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Has India adopted an aggressive foreign policy?

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In any nation the three critical tools of statecraft are diplomacy, intelligence and armed forces. India has tried to upgrade the three tools with political will and effective delivery mechanisms.  The major question which has been asked time and again with regard to India’s foreign policy under Modi government is whether there is a continuity or change in the foreign policy outlook. There has been references with regard to Non-Alignment 2.0 in the past, and it has been felt that India should maintain its strategic autonomy without compromising on its strategic interests and the core foreign policy fundamentals. The transition in India’s policy outlook has been with regard to multi-alignment with India specific attributes.

The new foreign policy looks into what exactly are the potential sectors as well as possible areas of mutual collaboration, without a demand supply relationship, in any bilateral ties with any country.  On scrutiny of documentation of the critical aspects of foreign policy outlook and the strategy that India has adopted, one can very well notice that there are proposals like SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region), Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), promoting connectivity (both physical and digital) and developing trade and investment with a major focus on exploring international markets while at the same time opening up Indian market with certain quid pro quo benefits.

In the new regional approach, the India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS), approach to the Caribbean and Latin American countries, Visegrad countries, Pacific island countries have added new dimensions to the policy approach. India has seen as a major transit in terms of investment and opening new foreign offices in those countries where there is less representation of Indian diplomats.

Technology has been seen as an important component of India’s interaction with many of the technological powers. In fact, if one evaluates the last five years of foreign policy, joint statements and agreements one can very well discern that multiple agreements having focus on terrorism, technology, training, trade, investment and tourism has been signed with major countries and the visiting dignitaries have acknowledged the fact that India is very well on its way to become a knowledge hub. Interestingly, the reference about terrorism also tacitly acknowledges that Pakistan is the biggest perpetrator of terrorism across the world. In terms of education and knowledge, India has been taking giant leaps through the process of Digital India and Skill India processes.

In many of the documents that India has signed with other countries, there has been structured agreements related to smart cities project, infrastructure development, waste management, energy efficiency, sewage treatment, renewable energy, and town planning. With regard to strategic partnership that India has signed with more than 33 countries, there has been a gradient and selective approach with many countries being given prefixes such as ‘preferred’, ’desired’ and ‘special’ strategic partners. What is interesting in India’s new approach with regard to foreign policy is that Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Iran are listed as strategic partners. Even though there is no strategic partnership agreement with Israel but it has become a critical security partner for India supplying military hardware, border security equipments, and other devices which can monitor India’s borders and also help in detecting any tunnels which might be dug by terrorist or other subversive elements to infiltrate from Pakistan to India.

The result of the dividends of these aggressive foreign policy outlook that India has adopted since the coming of Modi government has been the fact that Pakistan has been isolated and any overtures which were expected to be made from India to Pakistan for initiating the peace talks are gone. In other terms, as one can say that in organic chemistry the Indian approach to Pakistan has become inert. While approach towards China has been adopted with an iron fist under a velvet glove but with a confrontationist attitude and one can see in the case of a number of conflicting situations with China at the border be the case of Depsang, Doklam or even Pangong Tso lake stand offs. The stand offs have lingered but have shown that India can counter Chinese tactics.

India’s Indian Ocean strategy now spans across the eastern and western Indian Ocean, and as a part of its outlook towards Indian Ocean it has adopted a strategy which calls Indo-Pacific approach as an extension of Indian Ocean strategy. As a result of which India has been engaging the littoral countries of the Indian Ocean through various initiatives which include capacity building, personnel training, defence exports, focussed aid, allocating more seats for ITEC programme and also conducting high level visits to these countries. The impact has been seen with regard to better relations with the eastern African countries as well as select Southeast Asian countries, and better and mature relationship with island countries. Interestingly, as part of the ‘double fish hook strategy’ it has been engaging the island states in Indian Ocean so as to create a viable radar and coastal security network with many of these countries.

