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The Increasing Role of Middle East Diplomacy in South Asia

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Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba. Image source: Emirates News Agency

Recently, in a sudden revelation the United Arab Emirates (UAE) envoy to the US revealed that his country is in the process of initiating dialogue and discussions between India and Pakistan. In course of a virtual discussion, he talked about UAE desire to help the two countries to have a functional and operational relationship, accepting that they might not turn out to be the best of friends in recent future.

Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba confirmed that his country played an important role in bringing down the tensions on the borders. The UAE was also instrumental in the sudden and unexpected Line of Control (LOC) border agreement on 25th January. It was followed up by the visit of UAE foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to New Delhi and Islamabad subsequently.

The powerful Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who virtually holds a veto in military and diplomatic issues also voiced his support to the development when he publicly talked about “to bury the past and move forward” for two nations. There have also been reports of secret parleys on the issue among top intelligence officials from Research & Analysis Wing (RAW, India) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI, Pakistan) in Dubai in January.

Surprisingly whereas Pakistan has for years been demanding the role of a third-party in promoting interaction and discussions with India, the latter has been explicitly against it. It has been the consistent stand of India under successive governments that the two neighbours can and should talk to each other and resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir (the core issue for Pakistan) and terrorism (the major issue from Indian perspective).

However, even after media revelation, the Indian government did not show its opposition to the ongoing third-party role in a purely bilateral relationship, indicates times and situation have changed. What prompted this significant change in Indian stance, could be seen from the evolving geopolitical realities in the region and around.

With a greater uncertainty looming in Afghanistan as the US prepares to leave the country in a few weeks or months, the stakes have become greater for all regional powers and neighbours. For Pakistan, of course, a government of its choice there could well help it to run the politics, economy and diplomacy of its interest/choice. More importantly, it would try to reduce the Indian influence and interest in Afghanistan and finally, prevent allowing India to use the country as a strategic point in its tactical battle. It could also help China gain a greater foothold, which of late, has become very keen on exploring and exploiting Afghanistan, economically/commercially and strategically.

Turkey also has its commercial, ideological and strategic interests in Afghanistan while another neighbour Iran, would like to promote its own brand of Islamic ideology and commercial interests there. The lone superpower in the region Russia, however would prefer using the country to promote a friendly and stable government who could cater to its politico-strategic interests there.

India also has plenty of stake in Afghanistan. It needs a stable, moderate and economically open government that could provide a market for it. Already India has a positive image among Afghan populace, administration and even among many of the militant groups. It already has made a substantial economic, commercial and political investment in the country and wish to see a friendly government that will not provide sanctuary to Pakistani and Kashmiri terrorists, using it to target India.

Further, India would be uncomfortable with a highly religious, pro-Pakistan government there that could be misused from time to time by its western neighbour. It also has made significant investments in training of Afghan police, military and administration. The common Afghan people moreover, are also enamoured by the globally popular Bollywood movies and songs that India uses as a means to develop people-to-people relationship. It would be uncomfortable in seeing government driven by religious ideology and promoting Pakistani strategic interests there.

So Afghanistan could be an issue that has made a change in Indian thinking. The other issue could be the continuous tensions and build-up on the Chinese borders. The June 2020 military skirmishes in Ladakh has made India extremely suspicious of Chinese. The evolving post-Corona global order where the middle kingdom is trying to usurp the position of Russia, by emerging as the second superpower and its manoeuvres in south China Seas and against Taiwan, all have made India to think about a real-life two-front war on eastern and western borders.

While the scenario has been perceived and gamed about in Indian military circles for years now, the reality is it could well stretch India to its economic and military limits. As a military strategy too, taking on a potential military adversary, one at a time, makes more strategic sense and that probably has led to rethinking in South Block about bringing a thaw in relations with Pakistan.

Now using the UAE diplomacy for this however, raises a question. While as recently as Trump’s repeated public declarations were snubbed by India, accepting the middle east diplomacy could be to India’s advantage. One, UAE has for years been a financial patron to Pakistan and given the stressed economic state of Pakistan, the country will find it difficult to ignore its influence. More importantly when members of the royal family are involved in the process that will have a greater bearing on Pakistani decision-making.

Second, Modi government has developed a very good personalised relationship with all major middle east countries, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. They have tacitly even accepted the finality of Kashmir’s integration with India. So there is little likelihood of they pushing India on this core issue. And India itself being a huge market for oil, petroleum and provider of talented human resources, also comes in country’s equations with the middle east kingdoms.

