 3 Mar indefinitely should have been taken seriously. Policy to linger on should have been avoided. During war, there were a lot of chances to accept UN Security Council resolutions of cease fire and handing over government to majority party. This would have certainly avoided humiliating surrender. There is a famous saying “if every political problem that is created in the world justifies the use of force then there is no end to war”. Lessons learnt are many but most important is the saying of George Clemenceau who led France in WW-II,” war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.”

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India’s multi-alignment: the origins, the past, and the present

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In the initial two decades following India’s independence, India’s foreign policy was heavily determined by the personal predilections of its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his protégé VK Krishna Menon, both influenced by British socialism. Nehru himself handled the external affairs portfolio until his death in 1964.

The policy of ‘non-alignment’ which the duo initiated in India’s foreign policy gained world-wide attention since early 1950s, which later became a full-fledged movement and forum of discussion in 1961 (NAM) that consisted of developing and newly decolonised nations from different parts of the world, primarily from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

But, the policy never meant isolationism or neutrality; rather it was conceived as a positive and constructive policy in the backdrop of the US-USSR Cold War, enabling freedom of action in foreign and security policies, even though many of the individual NAM member states had a tilt towards the Soviet Union, including India.

However, the lofty Nehruvian idealism of India’s foreign policy in its initial decades was not successful enough in integrating well into India’s security interests and needs, as it lost territories to both China and Pakistan during the period, spanning 1947 to 1964.

However, when Indira Gandhi assumed premiership, realism had strongly gained ground in India’s political, diplomatic and military circles, as evident in India’s successful intervention in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Even at that point of time, India still sticked on to the policy of non-alignment until it was no longer feasible in a changed international system that took shape following the end of the Cold War, which is where the origins of a new orientation in India’s foreign policy decision-making termed as ‘multi-alignment’ lies.

Today, India skilfully manoeuvres between China-led or Russia-led groupings such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), along with its involvement in US-led groupings such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or the Quad), in which Japan and Australia are also members.

Militarily though, India is still not part of any formal treaty alliance, and is simultaneously part of a diverse network of loose and issue-specific coalitions and regional groupings, led by adversarial powers, with varying founding objectives and strategic imperatives.

Today, non-alignment alone can no longer explain the fact that recently India took part in a US-chaired virtual summit meeting of the Quad in March 2021 and three months later attended a BRICS ministerial meet, where China and Russia were also present.

So, how did India progress from its yesteryear policy of remaining equidistant from both the US-led and Soviet-led military blocs (non-alignment) and how did it begin to align with multiple blocs or centres of power (multi-alignment)? Answer to this question stretches three decades back.

World order witness a change, India adapts to new realities

1992 was a watershed year for Indian diplomacy. A year back, the Soviet Union, a key source of economic and military support for India till then, disappeared in the pages of history, bringing the Cold War to its inevitable end.

This brought a huge vacuum for India’s strategic calculations. Combined with a global oil shock induced by the First Gulf War of 1990 triggered a balance of payment crisis in India, which eventually forced the Indian government to liberalise and open up its economy for foreign investments and face competition.

India elected a pragmatic new prime minister in 1991 – PV Narasimha Rao. The vision he had in mind for India’s standing in the world was quite different from his predecessors. Then finance minister and later PM, Dr Manmohan Singh announced in the Indian Parliament, “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come”.

This was during his 1991 budget speech and it marked the beginning of building a new India where excessive control of the state on economic and business affairs seemed no longer a viable option.

At a time when Japan’s economy was experiencing stagnation, China was ‘peacefully rising’, both economically and industrially. The United States remained as the most influential power and security provider in Asia with its far-reaching military alliance network.

As the unipolar world dawned proclaiming the supremacy of the United States, PM Rao steered Indian foreign policy through newer pastures, going beyond traditional friends and partners like Russia.

In another instance, 42 years after India recognised Israel as an independent nation in 1950, both countries established formal diplomatic ties in 1992. Indian diplomats accomplished a task long overdue without affecting the existing amicable ties with Palestine.