From the structural point of view there has been a new development in the institutional framework. Now one can see divisions such as New Emerging Strategic Technologies (NEST), Oceania, Indo-Pacific, and also a separate division addressing the concerns of the federal structure particularly states with regard to engaging border provinces in India’s foreign policy interaction with the neighbouring countries. There are also different divisions which have been created with regard to Development and Planning Assistance (there are three divisions in external affairs ministry now, earlier there used to be only one) to the countries which required India’s financial and material support in times of need. India’s approach through Act East Policy, think West Asia policy and connect Central Asia policy is now more mature and looks into various aspects which can be developed in collaboration with the countries of these regions.

With regard to its relationship with Russia and the US as well as Asian powers such as Japan and Australia, it has been structured in a way that it is engaging while at the same time not depending too much on anyone power as an insurance to India’s security. Lately, India has been also making right kind of noises with regards to its candidature as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and it is clearly stating that a country with the population of 1.30 billion people should not be denied an entry into the high table because it will be counter-productive to democratic fundamentals of the UN.

Multiple times it has been stated and narrated by many strategic thinkers that India has been reluctant power and has not clearly outlined its policy on many of the issues which are of international interest. However, Indian establishment openly believes that it is better not to say anything and let the action speak louder than words. In the case of evacuation of its citizens from Libya, Yemen and many other countries whenever there has been crisis or ongoing civilian unrest, India has taken an active interest.

India has also thought about this prospect of unifying the department of foreign affairs and trade to look into viable opportunities and address its concerns both with regard to political interactions and trade development. However, this initiative could not gain that ground because of the large bureaucracy that India has, and the large workload regarding queries, addressing parliamentary questions and other issues that every department related has to deal with. In the late 2019 and subsequently because of the Covid-19 the political interactions have been held both online and offline which clearly states that COVID- 19 epidemic cannot stall the march of India’s emergence as a regional power and an Asian power.

Modi has been successful in harnessing personal chemistry with the leaders of different countries because of which many times all those issues which are left unaddressed at lower level get addressed at the high table. One of the important rallying points for Pakistan at the international level has been the resonance of the Kashmir issue but now Pakistan is unable to rake up the Kashmir issue because it is just not getting the support that it used to get because of its concocted narratives. Further, its own human rights record is pathetic related to ethnic minorities and other religious communities.

India has been very specific with regard to its requirement and the need before approaching Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)or even ASEAN Free Trade structures. The new approach that India has adopted with regard to participating in Shangri-la dialogue and also articulating its interest in the ASEAN plus dialogues (ADMM Plus) clearly shows that India is going to put its mind where its interests are. There is more outcome orientation in policy, and with the COVID vaccine diplomacy India is positioning itself as a major pharmaceutical hub of the world. While it is completely addressing this issue of international global social responsibilities, it is also looking for a structured support for its initiative from all the international leaders and the countries concerned. Quad meeting acknowledged the need for strengthening India’s pharma sector through investment and financial support.  

Many positive things have been written with regard to the success of the Indian foreign policy but there are certain flaws also. While interacting with many countries, the political leadership has made too many pronouncements and therefore expectations have increased with regard to deliverables. In terms of aid, assistance as well as Lines of Credit (LoC)the need of the hour is to structure it and stagger it in such a way that India should not default from its commitments. Also, Modi’s own personal interaction with leaders have overpowered the structural mechanism because of which if in case Modi leaves office then there is a critical vacuum which will be created.

India’s strong outlook has a times led to criticism in the international community with regard to India’s hard-line approach in a number of ways. The case of Balakot air strikes or Uri military operation it is seen that while India has managed the international community but there are certain flaws in its approach in engaging the domestic interest groups. On aspects related to trade and foreign direct investment requires structural changes. These structural changes can only be brought about when the bureaucracy is sensitised, and there is an active intervention of the commercial processes which can suggest changes to these tardy procedures. The single window system which is adopted by many of the Asian countries can be explored and also the environmental ministry clearances with regard to investment and setting up a factory or a group of industries in India should be facilitated in a better way.

