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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

Fifty Years OF India-Bangladesh Ties: Sky’s The Limit

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Bangladesh and India are two neighboring countries of South Asia and these two countries have historically had very close relations. After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, present day Bangladesh was part of the Republic of Pakistan as East Pakistan. The people of Bengal will never forget the assistance rendered by the late Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi and her government when the people of East Bengal under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took part in the war of independence against the West Pakistani military rule.

The role that Mrs. Gandhi played in the international arena, including providing shelter and military assistance to nearly one crore East Pakistani refugees, accelerated Bangladesh’s independence. The generosity shown by Mrs. Gandhi in withdrawing the Indian Allied forces from independence-North Bangladesh in a very short time at the request of Bangabandhu is rarely seen in the case of the newly independent countries.

The unity between the two countries since independence has continued to this day. However, despite the existence of negative relations between Bangladesh and India for some time, the relations between the two countries have reached a certain height in the last 12 years. Many important problems have been solved in the last 12 years, including the solution of enclave problems. Relations between the two countries have been further strengthened by India’s assistance in various projects.

On an annual basis, India’s exports to Bangladesh increased by 46 percent. As of January-March 2021, India’s total exports to Bangladesh amounted to US 3.16 billion. In other words, during this period, Bangladesh was the fourth largest exporter to India. Bangladesh was preceded by the United States (US 15.40 billion), China (US 5.92 billion) and the UAE (US 5.34 billion).

What is clear from these statistics is that trade between the two countries has greatly improved. However, despite the increase in Indian exports to Bangladesh, the desired target for products exported from Bangladesh has not yet been achieved. However, since 2011, the trade deficit between the two countries has been reduced, albeit to a lesser extent, as a result of the Government of India’s decision to allow duty-free trade of Bangladeshi products in the Indian market, except for 25 products. Even then, in order to improve relations, the two heads of government should reach an agreement to reduce the trade deficit.

In the field of culture, very friendly relations exist between the two countries. Just as Bangladeshi cultural groups display their cultural activities in India, so Indian cultural groups often present their activities to the people of Bangladesh. Through this, a strong bridge has been created in the cultural arena of the two countries. It is worth mentioning here that since Bangladesh and India are two states of the subcontinent, there are many similarities between the cultural worlds of the two countries.

The scholarships that the Government of India has introduced for Bangladeshi students in various fields to further enhance the relations between the two countries have had a positive impact on the relations between the two countries. Along with scholarships under the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Government of India has introduced scholarships for Bangladeshi students in several other sectors. Among these are the Friendship Scholarship, the Scholarship for the Children of the Freedom Fighters and the Bangabandhu Chair Scholarship on the occasion of Bangabandhu’s birth centenary. The fact that a large number of people from Bangladesh travel to India every year for medical treatment sends a positive message to the relations between the two countries.

In addition, the governments of the two countries are seriously considering launching a regional inter-country road link. If this communication starts, there will be huge potential for expansion of trade and commerce between the two countries. It is expected that this will open new doors for Bangladesh’s trade not only with India but also with our neighboring countries. Many try to view inter-country road connectivity in a negative light, arguing that Bangladesh would then become India’s corridor.

Such an argument is entirely motivated, because if such efforts are successful in the age of globalization, it will bring benefits to both countries. Providing duty-free trade and visa-free travel with this communication will benefit both countries as well as strengthen the people-to-people ties between the two countries as we see in Europe. Many European countries can be entered under Schengen visa.

There is no denying that the governments of Bangladesh and India have reached a consensus on a number of issues since the post-independence period. Important among these were the Padma water sharing agreement, the solution of enclave problems and duty-free access to goods to reduce the trade deficit. However, although the relations between the two countries are very deep, it has not been possible to reach a consensus on a number of issues so far. The most important of these are the Teesta water sharing agreement and the killing at the border.

Although the Indian government has a positive attitude towards the Teesta water treaty, it is not possible to do so due to opposition from the West Bengal government. To complete the contract. If this agreement is reached, it will not only have a positive impact on the relations between the two countries, but will also alleviate the suffering of the people of northern Bangladesh due to the lack of Teesta water.

On the other hand, despite high-level talks between the two countries to reduce the number of killings on the border to zero, such killings have occasionally negatively affected relations between the two countries. The killings should be reduced, especially as the people of Bangladesh may have a negative impact on India.

Bangladesh-India relations are on such a strong foundation that many countries of the world have started envying this relationship. Various leaders are trying to bridge the gap in this relationship. The two heads of government should be aware of this.

We must remember that the relationship between the people of Bangladesh and India stands on a very strong foundation. Thus, the main theme of this year’s Friendship Day may be the conviction to move the relationship forward by reaching consensus on the issues on which consensus has not yet been reached.