And finally, India also is enhancing its sphere of influence and reorienting its diplomatic and foreign policies accordingly. A greater stress on economic reinvigoration in the post-Corona order and tactical conflict-management are going to be used more significantly. As part of it, a peaceful neighbourhood needs to be top priority and hence, the acceptance of UAE mediation could be part of that diplomatic strategy.

As for the role and involvement of the UAE in the Indo-Pakistan quagmire, one has to see it in the tectonic shifts in its foreign policy in the last one decade. Starting with the 9/11 attacks in New York to strengthening of radical Islamism in Iraq and Syria, in the form of ISIS, to waning influence of US in global affairs and its increasing antagonism against China to politics of oil and increasing competition in middle east neighbours and growing Iranian aspirations, all have resulted in it getting into an active, interventionist mode.

The contemporary UAE administration has a different idea and vision about the country and its role in world affairs. It no longer intends to play a mere oil trading country but one that has a greater say in shaping the regional and global order. In consultation with the bigger neighbour, UAE is today actively participating in global diplomatic manoeuvres, especially one involving its regions and interests. The Abrahams accord with Israel in September 2020 that was unthinkable till a few months ago, provided an idea of the new way of thinking in the UAE foreign policy establishment. Its involvement in the India-Pakistan peace process where it has greater influence over Pakistan, is part of that new vision and confidence emerging out of Abu Dhabi.

Rajesh Kumar Sinha, MA, MLISc, MPhil, PG Diploma in Journalism is a serving Librarian with the Indian Railways, INDIA. He has worked in print and web media for seven years and writes for Foreign Policy News (US), South Asia Journal (US), Indian Railways (India), OPEN Journal and Rail Journal (India).

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South Asia

Application of Galtung’s ABC Model on the Naxalite Insurgency of India

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The conflict analysis model proposed by Johan Galtung in 1969 includes both symmetric and asymmetric conflicts. In the author’s opinion, a conflict can be viewed as a triangle whose sides are represented by A (attitude), B (behaviors) and C (contradictions.

Figure 1 GALTUNG’S ABC MODEL

The Naxalite Insurgency

The Naxalite revolt which developed in the 1960’s is the most seasoned of all. The Naxalite revolt gets its underlying foundations from a remote town called Naxalbari in West Bengal. They are the progressive communists bunches resulting from Sino-soviet split in Indian Communist Movement. The Naxalite uprising is a low-level war of Maoists against the Indian government. The insurrection began as a labor resistance in the eastern Indian town of Naxalbari in 1967 and has now spread to an extensive swath in the southern and eastern parts of the nation. In 2004 the Maoist dissident association People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Center of India converged to shape the Communist Party of India (Maoist). The Movement was driven by Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal and Jangal Santhal.

Contradictions

The main conflict includes real or perceived “incompatibility of goals” between the conflicting parties. In symmetrical conflicts, the contradiction is defined by the parties, their interests and conflicts of interests. In asymmetric conflicts, the contradiction is defined by the parties, the relationship between them and the conflict within this relationship.

Before continuing with Galtung’s model analysis, it is necessary to highlight the differences between symmetric and asymmetric conflicts. When A and B have a relatively similar or equal position and they enter into a conflict due to diverging interests; we are talking about a symmetrical conflict. When in the relationship between A and B one of the parties has a clearly superior standing compared to the other (i.e. a clear situation of inequality between the two sides); we are referring to asymmetric conflict. This type of conflict occurs between the majority and a minority, between a government and a rebel group, between an employer and his employees, or between a master and his servants (“Transforming Civil Conflicts”, The Network University. The University of Amsterdam, June 2000).

A conflict in Galtung’s view = attitude + behavior + contradiction, where contradiction (C) is the root of the conflict, and attitude (A) and behavior (B) are meta-conflicts after (C). CAB is a possible example of a conflict sequence starting objectively with an attitude of inner life that is expressed externally through violent or not verbal and / or physical behavior. This definition helps us to talk about the CAB as a guiding conflict theory, as a dynamic phase of the conflict, or as an approach to solutions (Galtung, 2007, 22).