It is stated that India’s foreign policy outlook has become much more assertive in recent times but it is also believed that India’s cautious outlook on a number of issues in the past because of the fear of international backlash and condemnation has decelerated momentum. This mindset has relegated India into the league of few of the nations which were reluctant or shy powers but do have the potential to rise at the regional and international space. India’s acceptance of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue which it has entered with the US, Japan and Australia clearly shows that there is huge potential and spinoffs. The approach that it has taken with regard to developing skills and technologies, and entering into joint ventures on critical aspects of technologies such as space and cyber clearly shows that India has a blueprint with regard to its next phase of foreign policy as well as progressive strategic outlook. India’s new policy outlook is futuristic and has adopted an outcome approach.

Pankaj Jha is faculty with Jindal School of International Affairs, O P Jindal Global University, Sonepat. He can be reached at pankajstrategic[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

The Taliban Are Back — And Its Fine

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The Taliban have recently conquered large portions of Afghanistan and seem poised to overrun the Afghan government in Kabul. Yet, contrary to what many commentators assume, the return to power of the Taliban is not necessarily a loss for the United States. The Taliban can indeed become an asset for great power competition with China and Russia.

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The Taliban movement scored significant territorial gains throughout the last months. It made large headways into the northern part of Afghanistan and is now surrounding several major cities, seemingly waiting for the departure of the last foreign troops before it seizes these locations. Yet, a potential takeover by the Taliban, although a hard-to-swallow pill, needs not turn into a net loss for U.S. foreign policy.

The primary — although now often forgotten — motive for NATO presence in Afghanistan was not to skirmish endlessly with the Taliban, but rather to eliminate the threat of devasting 9/11-scale attacks by Al-Qaeda and consorts. However, the current Al-Qaeda threat in Afghanistan hardly justifies U.S. and allied military action there.

First, no massive attack has occurred on U.S. soil for the last twenty years and relevant American law enforcement agencies have taken extensive precautions to make sure it will not happen.

Second, Al-Qaeda’s strength in Afghanistan is now estimated to be less than 1,000 by even pessimistic reports. Advocates of a continuous Western presence in Afghanistan have yet to show how a few hundred terrorists represent an existential threat to the United States or the Free World. It stretches the imagination that seven or eight hundred soldiers of fortune pose a vital and imminent peril for America, while China and Russia now field large and modern militaries well-positioned to overrun their neighbors and make a bid for regional hegemony in East Asia and Eastern Europe.

Third, many of Al-Qaeda’s recent attacks or attempts at attack on the West have little if nothing to do with Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda activities have been delocalized to other countries in turmoil. Those arguing that NATO needs to indefinitely garrison Afghanistan for the sake of a few hundred terrorists should thus logically also advocate for NATO to garrison Iraq, Libya, Mali, Niger, Syria, Yemen, and others.

Fourth, the Taliban never participated in the 9/11 attacks, and their current alliance with Al-Qaeda has a single main motive: surviving NATO presence. Once NATO is out, there is no obvious reason for them to keep working with Al-Qaeda, which may bring devastation once again upon the Taliban and Afghanistan by conducting reckless international attacks from Afghan soil. The Taliban did not fight for over twenty years to hand over the country to Al Qaeda or anyone else.

Therefore, no essential U.S. interest justifies keeping intervening into Afghan domestic politics. Furthermore, since the Trump administration, the U.S. government identifies China as its primary great power competitor and Russia as a secondary one. U.S. foreign policy is now mostly designed with Chinese power as a background. In a nutshell, Afghanistan, even under Taliban control, could become an asset for competing with China and Russia.