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Pakistan slips on a slippery slope of religious militancy

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Pakistani political and military leaders have vowed to eradicate ultra-conservative religious extremism that drove a mob to torture, brutally lynch a Sri Lankan national, and burn his body in the eastern city of Sialkot. Some 900 cases have been filed with police and 235 people arrested in connection with the killing.

“Let me make this clear: I have decided that from now we will not spare those who resort to violence in the name of religion, especially in the name of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” Prime Minister Imran Khan said at a commemoration of Priyantha Kumara Diyawadana, a 48-year-old textile factory manager.

The mob accused Mr. Diyawadana of removing a sticker of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) or ‘I am Present Pakistan ‘(TLP), a far-right militantly religious group, from machinery before a visit by foreigners.

Some reports claimed that a dispute between Mr. Diyawadana and workers sparked the lynching. It was not clear whether the argument may be connected to the stickers.

The TLP condemned the Sialkot killing but has often turned unfounded blasphemy allegations into a violent crusade in a country where punishment for it is a mandatory death sentence.

Whatever sparked the killing, the government’s response seemed aimed to project determination to tackle a festering problem. It is a claim that rings hollow, despite Mr. Khan’s strong words, in a country where government policies are inconsistent or appear to even encourage religious ultra-conservatism and intolerance.

“We’ll see the truth of this soon enough when the next Pakistani — be he or she Muslim, Hindu, Christian, or otherwise — is lynched in the name of blasphemy.,” said journalist Zarrar Khuhro. “Because that’s going to keep happening no matter what becomes of those arrested in the Sialkot lynching. You know it, and I know it too.”

Despite acting against Mr. Diyawadana’s killers, government and military leaders failed to censor defense minister Pervez Khattak for downplaying, if not justifying, the killing.

Speaking after Mr. Diyawadana’s killers proudly admitted their crime in front of TV cameras and posted selfies with his mutilated body online, Mr. Khattak described them as boys entering adulthood who were “ready to do anything” and learn with age how to control their emotions. “So, this happens among kids; fights take place and even murders. Does this mean it is the government’s fault?”

Most of the suspects in Mr. Diyawadana’s killing were under the age of 30.

Mr. Khattak’s remarks seemed a throwback to four years ago when the military appeared to openly support the TLP as its staged a mass protest against the government of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Dawn, Pakistan’s flagship English-language newspaper, summed up the state of affairs in an editorial. The paper said that “such a statement from a federal minister should come as a shock, but unfortunately, we are accustomed to our public officials being in denial about the realities of extremism and violence in the country.”

Weeks earlier, the government had initially caved in to demands of the TLP under pressure from a mass protest march of thousands of the group’s followers on the capital Islamabad. The demands included the reversal of a decision to outlaw the group and releasing its leader and followers from jail. However, a week later, the government backed out of the deal with the group.

Days before the killing, Mr. Khattak’s colleague, information minister Fawad Chaudhry, sought to shield from criticism religious seminaries or madrassas, an influential segment of Pakistan’s education system. Mr. Chaudhry, who unambiguously condemned Mr. Kumara’s killing, did so by blaming the spread of extremism in Pakistan primarily on public schools rather than on madrasas.

“The institution of the madrassa has become the primary political base for religious groups and religious-political parties and continues to strictly adhere to its potentially explosive sectarian character. It is expanding and encroaching on the formal education sector, and the state has failed to regulate the institution,” said Pakistani analyst Mohammad Amir Rana.

Countering Mr. Chaudhry’s assertions, Mr. Rana noted that “formal education institutions have not produced a fraction of the number of militants who enter the ranks of various national and international terrorist organisations which the madrassas belonging to different banned militant organisations have produced so far.”

Mr Rana made his remarks days before the Sialkot killing, but he could have been writing after the incident when he noted that successive Pakistani governments had sought to depoliticise education on public campuses “while the madrassa students remain politically and ideologically charged and vulnerable to be exploited for street protests and recruitment for military purposes.”

Mr. Chaudhry got it right when he pointed to the public system but failed to mention that it was because the government was increasingly hiring madrassa graduates as teachers in the public sector.

“The madrassa mindset is at its full play in society and is responsible for promoting two major socio-political conflicts…first, the sectarian divide, and second, ideological radicalism,” Mr. Rana warned.

That mindset is gaining further ground with the introduction of a singular national curriculum that gives greater importance to religious education. A court in Lahore has ordered that all school students in Punjab be checked for Quran reading skills.

“Preliminary reports suggest province-wide confusion and chaos and a state of fear among children, teachers, and school principals. Magistrates accompanied by rifle-bearing policemen are pouncing upon schools, interrogating seven- to 12-year-old children,” reported nuclear scientist and human rights activist Pervez Hoodbhoy.

“Grim-faced magistrates swooping down upon schools, destroying the authority of teachers and school principals, and putting terror into the hearts of all is a disgrace to the notion of education. It may not end here,” Mr. Hoodbhoy warned.”