The contradiction here in this conflict is inequality and dispute over political rights and resources. The Naxalites get most help from Dalits and Adivasis. Together they sum for one fourth of India’s population; a large portion of them live in rural India. Their bases for supporting the insurgency includes unemployment, new timberland provisions with confinement for their jobs, cultural degradation, feeble access to social education, confined and constrained access to regular assets, social abominations, relocation, political underestimation and suppression of rebellions. The affected areas have rich mineral resources but the inapproachability and negligence of the government is another which has kept the insurgency alive.

The demands of the insurgents are not of succession rather they demand their democratic rights. They want the government to implement improvements in the farming sector, give accommodations and full authority to the farmers, and abandon all private finances taken by the agricultural community to stop suicides by farmers, prepare a lasting and unified plan for tackling the scarcity situation and to be given equal opportunities, jobs, education, acceptance from the upper caste people.

Attitudes

Includes the perception of the parties; It can be positive or negative, strongly negative especially in violent conflicts when the parties develop humiliating stereotypes about each other. Attitude consists of emotive and affective components (I like or I do not like X), cognitive components (favorable or unfavorable information about X) and cognitive/ behavioral components (desire, will).

Attitudes or we say perception of conflicting parties, i.e., Government of India and Naxal rebel’s groups are entirely negative. Indian government thinks of it as a national security threat and wants to counter it one way or the other. In 2006, the Ex-Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh called the Naxalites “The single greatest inward security challenge.” As the insurgency is not in just one part of the country but it is expanding in many regions which is a serious threat to the state’s internal security. While the rebel groups being untouchables, think of the government as racist and discriminatory and want equal rights and opportunities as any other Indian.

Behavior

Involves cooperation or coercion / conciliation or hostility regarding the behavior, in case of violent conflict we talk about threats, coercion or destructive attacks.

The Indian National Congress is India’s oldest party. Hence has seen a number of conflicts and insurgencies. The INC government sought after a double pronged approach depended on military and cruel police activities.

SalwaJudum was launched as part of counterinsurgency strategy by the Indian government. The Naxals and SalwaJudum used to assault each other with much greater savagery; numerous individuals were killed by Naxals and SalwaJudum. The SalwaJudum was at long last prohibited by the Supreme Court in 2011 for damaging human rights and the Constitution itself. The government then presented “Operation Green Hunt”, an organized activity over a few states (Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal among others), to handle Naxalism. But the operation was also a failure.

The government then realized that using the military on their own people is not the solution to the problem hence, they made some developments in the affected regions but it did not give long lasting results; it resulted in the failure of the policies of Indian National Congress.

Andhra Pradesh has the best strategies to counter the Naxalite insurgents among all affected states. It perceived the Naxalite insurrection as a genuine risk. It has put resources into the Greyhounds; a unit arranged for a counterinsurgency reaction and has given extensive recovery bundles to repatriate the previous Naxalites.

They likewise made a few projects to help police faculty and their families if executed in the line of duty. Andhra Pradesh’s counterinsurgency approach is unmatched in the whole country.

The Naxalite rebellion entered in these states later. They are the most badly influenced states because of their topography and demography. Because of a crackdown by police and military against the naxalites, the movement spread into many states. Since these states have a huge population and forested territory, they were the ideal areas for the guerillas to develop. None of these states has a solid counterinsurgency approach. Chhattisgarh has connected comparable guerrilla strategies and many operations like Operation Shikhar, Operation X, Operation Thunder and Operation Hill Top but neither of these operations have been able to purge the insurgency in the state. Jharkhand has led a few hostile activities, Odhisa uptil now have no strategies that can manage the uprisings. Every one of the three states is rich with mineral resources but none of them have powerful counterinsurgency technique. West Bengal is relatively successful in countering insurgency. The state government additionally got assistance from the central government.

The BJP government counterinsurgency strategy against the Naxalites combines a twofold unit approach; one approach is to utilize safety powers to create security whereas the other is winning hearts and minds of the overall public. Past governments utilized the relative systems, yet in light of a nonappearance of coordination and uneven execution between influenced states, it didn’t give incredible results.

Social and economic inequity is seen as the main drivers of the Naxalite insurrection. Accordingly, the BJP government has reported sweeping policy, which incorporates improvement measures to manage social and economic degradation. The government has invested in the expansion of infrastructure which includes the creation of communication linkage and rail and road accessibility also in educating and providing basic services to the people. The number of violence decreased during BJP’s time period, the credit is not alone to BJP government but also to previous governments.

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Is Peace possible in Afghanistan without a clear vision?