Beijing recently warned that the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces poses a major threat to regional stability. The Chinese want America to remain in Afghanistan for as long as possible; that is the unmistakable clue that the United States should exit as fast as it can. If a ferocious civil war continues, Beijing will have to reinforce its western border.  Also, if the Taliban take over, Afghanistan may become more sympathetic to the plea of the Xinjiang Uyghurs and less receptive toward Chinese interests. In both cases, China will be forced to strengthen its defense in the areas bordering Afghanistan for fear of instability. Although this burden will likely remain light for China, it is still an easy and unexpansive gain for Washington, because a Chinese soldier busy garrisoning the Afghan border is a soldier unavailable for action towards Taiwan, Korea, or India.

Like the Chinese, the Russians will be forced to protect their southern borders and their Central Asian partners against a potential threat emerging from Afghanistan. To Moscow, this represents around 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) of Afghan-Tajik, Afghan-Turkmen, and Afghan-Uzbek borders to guard; this will push Russia to reorient at least some military forces towards Central Asia and thus release some pressure from NATO in Eastern Europe.

A Taliban-led Afghanistan may also further U.S. interests towards Iran and Pakistan in more indirect ways. Indeed, if the United States keeps engaging with Iran, the uneasiness of living with a Taliban Afghanistan on its eastern borders will give further incentives for Tehran to accommodate the United States, and even Israel and Saudi Arabia. If, unfortunately, Washington fails to repair its relations with Iran, Afghanistan can then become a valuable partner to contain Tehran, regardless of who is in charge in Kabul.

As noticed by former CIA Bruce Riedel, without Western presence in Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban will be less dependent on support from Pakistan, and Pakistani Taliban will be free to focus their fight against the government in Islamabad. Indeed, Prime Minister Imran Khan made clear that he did not welcome the Taliban back in power and would seal the border with Afghanistan if they were. Consequently, with the Taliban back in office and NATO out, Pakistan will be forced to reinforce its western border, thus diminishing its capability to compete with India. Therefore, New Delhi will be more able to focus on the Chinese threat to its northern and eastern borders. Trouble emanating from Afghanistan may even become an impetus for the Pakistanis to normalize their relations with the Indians.

Since the February 2020 peace agreement, the Taliban have kept their word to refrain from attacking NATO. They are not mindless fanatics yearning for planetary devastation, but rational actors who made clear that they were only interested in ruling Afghanistan and have proven open to negotiation and adjustments. Once in office, the Taliban will have no shortage of potential threats; they will have to navigate between China, a potential hegemon in Asia, a resurgent Russia, and mistrustful governments in Iran, Pakistan, and Central Asia. Threatening or attacking Washington and its allies will be the last of their concerns. They agreed that Afghanistan should not turn into a safe haven for international terrorism again and have been busy fighting with the Afghan branch of the Islamic State. In a 2020 op-ed in The New York Times, the Taliban even touted the possibility ‘for cooperation — or even a partnership — in the future.’

Afghanistan is and will remain of secondary importance for U.S. foreign policy; yet, maintaining a working relationship with a future Taliban government can offer several benefits at virtually no cost to the U.S., while turning a military defeat into a political win.

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Examining the impacts of Globalization: A Case study of Afghanistan

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Globalization is often considered as one of the most important and transformative events in the 21st century. It has led to the creation of multiple influential actors, rise of the information revolution and the formation of various instruments enabling cooperation and interdependence. Of the key aspects in the concept of globalization is the creation of state institutions which have allowed for monitoring, control and economic investments thus enabling greater connectivity with the people across the globe. The information revolution which came as a result of increase in technological prowess and development of communication technologies has led to the creation of virtual communication spaces. Big technological cooperation’s were able to exercise influence in the social media space and enable a conducive environment of presentation of various discourses. Globalization has also had a significant influence in the manipulation, coordination and control of all manner of discourse directed at various prominent political figures. From state to non-state actors all have been impacted by globalization.

