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Afghanistan: The Failure of the Liberal Peace Model

A mother and her child in the Haji camp for internally displaced people in Kandahar, Afghanistan. © UNICEF Afghanistan

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The critics of liberal peace may have another proof that the model, “one size fits all”, doesn’t work in conflict-prone, failing, fragile or nondemocratic states. Afghanistan is a contemporary example illustrating how America attempted to implement a liberal peace model to establish democracy and stability. In essence, liberal peace promotes democracy by establishing the rule of law, promoting the free market, and emphasizing human rights, governance, and security reforms. Critics of liberal peace claim that the model has not been very successful, and one of the main reasons for its failure is the limited scope of human security, human rights, and transitional justice in its strategy. Some experts believe that that the top-down approach of human security in the liberal peace model is the reason for its failure, other believe human security is the missing link between the security and development of state formation. The model may have its limitations, and there is sufficient evidence to prove its limitation in failed and fragile states. However, in the case of Afghanistan, America and its allies did not implement liberal peace at all. Supporters of liberal peace may even criticize America and its allies for not implementing liberal peace in Afghanistan. From the beginning itself, the United States had adopted a different strategy in Afghanistan that was destined for failure.

The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in October of 2001in response to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001: an attack that had killed more than three thousand Americans. The intention of the following invasion in Afghanistan was to kill or capture those who were responsible for the September 11 attack. The primary objectives were to destroy the Al Qaeda terrorist network, kill or capture its leadership, and remove the Taliban theocracy government that refused to hand over the Al Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Ladin. The other objectives were to establish peace and security, emphasize human rights, security reform, governance, establish a democratic government so that the Afghan people could select their leader, and rebuild the country. On the surface, that is what the U.S. informed the world concerning the objective of the invasion; however, it may have had other plans that may remain unknown. It was a matter of a few days for the U.S. and its allied forces to control the country; they killed and captured some Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, but the main leaders managed to flee to Pakistan and Iran.

The U.S., which led the invasion of Afghanistan, lacked a solid military or political strategy for Afghanistan from the beginning; both military and political strategists constantly blamed the former people in charge for their failures. When the Taliban regime collapsed, the West conducted a meeting to host the Afghan political leaders in Bonn, Germany in order to form an interim government until an election would be held in Afghanistan. The first strategic mistake in the Bonn agreement was that the U.S. decided to create a government comprised of all tribal groups but gave the Pashtuns the priority and pushed for Hamid Karzai to become the interim president even when he didn’t receive the majority of the votes. Karzai, by no means, had the appropriate qualifications to lead a failed state, but he was only elected because he belonged to the Pashtun tribe and the Popalazi ethnic group. The West implemented a poor strategy to form a government based on a tribal and ethnic group affiliation. This approach enabled the tribal and ethnic leaders to appoint their kids, relatives, and unqualified individuals to the highest government posts. Inherently, incompetent leaders cannot run governments, and ultimately states run by such leaders become corrupt and fragile. There were several qualified and accomplished Afghans that could have changed the country’s future including Dr. Abdul Satar Sirat, who won most of the votes in the Bonn meeting. However, the U.S. insisted on Karzai. 

On the military front, the ineffective American strategy was to fund and provide weapons to warlords who had committed the most heinous crimes against Afghan people between 1992 and 1996, to fight Al Qaeda and other terror networks. These warlords lived in exile during the Taliban regime, and they were now given a golden opportunity to become rich and powerful privately and politically. With full support from the U.S., the warlords played a double game, pocketed millions of dollars from the Americans, took people’s lands and property by force, expanded private militias that further weakened the government authority, and obtained large U.S. army contracts. They were receiving money from the U.S. while secretly working with terrorist groups and the Taliban. During the initial years of the occupation, one such warlord who took millions from the Americans to capture Bin Ladin also took millions from Al Qaeda, allowing its leader to safely cross the border to Pakistan while the U.S. was hunting for him in the same region.