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photo: UNAMA/Mujeeb Rahman

Peace is the absence of war, while war is the absence of peace! A negotiated peace in Afghanistan presents a number of challenges. The duration of the war over several decades has created a number of situations, that requires an in-depth examination in light of the peace negotiations that took place between the United States and the Taliban leading to the signing of an agreement without inputs from the Afghan government in spite of their being a strategic partner of the United States.

The war has been a very costly undertaking both in financial and human terms.

On the human side, there has been a large number of civilian casualties and a flow of both internal refugees and those that have fled to neighbouring countries, Iran, and Pakistan in particular. Will the conditions of peace allow their return and what employment possibilities will they find? In particular will the professionals and corporate managers of the diaspora return?

On the financial side, the income of the Government of Afghanistan is too meagre to finance the rebuilding of the country. Will the United States and other major donors such as the World Bank contribute in a significant way to assist in this momentous effort?

Afghanistan’s geographic position has attracted major powers in the past. How will the country still be viewed as a masterpiece in the Great Game and will it continue to be subject to constant instability?  Corruption may well prove to be one of the most important barriers to development. What policies can be put in place to reduce, or eliminate, corruption? What process will be put in place to disarm both the Taliban and the other armed groups to prevent a civil war?

Why do powerful countries always easily achieve their goals in Afghanistan? The answer is simple, because some leaders are ready to do anything to gain power by asking for the support of these countries. In order to be able to bring political stability to Afghanistan, it is essential and indispensable that the Afghan leaders come to an understanding among themselves in order to have internal stability. As soon as they manage to put this in place, they will have moral authority over powerful countries with a specific, clear, and lasting purpose for Afghanistan. Presently its political leaders are ready to negotiate in an aggressive, competitive, egocentric, and defensive manner to have the power in order to remain in their current positions without worrying about the interests of the country or the people.

Often, we hear that Afghanistan is a strategically positioned country. Of course, Afghanistan is well placed, but our analysis is different: we believe that something else is more important than that situation. Afghanistan is a weaker country in the region with leaders who are only interested in political power, with a lack of global vision for the development of the nation:  this is the reason why every powerful country achieves its goals very easily across Afghanistan, according to its wishes. At any time, they may abandon Afghanistan. At the same time, Afghanistan faces major economic and development challenges. Although the country is rich in natural resources, gas, minerals, and oil (estimated at over a trillion dollars), insecurity, war, lack of infrastructure, weak leaders, have limited the possibilities of finding and extracting these resources and Afghanistan is still among the poorest countries in the world.

Each country has its advantages and disadvantages, but Afghanistan has two major drawbacks that need to be addressed:

1) Very weak leaders or leaders by accident, who think only of their personal interests and who settle in power for life.

2) As mentioned above, Afghanistan is the weakest country in the region.

Every leader, when he comes to power, forgets his real job, which is to create enduring systems and values ​​for today, tomorrow and the day after, and at least reduce existing problems and use their power to serve the people and the country, instead of monopolizing this power for personal interests.

On the contrary, unfortunately, when a leader comes to power, he increases the problem because he thinks traditionally, and above all he puts his relatives in the most important positions, without looking at their qualifications, because competence is less important than relational confidence.

Although there are very qualified people, but since they do not belong to the ethnicity of the political leaders, and share their point of view, thinking more for the country than their private interests, such kind of people have very little place in the mind of these leaders.

Today, politics in Afghanistan is becoming like a business, and everyone is doing politics … However, the real job is still abandoned, because the vast majority of the People no longer trust the Politicians, and even the real ones, those Politicians who want to change something for their country.

Before having to manage peace, they must understand why we are at war. The war in Afghanistan has five dimensions:

1. A leadership crisis, meaning that the Afghan leaders do not agree with each other and look at power sharing.

2. Certain countries of the region, and more particularly Pakistan, are very involved in Afghanistan, which they destabilise.

3. Major powers, too, have their own agendas on the region.

4. Certain countries support terrorism and extremist groups.

5. The negotiation process must be led not by politicians, but by neutral Afghan experts.

Therefore, we make the following recommendations:

1.Encourage the leaders to have a government in which no single ethnic group monopolizes power. There should be one president and four vice-presidents. Each two years a rotation of the president would be put in place. The entire mandate would be limited to ten years. This would allow power sharing that would prevent having one ethnic group monopolising power through a rotation system of two years as President.     

This proposal would definitely solve the power problem while also allowing for government savings of time and money.