In the recent escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict, it is worth noting that India took a more balanced stance at the United Nations, which was different from its previous stances that reflected an open and outright pro-Palestine narrative.

Today, India values its ties with Israel on a higher pedestal, even in areas beyond defence and counter-terrorism, such as agriculture, water conservation, IT and cyber security.

Breaking the ice with the giant across the Himalayas

China is a huge neighbour of India with which its shares a 3,488-km long un-demarcated border. Skirmishes and flare-ups resulting from difference in perception of the border and overlapping patrolling areas are a regular occurrence in this part of the world.

For the first time after the 1962 war with China, which resulted in a daunting defeat for India, diplomatic talks for confidence-building in the India-China border areas were initiated by the Rao government in 1993, resulting in the landmark Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the defacto border between India and China.

The agreement also provided a framework for ensuring security along the LAC between both sides until a final agreement on clear demarcation of the border is reached out. The 1993 agreement created an expert group consisting of diplomats and military personnel to advise the governments on the resolution of differences in perception and alignment of the LAC. The pact was signed in Beijing in September 1993, during PM Rao’s visit to China.

Former top diplomat of India Shivshankar Menon noted in one of his books that the 1993 agreement was “the first of any kind relating specifically to the border between the Republic of India and the People’s Republic of China … It formalized in an international treaty a bilateral commitment by India and China to maintain the status quo on the border. In effect, the two countries promised not to seek to impose or enforce their versions of the boundary except at the negotiating table.”

The 1993 pact was followed by another one in 1996, the Agreement on Military Confidence-Building Measures. The following two decades saw a number of agreements being signed and new working mechanisms being formalized, even though two major standoffs occurred in the Ladakh sector in 2013 and 2020 respectively and one in between in the Sikkim sector in 2017.

The agreements served as the basis upon which robust economic ties flourished in the 2000s and 2010s, before turning cold as a result of Chinese aggression of 2020 in Ladakh. However, the 1993 agreement still was a landmark deal as we consider the need for peace in today’s increasingly adversarial ties between the two nuclear-armed Asian giants.

Integrates with Asia’s regional architecture

Before the early 1990s, India’s regional involvements to its east remained limited to its socio-cultural ties, even though the region falls under India’s extended neighbourhood, particularly Southeast Asia. But, since 1992, when the Look East Policy (LEP) was formulated under the Rao government, India has been venturing into the region to improve its abysmal record of economic and trade ties with countries the region.

New Delhi began reaching out to the ASEAN or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1992 and was made a Sectoral Partner of the association in the same year. Thus, India kicked-off the process of its integration into the broader Asian regional architecture.

In 1996, India became a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum, a key platform for talks on issues of security in the wider Indo-Pacific region. India became ASEAN’s summit-level partner in 2002 and a strategic partner in 2012.

A free trade agreement (FTA) was agreed between ASEAN and India in 2010. And in 2014, the erstwhile LEP was upgraded into the Act East Policy (AEP). Today, the ASEAN region remains at the centre of India’s evolving Indo-Pacific policy.

Bonhomie with the superpower across the oceans, the United States

1998 was an important year, not just for India, but for the world. Until May that year, only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council possessed nuclear capabilities. That year, ‘Buddha smiled again’ in the deserts of India’s Rajasthan state, as India under PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee successfully conducted a series of underground nuclear bomb tests, declaring itself a nuclear state, 24 years after its first nuclear test in 1974 code-named ‘Smiling Buddha’.

The move surprised even the US intelligence agencies, as India managed to go nuclear by bypassing keen US satellite eyes that were overlooking the testing site. Shortly after this, Pakistan also declared itself a nuclear state.

India’s nuclear tests invited severe international condemnation for New Delhi and badly affected its relationship with Washington, resulting in a recalling of its Ambassador to India and imposed economic sanctions, which was a big blow for India’s newly liberalised economy.