The U.S. continued to financially and politically support Hamid Karzi to get him elected as the president of Afghanistan. The international community poured hundreds of millions of dollars into rebuilding Afghanistan. He was elected president twice, both times in fraudulent and controversial elections. He was a weak leader who lacked the most basic leadership skills; he was unable to unite a divided nation and rebuild a failed and fragile country. He maintained a cabinet of incompetent and corrupt advisors based on personal, tribal, and political affiliations. His government was unable to provide the basic needs of the Afghan people while he had access to hundreds of millions of funds from the international community. While the U.S. turned corrupt and immoral tribal leaders and warlords powerful by providing funds and weapons, Karzi increased their political legitimacy and power by forming a government with them. His cabinet members were appointed based on personal and political connections with unqualified people, including the warlords whose forces contributed to the destruction of Afghanistan when the mujahedeen took over in 1992. The few qualified and hardworking cabinet members were forced to resign because they would not accept bribes or refused to follow tribal leaders’ and warlords’ orders. During the last twenty years, several government posts were for sale; the higher positions were accompanied with a higher price tag and were mostly negotiated at the houses of the tribal leaders, warlords, or national assembly representatives. Cabinet members, tribal leaders, and warlords created fake schools, fake hospitals, fake soldiers, and fake police officers in order to obtain funds from the international community. Corruption was present at virtually every level of the Afghan government on a massive scale: from salaries paid by international donors for Afghan soldiers and police who did not exist, to the theft of U.S.-military-provided fuel. Several cabinet members and high government officials, once living on basic incomes, became multi-millionaires owning multiple homes, businesses, and government contracts. Karzai’s brothers and family turned into multi-millionaires owning banks, companies, and mansions in Afghanistan and outside Afghanistan. The U.S. continued to support Karzai despite having solid evidence of corruption and robbing by members of his cabinet, his family, tribal and ethnic leaders, and warlords. The International community and Karzai had the best opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan and bring peace and stability. However, owing to Karzai’s lack of leadership, poor decisions, and bad policies, apart from forming an army and poorly trained police force, his government failed to accomplish anything substantial during his 14-year tenure.

Rather majority of the accomplishment took place in the private sector; especially in education, communication, and media. Moreover, various NGOs were able to make noticeable accomplishments in Afghanistan but constantly ran into challenges with the powerful government officials. The West had countless opportunities to revisit its strategy for Afghanistan while the country was falling into the hands of the corrupt, incompetent leaders and criminal warlords. They continued to make false promises, and the international community continued to pour money into these people. Consequently, they continued to control the government, commit more crime, corruption, and loot the government posts. The government was increasingly became fragile on a day-to-day basis, which enabled the Taliban resistance to regroup its forces, gain momentum by getting the trust of locals and support from neighboring countries, Pakistan, Iran, and Russia, to achieve their motives in Afghanistan.

In 2014, without thoroughly considering the strategy, the U.S. supported Ashraf Ghani, a
U.S.-educated Afghan who worked at the World Bank and taught at a few universities in the U.S, to become the president of Afghanistan. Ghani ran against Abdullah Abdullah, a medical doctor, a corrupt member of the Northern Alliance, and a close associate of Ahmad Shah Masood, in a long-disputed election. The disagreement was eventually mediated by John Kerry, the Secretary of State, who pressured both leaders to agree on a political solution and establish a unity government. Under the unity government, half of the government posts went to Ashraf Ghani as the president of the country while the other half to Abdullah Abdullah as the Chief Executive. Both had access to international funds directed for Afghanistan and utilized them to gain political power in the government sector. Furthermore, the unity government created chaos in the government and additional opportunities for corruption; officials appointed by Ghani would only accept Ghani’s orders, and those hired by Abdullah would only take Abdullah’s order. Prior to and during the election, both leaders attempted to receive support from the warlords and powerful corrupt tribal leaders. The corrupted warlords and tribal leaders obtained another opportunity to access more funds from the international community and high government posts where they appointed their kids, relatives, and ethnic group members, including in the Afghan embassies and consulates around the world.

Ghani was an autocrat and constantly thrived on controlling all levels of the government. He may have had the intention to fight corruption and administrative crime by controlling, but as an economist, it was crucial to take into account that one person is unable control all government agencies. Most importantly, to fix corruption, it is necessary to fix the core of the issue. During his first term, the government became fragile due to the constant disagreement between him and his Chief Executive, Abdullah Abdullah. The unity government was another ineffective solution from the West to the Afghan people, particularly from the U.S.. During the period when the unity government was proposed by the U.S., unemployment reached its highest point; corruption, crimes, suicide bombing increased; and women began feeling unsafe at the workplace or outside their homes. Several young, educated Afghans fled the country for neighboring countries or Europe for a better life; some joined the Taliban resistance in order to get paid on time. Many government employees, including frontline police and soldiers, were not paid for months because of the difference between the unity government’s two leaders. Ghani and Abdullah continuously blamed each other for the problems in the government sector for five years. They were not pleased with the damage they did to the Afghan government and decided to run for election again in 2019.

Once again, the 2019 election was fraudulent and controversial; both leaders claimed victory and tried to establish their governments. This time, the international community decided that Ghani would become the president and Abdullah would lead the Taliban’s peace process. Although it took the U.S. months to convince Abdullah, he agreed with one condition in the end: to have a separate budget for the peace process and that Ghani would have no control of the budget. Ghani pushed for his condition to decide on behalf of the peace negation team. Money and power were always the basis of these leader’s disagreements. The struggle between the two leaders continued and took months and millions of dollars to agree on the members of the peace negotiation team.

