The second part of this 3-part series continues with the two remaining “Opportunities” that both countries can utilize to improve relations. After this, it delineates the pre-requisites to the proposed roadmap to peace.
Collaboration in Different Sectors
This although related to trade (more specifically trade in services), has little to do with the transference of tangible goods across the border but more with direct participation and collaboration between, and in both countries – such as FDI (foreign direct investment), JVs (joint ventures) and investments in different sectors.
There are a plethora of distinct areas where both countries can work together – however, the paper touches upon just three such areas, namely IT (information technology), sports, and tourism. The IT sector in India has experienced enormous growth in the past two decades or so due to a shift of jobs from the West to the East as India offered lower business costs. IT in India consists of two major components i.e. BPO (Business process outsourcing) and IT services.
According to NASSCOM, the IT sector accumulated revenue of $160 billion in the year 2017. India is considered one of the hubs of IT in the modern-day world. Pakistan, although, not on par with India is rapidly accelerating in the IT sector as well. Some authors claim that Pakistan is paralleling India’s past growth in the sector.
According to a New York Times article, Pakistan’s IT sector is carving a niche for itself as a preferred destination for app designers, freelance IT programmers, and coders. Tens of thousands of Pakistani IT graduates enter the IT market every year. Pakistan’s IT sector is experiencing exponential growth and has reached $3 billion; it has doubled in size in the past two years and experts anticipate a further 100% growth in the next 2-4 years’ time.
Outlook India reported that low end IT jobs are now shifting to Pakistan from India. Rather than adopting a competitive approach, both countries should look to take advantage of each other in the IT sector. Pakistan should take advantage of India’s established IT market while India should reap the benefits of Pakistan’s nascent yet quickly growing sector and ride its wave.
Highlighting future prospects, scholar, Maria Syed, states that India should invest in Pakistan’s growing IT sector. Once better bilateral trade relations have been established, it can facilitate cross-border investments in areas such as IT. Furthermore, he notes that establishing research and development facilities across Pakistan and India would benefit the BPO and IT industries of both states.
Sports, especially cricket, has always been a massively popular past time for both Pakistanis and Indians. Although all of Pakistan would want to win against India and vice versa in a cricket match (or any sport for that matter), the cricket stars from both nations are highly respected in their home and neighbour country. Thus, cricket should be used as entrainment but more importantly, a unifying cause for both countries – cricket stars should be ambassadors of the game.
Cricket has even been used as a diplomatic tool when Pakistan’s President General Zia UlHaq was the first to execute “cricket diplomacy” when he made an impromptu trip to India to watch a cricket match between both countries amid escalating tensions in 1987. This visit eased the strains that arose from an Indian military exercise on the Pakistan-India border.
Unfortunately, even before the current high-level tensions between both countries, India refused to play cricket with Pakistan in Pakistan, India, or any neutral venue such as the UAE. This has deprived Pakistanis, Indians, and the rest of the world of one of the biggest rivalries in sports history and sends an extremely negative message to the world. Sports has always been a great equalizer for countries especially ones that are on negative terms.
Pakistan-India cricket matches should be held in both countries to display goodwill. An annual “Pakistan-India Peace Tournament” could work well to bring both countries closer together. A similar kind of initiative should be taken for Kabadi, hockey, football, and other popular sports in the subcontinent. The stratagem employed by Pakistan tennis star, AisamUlHaq, and Indian tennis star Rohann Boppana to compete together in men’s doubles was well received and sent a positive message to the world.
Both countries’ ministry of sports should make a joint team to create, manage, and oversee Pakistan-India tournaments in various sports. Other than sports, Pakistanis and Indians love each other’s film, TV, and music industries. Pakistani music and dramas are enjoyed to a great extent in India, while Indian movies and soaps are extremely popular in Pakistan. Pakistanis, in particular, are pulled to Indian movie stars while Indians seem to adore Pakistani musical sensations.
More lately, however, there has been an increase in stereotypical movies and television shows about one another that propagandizes the reality of each country. It must be contemplated that cooperation in the film industry can bridge the gap of contentiousness between both countries. Harmful movies and soaps depicting a false and exaggerated image of each country should be avoided.
In times of extreme tensions, akin to the present, Indian movies and channels are blocked in Pakistan and vice versa. Joint peace initiatives on established Pakistani and Indian channels should be started and aired to promote cultural and political harmony. For example, the Indian channel “Zindagi” was launched to air the best Pakistani shows throughout the years in India.
Movies and TV shows with both Pakistani and Indian actors, directors, and producers should become a symbol of collaboration and goodwill. It is not only the job of the governments to improve relations but the civil society, NGOs, and different sectors like TV and film to play their respective roles. Other than the aforementioned sectors, cross-border tourism (religious and familial) should be highlighted.