But, a bonhomie was reached between India and the US in a matter of two years and then US President Bill Clinton visited India in March 2000, the first presidential visit since 1978. The Indo-US Science and technology Forum was established during this visit and all the sanctions were revoked by following year.

Bharat Karnad, a noted Indian strategic affairs expert, notes in one his books that, “Vajpayee’s regime conceived of ‘strategic autonomy’ to mask its cultivating the US, which resulted in the NSSP”.

The Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) between the US and India was launched in January 2004 that covered wide ranging areas of cooperation such as nuclear energy, space, defence and trade. This newfound warmth in Indo-US relations was taken to newer heights with the conclusion of the landmark civil nuclear deal between 2005 and 2008.

Today, India is a key defence partner of the United States, having signed all the four key foundational pacts for military-to-military cooperation, the latest being the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for geo-spatial cooperation, signed in October 2020. The two countries are key partners in the Quad grouping and share similar concerns about an increasingly assertive China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Like his predecessors, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been trying to cultivate this special relationship with the United States, reinforced by cooperation in the Quad grouping and also by constantly engaging a 4.8-million strong Indian diaspora in the United States.

The leaders of both countries, from Vajpayee to Modi and from Clinton to Trump have reciprocated bilateral visits to each other’s countries. And, India looks forward to the Biden-Harris administration for new areas of cooperation.

But, a recent military manoeuvre in April, this year, by a US Navy ship (which it calls a FONOP or Freedom of Navigation Operation) in India’s exclusive economic zone, off Lakshadweep coast, casted a shadow over this relations.

The US openly stated in social media that it entered the area without seeking India’s prior consent and asserted its navigational rights. This invited mixed reactions, as it was highly uncalled for. While some analysts consider it humiliating, others think that the incident occurred due to the difference of perceptions about international maritime law in both countries.

Today, along with the US, India skilfully manages its ‘historical and time-tested’ ties with Russia, a strategic foe of the US, and moves forward to purchase Russian-made weapon systems, such as the S-400 missile defence system, even after a threat of sanctions. But, in the past several years, India has been trying to diversify its defence procurements from other countries such as France and Israel and has been also promoting indigenisation of defence production.

A BRICS formula for responsible multilateralism

India is a founding member of the BRICS grouping, formalised in 2006, now consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – the emerging economies of that time with a potential to drive global economic growth and act as an alternate centre of power along with other groupings of rich countries such as the G-7 and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

India always stood for a responsible global multilateral system and rules-based order. Indian leaders have attended all summit-level meetings of BRICS since 2009 unfailingly. Last year, the summit took place in the backdrop of India-China border standoff in Ladakh, under Russia’s chair, a common friend of both countries, where the leaders of India and China came face-to-face for the first time, although in virtual format.

The primary focus of BRICS remains economic in nature, but it also takes independent stances on events occurring in different parts of the world. The grouping also established a bank to offer financial assistance for development projects known as the New Development Bank (NDB) based in Shanghai, China, in 2014, with an Indian as its first elected president.

BRICS also became the first multilateral grouping in the world to endorse the much-needed TRIPS waiver proposal jointly put forward by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to suspend intellectual property rights on Covid vaccine-making during the duration of the pandemic to provide developing countries that lack adequate technologies with means to battle the virus.

As India gears up to host this year’s upcoming BRICS summit, there is no doubt that being part of the grouping has served the country’s interests well.

Manoeuvring the SCO, along the shores of the Indo-Pacific

The SCO or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a regional organisation consisting of eight Eurasian powers, largest in the world both in terms of land area and population covered. It stands for promoting mutual cooperation and stability, where security issues can be freely discussed and conflicts are attempted to be resolved.

India is not a founding member of the SCO, which was created in 2001. Both India and Pakistan were admitted as full members in 2017. The grouping’s members also include Russia, China and four Central Asian countries, excluding Turkmenistan.

Sharing a common platform with Pakistan and China and the presence of a long-term friend, Russia, has helped India diplomatically in key occasions. Using the SCO platform, the existing differences between member states can be discussed and prevented from escalating into major conflicts.