“How we dress, speak, and think is going to be increasingly policed. Imran Khan’s Pakistan is racing down the path to Talibanisation,” he added.

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Quaid-e-Azam: The Protector-General of minorities

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Lynching and setting people was a phenomenon peculiar to India under Modi. But, in a shocking incident , a Sri Lankan factory manager in Sialkot was lynched and later burnt alive. Not only the Pakistan government but also the religiously-oriented parties condemned the incident. Government announced to confer Tamgha-e-Shujaat to the lone voice who tried his utmost to save the victim’s life.

It is heartening that Pakistan immediately apprehended dozens of suspects. In case of India such gory acts go unnoticed.

The incident brought into limelight the bitter fact that ordinary people have a purblind view of blasphemy. They could have avoided taking the law into their own hands. They could have handed over the victim to the police for prosecution if there was any credible shred of evidence against him.

Need for soul searching

While celebrating the Quaid’s birthday on 25th December, the people should refresh their memories of the Quaid’s vision.  Did he visualise Pakistan to be an enlightened democracy or a theocracy?  The Quaid’s whole political struggle was against fanaticism, then spearheaded by Hindus.

Hindu-Muslim amity

The 1916 Lucknow Pact was acknowledged as a pillar of Hindu-Muslim friendship. However, Motilal Nehru, at the behest of the fanatic Hindus, shattered the spirit of peaceful coexistence by formulating his Nehru Report (1928). His son Jawaharlal, outwardly liberal, regarded the creation of Pakistan as a blunder. His rancour against Pakistan reached a crescendo in his remark ‘I shall not have that carbuncle on my back’. Jaswant Singh, in his book, Jinnah: India, Partition, and Independence reveals that Jinnah shelved the idea of independent Pakistan by putting his signature to the Cabinet Mission’s recommendations. This Mission envisaged keeping India undivided for ten years. The constituent assemblies were to consider the question of division after 10 years. When Congress refused to accept the recommendations of the Cabinet Mission, the British government decided to divide India.

Pacifist Jinnah versus jingoist Nehru and Patel

Despite the lapse of over 70 years, India still has to reconcile with Pakistan as a reality.  When Jinnah left India on 7 August 1947, the Quaid said, ‘The past has been buried and let us start afresh as two independent sovereign States. In contrast, Nehru, an outwardly liberal leader, said  ‘I shall not have that carbuncle on my back’. These remarks have been quoted by D. H. Bhutani in his book, The Future of Pakistan (page 14). Vallabhai Patel said, ‘The poison had been removed from the body of India’. RSS’s Mohin Bhagwat and India’s prime minister Narendra Modi have declared to undo partition by doing away with Pakistan.

Not a theocracy

In a broadcast addressed to the people of the USA (February 1948), he said, ‘In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests [mullahs] with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Parsees– but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizen and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan’ When an over-ebullient admirer addressed him as `Maulana Jinnah’, he snubbed him. Jinnah retorted, ‘I am not a Maulana, just plain Mr. Jinnah’. About minorities, the Quaid often reminded Muslim zealots ‘Our own history and our and our Prophet(PBUH) have given the clearest proof that non-Muslims have been treated not only justly and fairly but generously. He added, ‘I am going to constitute myself the Protector-general of the Hindu minority in Pakistan’. Till his last breath, the Quaid remained an ardent supporter of rights of minorities as equal citizens of Pakistan. Our official dignitaries shun rituals and customs of minorities. But, the Quaid participated in Christmas celebrations in December 1947 as a guest of the Christian community. He declared: ‘I am going to constitute myself the Protector General of Hindu minority in Pakistan’.

One member of his post-Partition cabinet was a Hindu. A Jewish scholar, Mohammad Asad, who embraced Islam, held important positions in the post-Partition period in Pakistan.

The following extracts from the Quaid’s speeches and statements as Governor General of Pakistan epitomise his vision: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques, or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan…you may belong to any religion, caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State…We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed or another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of the one State”.

The Quaid visualised that `in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State”. A. K. Brohi, in his The Fundamental Law of Pakistan, argues that Pakistan is an Islamic state, but not a theocracy. Jinnah’s address to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, also, epitomises his vision.

Stanley Wolpert paid tributes to the Quaid in following words, “Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Few still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone could be credited with creating a nation State. Muhammad All Jinnah did all three”. Pakistan overcame insurmountable problems of influx of 1947 refugees, skimpy finances and myriad other problems to emerge as a viable entity. We welcomed refugees, while India is all set to drive out 4.7 million refugees from its eastern state of Assam.

Concluding remark

Isolated intermittent incidents of religious extremism in Pakistan do not reflect the ethos of the majority. However, there is need to make the masses aware of the vested interests who want to exploit  them by warping their beliefs.

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