For example, the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor (a visa-free corridor near the border) which allowsSikhs from India to visit a religious site in Pakistan was hailed as a momentous move.Visa regimes should be liberalized, akin to Kartarpur, to an extent to allow people to visit shrines; meet relatives and loved ones – and even indulge in tourism where people could visit each beautiful country, immerse themselves in cultural festivities and socialize with the locals.
Subsequent to the departure of the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan in 2014, and the demise of large economic and military payments to Pakistan, China filled this gap with CPEC. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC is the star project of President Xi Jinping’s mega Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
BRI is a series of infrastructural networks (roads, railways, and ports), trade projects, and financial institutions meant to encourage economic activity in Africa and Eurasia and to connect China to the latter. CPEC is a Pakistan specific mega-project within the aegis of the BRI that will consist of a 3,000 km network of roads, railways, and oil and gas pipelines from Gwadar port in the South of Pakistan to China’s Kashgar city.
Unfortunately, India is not a part of the BRI or CPEC due to its severe reservations about these projects – mainly that CPEC passes through disputed territories, and if successful, it will increase Pakistan’s relative power and will allow China geostrategic influence over India. Although India and China are currently engaged in a border flare-up in Ladakh, trade has not suffered. Therefore, CPEC has become another cause of contention between Pakistan and India but this is a myopic consideration of the situation.
CPEC is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both countries to increase trade, energy cooperation and eventually improve bilateral relations. Through CPEC, Pakistan will become a stronger entity with respect to infrastructure and its economy while China will benefit by gaining a gateway to Central Asia.
Pakistan can use the incoming Chinese investment to improve road and rail links with India and get augmented access to Indian markets – and concurrently, China could achieve improved access to Indian economic and energy markets via Pakistan. India, on the contrary, will not only get improved connectivity to Pakistan and China, but also to Afghanistan and Central Asian states – which has been a policy goal of India for decades.
As CPEC has the potential to cement Pakistan as a regional trading hub, India should look to take advantage of this. While India opposes BRI and CPEC, it is on board with the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar) economic corridor that looks to connect all four countries. The Chinese have offered to include the BCIM into the aegis of the BRI, but India has opposed this vehemently.
However, work on the BCIM has been very slow on this and the future remains uncertain. The BCIM is a 2,800 km economic corridor that would connect Kunming with Kolkata while crossing Bangladesh and Myanmar. The preliminary reason for this initiative is to expedite trade and enhance connectivity with north-eastern India and south-western China. The last BCIM forum was held in 2019 after years of slow progress, if any at all – however, things have turned sour due to border clashes between India and China in Ladakh that began in May 2020 and are still ongoing.
China, before the border skirmishes, stated that India should shed its misgivings regarding BRI and join the megaproject – furthermore since Beijing endeavours to connect the CPEC and BCIM together to synergize the BRI, it is a prime opportunity for India to fulfil its east-west connectivity goals (i.e. get a direct route to Afghanistan and Central Asia and vice versa).
In December 2017, China revealed plans to expand CPEC into Afghanistan; a move that Pakistan has embraced. Economies of scale can be achieved if CPEC’s north-south (Kashgar to Gwadar) linkages are complemented with an east-west corridor (India to Afghanistan and Iran). This signifies how an east-west corridor can benefit Pakistan, China, and India if such an endeavour is undertaken under the BRI.
What India must comprehend is that due to its active opposition to the BRI, it will cause further stalling of the BCIM as well (as China seeks to pursue BCIM under BRI’s framework), which will eventually lead India isolated vis-à-vis improved connectivity. Like China, India is a regional hegemon, is energy-hungry, and desires to connect itself with surrounding countries (with road, rail, and sea links) to placate its energy security.
India’s issues with the BRI have a degree of validity, but in maintaining their current stance of antagonism, the country under the economically-oriented BJP government will only suffer. India cannot rival China and its economic endeavours and corridors in the regional landscape, and so the obvious choice would be to reach an agreement and insert itself into the BRI initiative. India should learn from how the GCC states responded to the BRI.
The GCC countries, although initially concerned about BRI due to their major rival, Iran’s, substantial role in it, later opened their doors to this mega initiative to further their own relative power. China released the “Arab Policy Paper” which details, among other things, how they want to continue and expand their relations with the Arab world, particularly the GCC, under the framework of BRI. This includes but is not exclusive to infrastructure construction, nuclear energy, agriculture, new energy, and trade, etcetera. Since then, the GCC and China have built a better understanding and have initiated various projects under the BRI framework. To think that Pakistan and India, two rivals, cannot initiate or be on board with interconnectivity projects, would be a huge mistake. Pakistan and India, despite their issues, have realized the importance of interconnectivity.