This was evident most recently visible in 2020 when the foreign ministers of India and China agreed on a plan for the disengagement of Indian and Chinese troops from the LAC, as a major step in the diffusion of tensions in Ladakh that had erupted since May that year.

But, Russia and China collectively oppose the usage of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’, something that surfaced into political discourse with the famous speech delivered by the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in August 2007 in the Parliament of India, calling for “the confluence of two seas” and hinting at a new maritime continuum of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

It is in this context that the grouping of India, Japan, Australia and the United States gained prominence. The four Quad countries came together to offer humanitarian assistance following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the ambit of the grouping’s co-operation ranges from maritime security to cooperation in Covid vaccine production and distribution.

After a decade since the first joint naval exercise of the four Quad countries took place in 2007, the ASEAN’s Manila summit in 2017 provided a platform for the four countries to connect with each other and enhance consultations to revive the four-nation grouping.

The Quad has been raised to the summit level now with the March 2021 virtual summit, and has also conducted two joint naval exercises so far, one in 2007 and the other in 2020. This loose coalition is widely perceived as a counterweight to an increasingly assertive China.

India is the only country in the Quad that shares a land border with China. At the same time, India is also the only country that is not a formal security ally of the United States, meaning if India quits, the Quad ceases to exist, while the other three countries can still remain as treaty allies. However, setting the US aside, cooperation among the other three Quad partners has also been witnessing a boom since the last year.

India and Japan have expanded co-operation in third countries in India’s neighbourhood such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar to improve connectivity and infrastructure in the region and offer an alternative to China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, which is perceived as having implications of a potential debt-trap aimed at fetching strategic gains.

Amid the pandemic, both the countries have joined hands with Australia to launch a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) to diversify key supply chains away from China.

However, India doesn’t perceive a free and open Indo-Pacific as an exclusionary strategy targeted at containing some country, rather as an inclusive geographic concept, where co-operation over conflict is possible. This was articulated by Prime Minister Modi in 2018 at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore.

Various additions were made to this view in later stages, as the concept evolved into a coherent form, representing New Delhi’s expanding neighbourhood. This vision aligns well with related initiatives such the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), aimed at improving maritime security, trade, connectivity and management of shared resources.

The future

For India, this is an era of complex multi-alignment, different from the Cold War-era international system, where multiple centres of power exist. At different time periods in the past, India has adapted well to the changing circumstances and power dynamics in the international system.

India’s strategic posture today, despite being aspirational, is to have good relations with all its neighbours, regional players, and the major powers, to promote rules-based order, and in the due process to find its own deserving place in the world.

In July, last year, India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar has made it clear that India ‘will never be part of an alliance system’, even though a tilt towards the US is increasingly getting visible, taking the China factor into account. Jaishankar also stated that global power shifts are opening up spaces for middle powers like India.

As the world tries to avoid another Cold War, this time between the United States and China, the competing geopolitics of the Eurasian landmass and the Indo-Pacific maritime region is poised to add up to New Delhi’s many dilemmas in the coming years.

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The unrecognized demographic situation of West Bengal and consequences yet to occur

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World’s second large demographic nation India’s state West Bengal is now apparently residence of over 91 million population. At the same time, West Bengal is the fourth-most populous state and the fourteenth-large state by area in India. It is also the seventh-most populous country subdivision of the world. To get an insight into the present situation of West Bengal anyone has to look back in 1947 and later consequences. As being a prominent ethnocultural region of India, West Bengal faced political partition in the year 1947 in the wake of the transformation of British India into two separate independent nations India and Pakistan.  Under the process of partition, the then Bengal province was bifurcated into two segments. The predominately Hindu living area named West Bengal, a state of India, and the predominately-Muslim living area turned as East Bengal and after becoming a province of Pakistan that renamed as East Pakistan and later in 1971, the Muslim-majority country of Bangladesh.