Globalization in 3rd world countries saw an interesting and significant transformation where nations sought to gain advantage of the political and economic expansion which came as a result of increased connectivity of markets and political institutions. For these 3rd World states where political and economic capital was deficient in terms of influencing regional and global dynamics, they sought to further their geo-political objectives through increased trade, cooperation, cultural diplomacy and providing their strategic assets for more influential states to utilize. Countries such as African and South Asian states utilized international institutions, communication technologies in order to further their social, political and economic interests (Hamidi, 2015 ). Afghanistan in this regard hasn’t been averse to the changes effectively induced by globalization. Being a pivotal state in terms of key foreign policy objectives of states such as United States and Soviet Union, Afghanistan has seen change due to globalization. Its influence, in the cultural, political, societal and economic spheres shall be further explored in the ensuing paragraphs of this essay.

The state of Afghanistan has seen consistent and prolonged conflicts throughout its history. It’s political and social landscape has been affected by continuous struggle to attain power by warring warlords. Home to many ethnicities, the Afghan conflict has also impacted various ethnic groups disproportionately with many ethnic minorities becoming victims. Economic woes combined with rigid social norms and values have all contributed to a dwindling state marred by conflict. Afghanistan before the dawn of modernism was home to one of history’s notorious empires. It housed the rulers who invaded across to the rich plains of India in search of arable land for cultivation and for its natural resources. Despite its rich history Afghanistan was primarily distinguished along the lines of a tribalistic society with consistent conflict over land, domestic feuds and scarcity of resources. This all saw a radical change when during the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union, seeking to gain inroads in to South Asia invaded Afghanistan. What followed was a prolonged and protracted conflict in which not only the Afghan people but the people of neighboring Pakistan were also deeply affected in adverse ways. (Britannica , 2021 )

Afghanistan’s ascendancy to the mainstream global political spectrum came as a result of America’s denouncement of terrorism and the beginning of the war on terror. Post 9/11 American coalition forces invaded Afghanistan with the aim of targeting terrorists’ strategic strongholds in hopes of preventing future recurrences of attacks on European states. Another primary objective of the US and NATO coalition forces was to establish a national government enabled by foreign aid of the United States and led by social representatives of the people of Afghanistan. Before the US becoming an entrant in to the Afghan conflict, Afghanistan had largely been unaffected by radical transformations by globalization. Strict adherence to religious and social norms combined with a sense of alienism was one of the dominating factors which rendered Afghanis practically immune to the effects of globalization. Furthermore, economic and social insecurity had led Afghan societies to cluster into communities in hopes of reducing these anxieties which had become a recurrent theme in the pretext of globalization (Kinnvall, 2004 ).

Globalization for Afghanistan has been what is commonly termed as a “mixed bag”. For inviting international bodies to provide aid, relief and security meant a continuous rise in political influence exercised by foreign nations and institutions. Before the advent of American intervention in Afghanistan, foreign influence was mostly restricted to Afghan political elite where several key political stake holders had gained primacy in the eyes of the European governments (EUC paper series , 2017 ). The post 9/11 political spectrum was to radically effect the social political and economic spectrum of the conflict ravaged country. Foreign intervention aimed to radically change the societal fabric of a conservative afghan society and to introduce it to the global financial markets. Economic strife had complemented Afghanistan’s bulging unemployment, increased violence and vilification of what was termed as ‘evil, alien’ concepts of democracy and capitalism. The United States had aimed for re-vitalizing an Afghan society subjugated under Taliban rule.

Afghanistan before 2001 had chronic lapses in communication infrastructure which was largely due to poverty and rigid control by the then Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. Since 2001 the communication bulge came due to a rising influx of international aid and US military deployment. Subsequently Afghan societies were able to connect, report and increase knowledge as a result of the growth in media outlets. Qualitative studies point to the conclusion drawn that content produced by BBC played a significant role in behavioral changes of Afghan society (Adam, 2005 ).  The rich monopoly over the constructive discourses surrounding Afghan societies has also changed through the years as analyzed by various academics. Import of cultural and social identities and appreciation of various political voices came due to the significant influence of globalization.