Initiatives like the TAPI pipeline (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) which will carry natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and finally into India, are initiatives that will mend broken fences and be a symbol for progress amid escalating tensions. TAPI was expected to be completed by 2019 but work has been slow. Despite slow progress, TAPI signifies that there is hope that Pakistan and India can find a compromise with regards to other interconnectivity projects specifically China’s BRI.
South Asia is one of the least integrated regions and trade experts cite the trust deficit, along with other factors, as the primary reason for poor connectivity. Therefore, dialogue and strong-willed initiatives at interconnectivity must be pushed, as these economic endeavours, if successful, will help deter conflicts and political tensions in the future.
Roadmap to Rapprochement
Before the roadmap is outlined and expanded, some pre-requisites and sequencing of events are necessary to enable a stronger chance for the roadmap to succeed in its objects. The sequence of the events should be conducted/unfolded in the order written.
Strong leadership in Pakistan and India
Pakistan’s Imran Khan is a relatively strong Prime Minister. He is considered a forward-thinking and honest politician – seen in Pakistan after decades – and wants Pakistan’s dependence on loans to end. His political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) controls the federal government, the Punjab government (the most politically significant province of the country), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and is a junior coalition partner in Balochistan.
Only in the Sindh province is the PTI in opposition. This means that Imran Khan and his PTI has been given a strong mandate to govern the country. Imran Khan, after becoming Prime Minister, invited India to discuss peace even though the Indian media had lambasted Imran throughout Pakistan’s election process. However, a caveat must be mentioned here that Pakistan’s opposition forces have recently come together (late 2020) to topple the government and have amassed quite a lot of support.
Many of Pakistan’s public are tired of the high inflation rate in the country and so there is legitimate opposition. Since 2014’s landslide victory, Modi enjoys an even stronger mandate than Imran Khan. The BJP won even more seats in the 2019 Indian general elections. The BJP not only controls the federal government (302 seats out of 543 in the lower house) but also 18 out of 31 states and union territories of India.
Modi’s base is very strong in India but many have turned against him due to unpopular decisions such as the revocation of Kashmir’s special status, the passing of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a struggling economy, as well as not being able to control the coronavirus. Regardless both leaders are still considered strong (but not as much as they were before) and strong leadership is mandatory when it comes to peace.
Kashmiri Protests Subside/Resolved
The resolution of Kashmiri angst, at least in the short term, is an important pre-requisite before a proper peace engagement is initiated. Currently, there is little hope of initiating any dialogue with India, since India unilaterally changed the status of a disputed territory – India revoked the special autonomous status of J&K and made two union territories out of the region.
This incensed Kashmir’s Muslim population as well as Pakistan and China. India also initiated a lockdown in the valley to curb the anger of the Kashmiris, which is ongoing and has been for over one and ahalf years. Besides this, the human rights violations in Kashmir, which the UN has called out India on, remain unabated.
Since the roadmap suggests that Pakistan should not discuss the territorial aspect of Kashmir for 10 years, this kind of news might not go down well with the Kashmiris, and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC)who might see this as Pakistan selling them out – although, this is further from the truth and will be discussed ahead in detail.
In this paper’s opinion, a peace dialogue should only be initiated when tensions and emotions are not at boiling point in Kashmir. Therefore, before a roadmap is presented, India, as the international community has been clamouring for months, must try to resolve the Kashmiri angst (the Kashmiris had been protesting before the curfew was imposed).
Pakistan can, of course, make India aware that they are willing to start a historic peace dialogue with India, but the Kashmiri protests must be handled delicately and humanely and the hardliner approach (such as extended curfews, shooting protesters, disabling communication links, and so on) must cease.
Support of the International Community
The support of the international community especially China and the U.S. is required if a peace process is initiated. If these powers do not play their part, the peace process can easily be undermined no matter how pure the intentions and actions of both Pakistan and India are. China would welcome such an endeavour, but it is difficult to predict how they would react now since its border flare-up with India.
America under Trump showed positive intent when the president did mention eagerness to mediate the Kashmir situation, but only time will tell if Biden will be as keen. Nonetheless, as much international support should be raised for the roadmap to succeed.
This paper continues in part 3.
India’s multi-alignment: the origins, the past, and the present
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.
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.
The unrecognized demographic situation of West Bengal and consequences yet to occur
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.
Covid-19 has made Feminist Foreign Policy all the more Relevant to India
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.
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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