In 1971 at the time of partition, the Muslim population of West Bengal counted 12% and the Hindu population of East Bengal remained 30%. While at present, with continuous Muslim immigration, Hindu persecution, conversions, and less production of offspring, West Bengal’s Muslim population has increased to 30% (up to 63% in some districts). While as per the counting report of 2011 Bangladesh’s Hindu population has decreased to 8%. When at the present situation for Hindus in Bangladesh is certainly dire, then life has become increasingly difficult for Hindus in West Bengal, having a Muslim-appeasing government. The governance of the elected government led to the demographic and cultural shifts in West Bengal. Prevailing of the same governance after the 2021 Bidhansabha election leads to the destruction of Hindu’s belonging everywhere in Bengal. The situation stood worse in the outskirts where media coverage is poor, compelling Hindu families to flee in adjacent states or to hide. A sizable number of Bengali Hindu families already preferred to shift to Assam.

Looking back as per a striking report of July 2014 by Times of India fewer children were born in Bengal and the prediction was there will be even fewer in the next generation. The 2011 Census shows a decadal growth of 13.84% in West Bengal, which was significantly below the national growth average of 17.7%, and the decadal growth was lowest ever and beaten only by the aftermath of the infamous Famine of  Bengal,1942.

While the retrospective study of the demography of West Bengal shows that the culturally dominant Hindu population in West Bengal during the first census of 1951 was around 19,462,706 and in the 2011 census it had increased to 64,385,546. While the percentage of the Hindu population in the state decreased from 78.45% in 1951 to 70.54% in the 2011 Census. The data sharply indicates fewer children birth within families of Hindus only while the population of Muslim counterparts tends to grow over time. Once considered a symbol of Indian culture, what has happened in Bengal for the last few decades is the indicator of West Bengal’s demographic future.

Starting from the diminishing of the Hindu culture, communal riots against the Hindus have started happening for quite some time and the situation has been that the banning of celebrating the festivals of Hindus has started in the last few years. Added to those the recent genocide of Hindus depicting a recent trend of population.

Back in 2015 the famous American journalist Janet Levy has written an article on Bengal and the revelations that have been made in it state that Bengal will soon become a separate Islamic country. Janet Levy claims in her article that civil war is going to start soon in Bengal after Kashmir. Which almost begun in recent times in the wake of the Bidhansabha Election of West Bengal.   

Ushering the prediction of Janet Levy mass Hindus will be massacred and demanded a separate country.

She cited the facts for his claim back in 2015 that the Chief Minister of West Bengal has recognized more than 10,000 madrassas who were privileged to receive funds from Saudi Arabia and made their degree eligible for a government job, money comes from Saudi and in those madrassas, Wahhabi bigotry is taught.

In the recent past Chief Minister started several Islamic city projects where Islamic people are taught also started a project to establish an Islamic city in West Bengal. It’s evident that Chief Minister has also declared various types of stipends for the Imams of mosques but no such stipends were declared for Hindus primarily. Janet Levy has given many examples around the world where terrorism, religious fanaticism, and crime cases started increasing as the Muslim population increased. With increasing population, a separate Sharia law is demanded at such places, and then finally it reaches the demand of a separate country.

Author and activist Taslima Nasreen once became reason to test the ground reality for West Bengal.

In 1993, Taslima Nasreen wrote a book ‘Lajja’ on the issue of atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh and forcibly making them Muslims.

After writing the book, she had to leave Bangladesh facing the threat of bigotry. The author settled in Kolkata considering that she will be safe there as India is a secular country and the constitution also provided the freedom of expression. Eventually experienced the nightmare that Taslima Nasreen had to face a riot-like situation against her in 2007 in Kolkata. Even in a secular country like India, Muslims banned Taslima Nasreen with hatred. Fatwas issued to cut her throat on the secular land of India.

Upholding the threat the author was also attacked several times in different cities of the country.

But the secular Leftists never supported Taslima, not even the Trinamool government of West Bengal because the Muslims would get angry and the vote bank would face shaking.