2.The United States should intervene in Pakistan to force a peace process between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan has been a major destabiliser in the region by harbouring terrorists and using them as their second army as indicated by several international sources. Should this problem not be solved, it would become, sooner or later, a global threat for democracy and humanity. It would not be a good inheritance for the future world leaders.

President Joe Biden, mentioned that the United States would again lead the world, we strongly believe that the above issue should be a priority, failing what, it may be too late to bring peace to the region and worldwide. The United States should avoid countries that back terrorism and, particularly, those actions that kill children and humanitarian workers.

3.As a major power, the presence of the United States in Afghanistan could develop a strong relationship, instead of a partnership, just as the United States has done in other countries, providing its presence in the area is of interest. This would be a break from the present situation in which the Afghan population lacks a clear understanding of its position. Should the United States develop a mutually beneficial relationship, the Afghan population would strongly support it.  A complete departure before peace puts in danger democracy, women, and children not only in Afghanistan but also worldwide.

4.The United States, as a powerful country, should sanction all countries, or groups and persons, that support terrorism, wherever the terrorists may wish to strike. As an example, economic sanctions banning the purchase of military material should be implemented. Doing so in Pakistan would be a good starting point.

5.The negotiation process cannot be done by people that are thirsty for power and have no vested interest in peace as they hold power. We would suggest that the negotiation process be led by neutral experts with politicians and the civil society backing-up them.

We are certain, if the United States takes into consideration the five points mentioned above, the peace process will be successful and lead to stability in the area. If there is no peace in Afghanistan, there will be a major threat in the area in the region and in the world. Afghanistan is the first line of defence against terrorism not only for themselves, but also for the entire world.

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South Asia

Major Modi Programs Meet Success … And Failure

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modi airplane

A much admired quality, initiative, can in a leader improve the lives of his people.  The key of course is well considered and clearly thought-out initiatives. 

In his long political career Narendra Modi, the current prime minister of India has introduced some startling initiatives, although often with mixed results.

His clean India campaign aimed at ending open defecation, common in rural areas and estimated to be practiced by 620 million or by half of India’s population, was lauded even by opposition parties.  NGOs welcomed it and the Gates Foundation presented Mr. Modi an award.  By 2019, 110 million toilets had been built and there was hope that diseases like diarrhea, sometimes fatal for children, would be significantly reduced.

Rural India does not have sewage systems to remove and treat human waste.  So the toilets installed were open pit latrines requiring periodic emptying, a manual process performed by the lowest caste Indians, when available, for a fee.  In the meantime, a pervasive smell permeated the house compound.

Once toilets were built in a village, the Modi government considered it free of open defecation.  This was not factually true because installation is not the same as actual use.  No systems were in place for proper maintenance, say NGOs like RICE the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics. According to them, a survey in late 2018 revealed that some 44 percent of Indians in an area surveyed still defecated in the open, although down from 70 percent.  If one googles the question now, a figure around 620 million pops up.  That is 44 percent of India’s population of 1.4 billion, and not too different from the estimate in 2014.  To be fair the total population has increased since 2014. 

Another Modi initiative commenced just before he left on a state visit to Japan in 2016.  He delivered a speech (Nov. 8, 2016) announcing the abrupt withdrawal of 500 and 1000 rupee notes to be replaced by newly designed 500 and 2000 rupee denominations.  This would attack corruption and ferret out illegal cash holdings, he claimed.  The move removed 86% of cash in the economy almost overnight and naturally caused a liquidity crisis.

By the time Mr. Modi returned from Japan, the country was in chaos.  In a mostly cash economy, people lined up at banks to withdraw cash and presumably deposit any of the old notes in their possession.  Economic activity was disrupted, shops shuttered for lack of customers, weddings were canceled, and Indians were angry.

On Mr. Modi’s return from Japan, there was no mention of corruption — given the lines of ordinary middle class people at banks — instead it was now called a move to modernize India and turn it into a cashless economy.  How in a poor country with high illiteracy remains a mystery.  Economists now estimate the cost to the economy of Mr. Modi’s banknote initiative at roughly $15 billion or 1.5 percent of GDP.

The moral for Mr. Modi’s initiatives takes us all the way back to Aesop’s fable about the fox and the goat and the well, and its adage, ‘look before you leap’.  Unsurprisingly, Mr. Modi’s current visage has taken on the appearance of a sage even if the facts do not support it. 

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