The Afghan economy is another important aspect which has been significantly affected by the geo-political events and the onset of globalization. Globalization has bought with it the economic interdependence through a global financial market system aiming to liberalize and interconnect regional and state economies. Afghanistan for long had seen a frail economy compounded by elements of corruption, ceaseless conflicts and an influential control of trade routes by the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban, a pre-dominantly Pashtun organization consisting of multiple influential operating factions has for long controlled the opiate trading routes which form the bulk of Afghan domestic export. Primary trading routes had traditionally also included the Pashtun regions of Pakistan. Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet role was furthered by control over such content flows which not only allowed a vast and complicated network of interconnected guerilla groups but also served as the primary produce generating capital (Mendel, 2019 ).

While many argue that globalization inherently is a positive force aiming to alleviate and provide further economic, social and political stability, contested views argue in terms of empirical evidence against the normative claim. The Afghan perspective under the subject of globalization was seen as largely as a disconnect from the rest of the world. The process of integration, Western scholars argued was through the increased presence of defense forces and international institutions aiming to uplift societal deprivations. Another interesting perspective in this regard comes during the analysis of Al-Qaeda networks which for long operating on a global level. Such a degree of efficiency combined with a global distribution of opium trade was only possible through a systematic interconnectedness with various international networks. These would then allow a vast and lucrative drug business to operate despite chronic lapses in the government institutions on economic policy and implementation of government economic models.

Afghan society under the Taliban was rigidly controlled and monitored. Consisting largely of rural tribesmen, high rates of unemployment and extreme poverty had subjected the society to the will of powerful tribal leaders who worked to further their objective of accumulating power and influence. Religion in Afghanistan has also induced a traditional society to follow principals ascribed in religious texts. Laws and structure of society were decided on the basis of a rigid code of scripture. US department of State in its report argues that “legal change occurs usually when it is followed, not when it is leads public by opinion”. This argument follows in line with the narrative that while although US forces and NATO allies were able to remove a Taliban government, applying US democratic values and legal constitutions would be difficult and would ultimately fail when it came to attaining societal approval (Palmerlee, 2003 ).

Afghani society has followed traditional principals and held on cultural traditions and narratives. With globalization many academics have argued that Afghanistan’s inability or the lack of want to change arises from either a poor system of governance or a strongly entrenched traditional societal structure. Despite having multiple programs and promoting organizations representative of the Afghan people, resistance to change has always come due to deeply held beliefs of the need for religious protectionism and maintaining tribal identity. This ‘counter-global’ stances show a societal push back of what is considered as an interference of foreign media, and institutions as a challenging force to disrupt established social norms and values. US forces therefore ever since entering into Afghanistan have found it difficult to reconcile Afghan societies thoughts and values with Western ideals of democracy and capitalism. It is one of the influential factors which allow organizations such as the Afghan Taliban to continue an armed insurgency where general acceptance of society has created the space for the Taliban to operate for a continuous period.

The political spectrum of Afghanistan has also been affected by globalization. International institutions and states have continuously aimed to impart western form of governance in Afghanistan. Foreign investments and defense deployments have continued with the pursuit of gaining political leverage and to back national governments representative of Afghanistan. Despite the continued inflow of foreign capital and operations conducted by NATO forces, the Afghan conflict has largely remained un-resolved and unchanged. The current government having the backing of powerful NATO forces has been largely unable to gain credibility and acceptability in the eyes of Afghanis. Afghanistan’s continued withdrawal from globalization and a rejection to imparting new and improved means of governance has been a primary factor which hasn’t allowed credible space for forms of governance like this to prosper.