That time first attempt was made in which Muslim organizations in West Bengal demanded the Islamic blasphemy (Blasfamie) law. Raising questions on India’s secularism and action of secular parties.

Janet Levy further wrote that for the first time in 2013 some fundamentalist Maulanas of Bengal started demanding a separate ‘Mughalistan’. In the same year riots in Bengal, houses and shops of hundreds of Hindus were looted and many temples were also destroyed by rioters under the safe shelter of government and police.

After the Bidhansava Election 2021 the Hindus of West Bengal facing the same or even worse situation.

Are Hindus boycotted?

Victorious party supremo of West Bengal was afraid that if the Muslims were stopped they would get angry and would not vote and after getting freshly elected her government falls into that vicious circle again.

It is evident from the aftermath of the election result in West Bengal that not only riots but to drive away Hindus, in districts where there are more Muslims, boycotting Hindu businessman. In the Muslim majority districts of Malda, Murshidabad, and North Dinajpur, Muslims do not even buy goods from Hindu shops. This is the reason why a large number of Hindus have started migrating from West Bengal like Kashmiri Pandits, here Hindus leaving their homes and businesses and moving to other places. These are the districts where Hindus have become a minority.

Invoking such incidents Janet, stated that the demand for partition of Bengal from India will soon begin from the land of West Bengal. No demographic theorist interpreted the present demographic situation of West Bengal sabotaging Malthusian theory.

In accord with Janet’s analysis, a few recent sources also indicated the number of the Muslim population, in reality, is much higher than the number on record given to the hiding of numbers of children by Muslim parents when a survey takes place. Implementing CAA, NRC could have been way out for West Bengal to check the proper demographic status and to prevent further population explosion to sustain Bengali Hindus. Perceiving the appeasement politics of government for the last 10 years it’s seeming to be unlikely to get any sharp solution. 

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South Asia

Covid-19 has made Feminist Foreign Policy all the more Relevant to India

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Photo: Amit Ranjan/Unsplash

As the impact of the year long COVID19 pandemic continues to be felt across different parts of India—where patriarchy is entrenched in the social code and inequalities against women are being intuitively practised—the repercussions of the health crisis along with the ever deepening gender gaps are being disproportionately and severely borne by women. Yet, most of the discussions revolving around the pandemic have either been gender-blind or gender-neutral, often resulting in the systemic subjugation or marginalisation of women.

In light of these challenges, the thematic debate on gender equality can no longer continue just on papers, it in fact, needs to be converted into actions by the Indian government in order to deal with the short term consequences of the pandemic as well as to develop long-term sustainable peace. The adoption of a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) framework is the best way to achieve this dual goal. A FFP could offer a concrete opportunity for India to build a more inclusive policy making set-up; breakaway from the predominant patriarchal notions; and, address pandemic relief strategies—from the viewpoint of women and other vulnerable or under-represented sections of society.

Gendered Impact of COVID19 in India

Within India’s socio-cultural and economic realms—that have historically been marred by inequalities and rigid stereotypes—the gendered effects of the COVID19 pandemic have been both, intersectional and complex.

To begin with, owing to the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 patients, health-care workers in India, particularly the nurses of whom approximately 88.9 per cent are women remain much more vulnerable to contracting the deadly virus. The existing problem of shortage of basic equipment for these healthcare workers further aggravates these concerns.

Second, the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on an already shrinking Indian economy resulting in financial cut downs and rising unemployment. Women—either due to the deeply embedded patriarchal attitudes or due to the subconscious bias that arises out of such attitudes—have stood at the forefront of being temporarily or permanently laid-off from their jobs. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, with the commencement of the nationwide lockdown, the rate of unemployment reached 23.5 per cent in March to April 2020 with higher shares of unemployed women. The unemployment rate for women further reached 12.39 per cent as of February 2021.

Third, women in India are now being confronted with a shadow pandemic where forced proximity, isolation, increased substance abuse, lack of access to justice etc. during the on-going health crisis has resulted in an increasing threat of domestic or gender-based violence.  As per a set of data released by the National Commission of Women in April 2020, there was an almost 100 per cent increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.