Only a few members of the peace negotiation team were qualified to be members; the remaining were unqualified individuals who were introduced by warlords and tribal leaders. Ghani followed the footsteps of Karzi and surrounded himself with corrupt and incompetent people, and most of the members hired for government posts by him were based on tribal or ethnic group affiliation and personal friendships. During his second term, he wished to create more opportunities for the young generation and replaced a skilled and experienced workforce, both in the military and nonmilitary sector, with young inexperienced leaders to fight the war against the Taliban or run government offices. This strategy was the beginning of the fall of Ghani’s government because he and his team didn’t thoroughly consider the process of replacing the older workforce with a younger generation. Ghani highly depended on two of his close aides: Dr. Fazili, his Chief of Staff, and Dr. Mohib, his Security Advisor. Both were corrupt, incompetent, and autocratic. They tried to control most of the government’s decisions, government employee promotions, and hiring. They constantly aimed to weaken young leaders by creating obstacles in the process or report false information to the president in order to ensure that they keep them under their control. Both were appointed to those posts based on their tribal and personal associations without any qualification required to run such important posts. Mohib was a significant factor in the division and weakening of the security sector that fell apart within hours of the U.S. leaving Afghanistan. The U.S. and its allies exited Afghanistan. Ghani and his close associates fled the country. Furthermore, the tribal leaders and warlords fled with hundreds of millions of dollars, and the Taliban, whom the West removed and replaced, have presently regained control of the country.

With minimum-security under a corrupt government and extremely poor conditions, the young Afghan generation had significant accomplishments in technology, media, sports, social media, education, and construction during the past twenty years. While there were noticeable accomplishments in the private sector, there were none in the government sector. Only a handful of government leaders, tribal leaders, and warlords with close ties to Ghani, Karzai, and Abdullah managed to acquire money while the rest of the country lived below the poverty line. Afghans have consequently been the victim of forty years of war by foreign powers, corrupt leaders, and selfish neighbors. 

Mr. Biden, yes, America does not need to fight a war the Afghans do not want to fight. The trillion dollars you are talking about were misused by the incompetent people you made your puppets and our leaders. The U.S knew about every crime committed against the Afghan people by your puppet leaders, but you decided to ignore it for twenty years. You sold Afghanistan to Pakistan, who may very soon see a Pakistani Taliban uprising. The religious fanatics now believe that continued and firm resistance can defeat any army as the Taliban did to the army of 40 plus countries. The people of Afghanistan won’t forgive you; they won’t forgive their corrupt leaders, they won’t forgive the international community for abandoning them, and they certainly don’t forgive their neighbors and their turns will come too.

Thank you, International Community, for replacing the Taliban with a weak, corrupt, and puppet government to only replace them with the same Taliban. As an Afghan, I would like to thank every service member who served in Afghanistan; we acknowledge that you were in Afghanistan to do the right thing and appreciate your service. The political leaders of your country and the corrupt leader of Afghanistan brought us the last twenty years of misery. We are all sorry for all the lives that were lost in accomplishing nothing. We are all victims of corrupt, incompetent, and selfish leaders who will do anything to gain political points, even if it will destroy thirty-five million people. The world leaders have committed one of the biggest crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, and history will judge them for generations to come.

Most people know of the Taliban because of their strict religious code of conduct, human rights abuses, especially women rights abuses, public killings, support of terror networks, and being a puppet of Pakistan’s intelligence services. They are back in power after twenty years and have an opportunity to prove to the Afghan people and the world they have changed. They are no longer the Taliban of the past, and that they value and respect the accomplishments of the past twenty years. Even though Afghanistan had a corrupt government, important reforms were made, like the freedom of the press and women’s rights during the last twenty years. Taliban must respect and defend those reforms, establish an inclusive government that includes all political parties, and appoint people to important government posts based on qualification. They must prove that they are not puppets of the neighboring countries and that Afghanistan’s national interest is their number one priority. Otherwise, they will face the same fate of corrupt, incompetent, and authoritarian governments in Afghanistan and other countries.

Ebad Mobaligh is an entrepreneur, IT professional, community organizer, and a doctoral student with American Military University’s Global Security program. He loves playing and watching soccer. He lives in the San Francisco area with his wife and four children.

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South Asia

India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?

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India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.

Introduction

The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours.  It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.

According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.

This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms.  These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.

This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?

Background

India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.

Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.

The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015,  lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.

In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.

Situation

South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.

There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.

New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.

India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access

Summing Up

 These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.

There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.

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South Asia

India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris

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 A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.

“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.

Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.

The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.

“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.

“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”

The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.

The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.

Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.

Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.

“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.

The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.

Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.

Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.

Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.

In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.

India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.

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S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?

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S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.

His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.

Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US.  The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.

But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.

Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.

There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book.  He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.  

One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.

This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.

The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.  

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