The political spectrum also continues to be shaped by consistent sense of ‘loss of sovereignty’ This concept comes as result of a globalization where the greater influence of international institutions and foreign states is observed to have a negative impact on the states individual sovereignty. Despite the profits gained from having a highly interconnected market system and the creation of institutions to reduce the chance of conflict, such influence has been challenged by developing countries. South Asia is largely populated with people living below the average rate of income established by international organizations such as the United Nations. The people of Afghanistan belong to the poorest strata where people have the lowest levels of income followed by a large scale of unemployment and little to no foreign export except the opiate trade. International organizations and non-state actors have over the years gained increasing levels of control and influence in the governance structure of Afghanistan. Through providing aid, defense and foreign policy strategies Afghanistan government and the role of influential international actors has led to an increasing sense of loss of sovereignty by the Afghan population (Political works , 2009 ). This has allowed the continuing Afghan insurgency to gain traction and acceptance where despite being dislodged from power the guerilla paramilitary force has taken up an aggressive and largely successful campaign against the foreign led forces.

Cultural identity has been at the forefront of the debates surrounding globalization. Common conceptions of globalizations mainly discuss the normative aspects of increased communication and inter-dependence between countries. Globalization has increased interconnectivity and has led to a homogeneity of cultures and traditions. While debatable, the concept remains significant in the debate on globalization. The study on Afghanistan has largely been on political economy and connecting Afghanistan with the global financial institutions. Cultural values of democracy and westernized conceptions on human values have found little acceptance in Afghanistan and in other Muslim countries. This interesting concept can be studied by understanding the radically altering understanding of individual values and identities of Muslim cultures with that of Westernized democratic ideals. This makes it problematic where enforcement or promotion of these values then leads to cultural rifts and becomes the precursor for possible future conflict. In the case of Afghanistan cultural identity is fixated in the identification on the basis of religion and tribal identities. The celebration of the ‘collective’ and the promotion of shared norms and values gains greater acceptance over westernized ideas of the individual. With these fundamental differences cultural identity has been largely unchanged despite continued foreign assistance and commitment in Afghanistan (Weisberg, 2002 ).

Afghanistan for a large part of its history has seen great conflict of different scales. From internal rifts to foreign interventions the complicated and prevailing nexus in Afghanistan continues to invite academic debate till today. Globalization has increasingly allowed greater connectivity and enhanced opportunities of cooperation and increased global/regional ties. For Afghanistan the complicated situation has been further exasperated with an increasingly globalized world. With foreign interventions and rising levels of inequality and influence of non-state actors, the situation of Afghanistan continues to remain in flux. Only time will truly tell how and to what extent has globalization truly impacted Afghanistan.

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Why France holds the key to India’s Multilateral Ambitions

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Authors: Prof. Nidhi Piplani Kapur and K.A. Dhananjay

As Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla pitches for permanent membership and reforms at the United Nations (UN), India’s prowess in multilateral diplomacy is tested. Against this backdrop, allies and partners who intend to support India become a critical factor not only to its UN ambitions; but also, areas where India’s multilateral interests are emerging – namely in the European Union (EU) and Indo-Pacific Region. In this regard, India’s multilateral goals are threefold–securing a permanent membership at the UN, enhanced multilateral trade relations with the EU, and enlarged capacity-building in the Indo-Pacific. Yet, for realizing its multilateral endeavours, India’s age-old relationship with France remains the key.

Since the signing of the Strategic Partnership with India in 1998, France has played an enormous role in supporting Indian interests. Whether it is backing India’s stance on Kashmir, collaborating in defence and space, or even pledging solidarity in fighting the second wave of the pandemic, France has assisted India in its strategic and societal causes. Therefore, being a reliable and strategic ally, France is a perfect guide for India in the aforesaid multilateral pursuits primarily because of its credentials as a permanent member in the UN, founding member of the EU, and in recent times, an emerging power in the Indo-Pacific region too.