Nonetheless, these are only some of the immediate effects of the pandemic on women in India. There are other sequential consequences that will emerge in time including, the problems of depletion in savings and assets, pandemic-related widowhood, etc., which would collaboratively make recovery extremely difficult for women.

Evidently, in India, the pandemic is exploiting pre-existing economic and social inequalities along with social norms that give men embedded advantages, and has been posing a real threat to closing gender gaps. In fact, according to the recent World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index, India has already slipped down 28 spots to rank 140th among 156 countries in comparison to its 112th position among 153 countries for the year 2019-2020.

But despite bearing a differential impact, women in India have not been included either directly or indirectly in the development of response strategies to deal with COVID19. As such, they remain absent from decision-making tables that involve the shaping of the future of our societies. However, research indicates that the inclusion of women along with other diverse voices makes for better options in policy making and in bringing about comprehensive outcomes that accommodate the needs and concerns of all groupings.

How can a FFP help?

These unfortunate states of affairs demand an adjustment in India’s thinking and strategy, bring about a paradigmatic shift in its traditional policymaking and allow for diverse representation to effectively deal with COVID19 pandemic. The present crisis is therefore, precisely the time to be talking about a FFP in India and for its representatives to make a stronger commitment to mainstream gender at the policy level.

By critically reflecting on the existing international power structures, a FFP framework focuses on protecting the needs of marginalised and female groups and places issues of human security and human rights at the heart of discussions. In doing so, it provides a fundamental shift from the conventional understanding of security to include other arena of foreign policy such as economics, finance, environment, health, trade etc.

With this new perception of health risks and crisis management as a security threat, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, India can potentially explore broadening the humanitarian trade options under its international arrangements to address shortages of medicine and lack of access to personal protective equipment for health workers within its territory— a vast majority of which continue to be women.

The adoption of a FFP could also pave the way for an increased regional cooperation, facilitate regional discussions on myriad issues and enable the development of targeted recovery program designed specifically for the empowerment of women. Such a program would account for the fact that the economic repercussions of crises disproportionately affect women and therefore, help India in securing assistance from its neighbour to address the gendered economic and social effects of the COVID19 pandemic.

Besides, FFP does not only mean considering power structures and managing relations at the global level alone but also evaluating outcomes within the country’s own domestic landscape. In this sense, a FFP could provide India with an important starting point for bringing about an internal shift by focusing more on gender issues, especially in terms of the strictly defined patriarchal gender roles and eliminate barriers that continue to restrict women’s participation in decision-making processes.

An emphasis on women’s participation in India’s leadership positions would in turn catalyse the application a gender lens to the process of domestic policymaking, thereby, achieving comprehensive outcomes that are inclusive of diverse perspectives. Such policies will promote women’s concerns as humanitarian issues, prioritize and safeguard the continuum of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and continue to facilitate the provision of information and education, thus making women better equipped to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.


Adding on to these factors, given that the FFP is an all-inclusive approach, its application could also potentially strengthen cooperation between the Indian government and civil society organisations or women’s network at home as well as abroad to manage the pandemic and its deleterious effect on people, especially women. At a time when the government resources are overwhelmed in their fight against the pandemic, greater involvement of civil society organisations can in fact, play a critical role in advocating social justice, women’s rights, social equity, and provide medical and food support, distribution of hygiene kits, spreading awareness about the virus, etc. These efforts could bring about a considerable improvement in women’s vulnerable position under the current Covid19 crisis in India.

Conclusion

As such, the FFP approach offers huge potential to address some the major institutional and organisational injustices against women in India, and the COVID19 pandemic represents a critical juncture in this regards. A FFP is important not only to ensure that the gendered imbalances inflicted by COVID19 do not become permanent but also for the long term economic and social development of the country, the strengthening of democratic institutions, and the advancement of national security as well as peace. But whether India will adopt or even consider moving towards a FFP in the near future remains to be seen.

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