UN Reforms and Permanent Membership

Ever since India was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2020, it has constantly batted for organizational reforms within the UN. As India puts it – ‘reformed multilateralism’ is in the need of the hour. It is a fact that the UN is currently beleaguered by an unevenly poised multilateral system, mainly wedged between the politics of the United States, Russia, and China, and hence is proving antithetical to the organisation’s legitimacy and purpose per se. Besides, with China reportedly making inroads within the UN system, India’s call for reforms underpins its cause to arrest Beijing’s influence that could otherwise prove costly to its strategic interests, including territorial disputes along the Line of Actual Control.

At the UN, France has endorsed India’s bid to overhaul the Security Council on numerous occasions. Currently, France and India are presiding over the Security Council in successive terms for July and August respectively. While India has signalled to make ‘best’ efforts to reform the UN during its short stint at the Security Council, France has already called for negotiations with India to explore and expedite the reformation it proposes. Whatever may be the challenges, France provides elbow room for India to set the ball rolling.

Brokering the India-EU FTA

The EU has been an important multilateral partner for India via trade and strategic relations. Post the EU-India virtual summit in May, an event that drew participation from leaders of all the 27 EU member states, there has been a lot of talk on India’s burgeoning importance in Europe. The summit was a positive outcome for India, as negotiations for the long-pending Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU were set to restart after a gap of 8 years. Notably, FTA talks with India come at a time when the highly debated EU-China trade deal was frozen by the European Parliament owing to ‘tit-for-tat’ sanctions surrounding China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

For India, the FTA is a watershed for extending multilateral relations with the European continent and an opportunity to consider an alternative to futile Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations. Though the FTA might look vibrant and dynamic, the EU considers India’s policy on market access, intellectual property, and data security unfavourable to pursue a free trade agreement. These issues may not be easy to forego, especially given the socio-economic conditions induced by the pandemic; but there comes the French angle to the discussion.

In the EU, France was one of the main proponents for resuming FTA negotiations with India. Since France has a significant foothold in the EU and a long-standing relationship with India, it has the tenacity to cement the middle ground while both parties deliberate on the FTA. This way, both India and the EU’s interests are not shredded, and if the FTA becomes a reality, France gets to keep the legacy of brokering an otherwise impossible landmark deal.

Enlarged Indo-Pacific Cooperation

The rise of China and the consequent formation of the QUAD has put the Indo-Pacific region in the global geopolitical landscape. The Indo-Pacific is at the centre of India’s strategic and territorial interests. As a prominent state in the region, India pursues a strategy that counters China’s dominance and expands its outreach in the Indo-Pacific. Seeing the political circumstances in the Indo-Pacific, France has also shown a keen interest in exploring its prospects in the region.

From securing membership at the Indian Ocean Rim Association to participating in strategic engagements such as the Australia-India-France Trilateral Dialogue and the QUAD-Plus network, France is gradually expanding its footprint in the Indo-Pacific. Not to forget, through 4 overseas territories, France also has a regional presence in the Indo-Pacific. With the EU also launching its Indo-Pacific strategy, France naturally has a tactical advantage to even pilot European interests in the region.

Ergo, French entry in the Indo-Pacific is good news for India because now it has more partners to restrict China. As a result, multilateral capacity-building and maritime domain awareness operations in the Indo-Pacific look at a major facelift in ensuring maritime security, freedom of navigation, and most importantly – restrict Chinese expansionism. Given the French factor, enlarged Indo-Pacific cooperation is beneficial for India to rise as a pivot as well as keep an eye on China’s incessant effrontery in the region.

Based on what France brings to the table, India is looking at a friend whose promising rapport provides a new prism for its multilateral aspirations. Albeit, the judicial probe ordered on the Rafale deal in France might cause light tremors in Indo-French relations and may also spill out a political limbo. It is a headache for both Paris and New Delhi to eschew, and hopefully, they could steer it in a way mutual interests do not succumb to the looming uncertainty.

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