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India’s diplomacy fails to reduce Chinese influence in our neighborhood

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Aspirations to achieve Akhand Bharath may be a long-term objective for the right-wing political establishment in India. However, India’s immediate and most important priority should be to reduce China’s influence in our neighborhood. This will best serve the national interest. For the last seven years or so, China has been strengthening her influence in our neighborhood to the alarm of all. However, India’s ruling elites continue to focus on stage-management, convincing the people that ‘everything’ is alright in the neighborhood. The prevailing truth, however, hurts the real patriots of this great nation.

One of the senior leaders of the BJP, MP and Dr. Subraminian Swamy, says that this government does not have the courage to respond to the challenges of China, even those direct challenges upon our border and within our neighborhood. It is a shame that none of the spokespersons for the BJP or the Government have thus far possessed the ability to respond to Dr. Swamy’s comments. India’s failure in responding to China’s increasing influence has led to our immediate neighbors leaning more on Beijing than New Delhi.  These small countries know the benefits of being with India in the long run. Nonetheless, some of the foolish policies pursued by the present government have worsened the situation in our neighborhood. Now, India’s neighborhood policy is no longer bilateral but trilateral. When India initiates any bilateral talks with her neighbors, the Chinese will automatically be included. Thus, considerable Chinese influence runs deep today in our neighborhood. It extends to Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and even to Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

However, when we miserably fail to utilize our strengths and preserve strong relationships with our neighbors, serious questions must be asked about our capacity to deal with China. At the same time, India’s bilateral trade with China reached the value of $100 billion, despite the shadow of dispute over the border of the two countries. It shows that the present government has not learnt any lesson from China’s assertive behavior since 2014.

What did the BJP promise in the 2014 and 2019 election campaigns and what have they delivered so far in reducing China’s influence in our neighborhood? The BJP talked loudly during election campaigns about their foreign policy priorities and strategies. Yet, they kept quiet afterwards. In the past two parliamentary elections Pakistan and China were well described as our enemies and as threats to our national security. Aakar Patel says in his book, “India has no real Pakistan strategy, if, by strategy, we mean a plan of action designed to achieve a long-term aim.” China’s behaviour indicates that it has a clear policy for India. However, India’s response to China does not demonstrate the same. In consequence, our neighbors understand that India is a reluctant power under the leadership of the current Prime Minister. China’s influence over our neighbors, too, is unchecked. Let us examine in this article how the present government has failed to thwart China’s influence with our neighbors since 2014.   

At present Sri Lanka is in the midst of a debt crisis. India’s policy should be to use the crisis as an opportunity to influence Sri Lanka against China. Does India have any policy alternative to offer that could rescue Sri Lanka? Many projects in Sri Lanka are reluctantly given to Chinese based companies because of our lack of policy towards Colombo. Sri Lanka has now started to travel on two tracks – that is on India and China. Today, the Chinese influence is well developed in Sri Lanka with the support of the Rajapaksa brothers. India’s recent approach in extending $500-mn credit to support Sri Lanka’s urgent need for fuel importation, gives hope that China will not be allowed to swallow Colombo. The point is that the more we allow Sri Lanka to rely on China’s aid, the closer the Chinese threat becomes.

Since the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, the whole world has plunged into expectation about what shall happen next to Afghanistan. As the Taliban forces drew near to the capital city Kabul, India commented that, “We are monitoring the situation with concern”. However, China quickly perceived that the fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban did not only threaten the security of Central/South Asia, but that it also concerned Beijing. The Taliban could support militants in the Xinjiang province. Hence, China produced a statement announcing their willingness to work with the new government led by the Taliban. In response, the Taliban says, “China is our friend”. Now, does this not indicate that India is not their friend? Although India has invested a huge amount of funds for the development of Afghanistan’s society, in the building of dams to schools, it is now struggling to work with the new government in Kabul. India’s failure to act wisely opened the door to China.   

India and Pakistan have been in conflict with each other since their independence. However, Pakistan and China typically say that they are ‘all-weather friends’. Today Pakistan is India’s permanent adversary. The Indian establishment uses this environment to its electoral advantage. Even more than India, the Pakistani military also has to take responsibility for this situation. I am not at all in a position to say that India has to find a channel to talk with Pakistan on the shadow of terror. Nonetheless, the present government in India should understand that Pakistan itself has internal bleeding because of terror. It is a failed state according to the Foreign Policy Magazine. At the same time, the mission for India’s foreign policy department is to form friendships with like-minded groups inside Pakistan, to improve confidence building measures and facilitate future talks. This helps to identify the available options before us and to find opportunities to reduce China’s influence in Pakistan. This is imperative even though we don’t talk with Pakistan. During his famous bus journey to Pakistan our former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said, “Friends can be changed but not neighbors”. It is true that India has lots of challenges in handling Pakistan when compared to China’s relations with Pakistan. However, abandoning Pakistan will completely allow China to dictate Pakistan’s policy towards India.

Once, Nepalwas governed by India’s interest. Even today, the people of Nepal can be seen all over India in employment and enjoying their life. The disagreements between India and Nepal over their new constitution could have been sorted out amicably. India’s national security advisor Ajit Doval’s strategy for Nepal, that it should block essential goods like petroleum as a retaliation measure, created anti-Indian feeling in Nepal which now runs very deep. It is unsurprising, therefore, that India’s imprudent strategy has considerably pushed Katmandu towards Beijing. India should not have done this to an unequal county like Nepal. At present, Nepal is now not only more dependent upon China, but it is also following the strategy of China in handling the India-Nepal border dispute. Further, it also published unilaterally the map containing disputed territories claimed by India. This indicates that India is losing even a tiny country to the geostrategic balance of power with China.    

India and Bhutan have enjoyed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation since 1949. Before 2013 Bhutan’s foreign policy was India’s foreign policy. This meant that India’s foreign policy considered Bhutan’s interests. It is well known that Bhutan has a border dispute with China and that the negotiations to settle the border issue have been running for the past four decades. For the last five years, India and Bhutan have continued to be on the same page. However, India’s unworthy efforts in handling the Doklam crisis caused Bhutan to reconsider their position against China in settling the border disputes. As India’s diplomatic responses to China decline, it is entirely sensible for the tiny states to begin working more with China. The recent memorandum of understanding between Bhutan and China demonstrates this emerging pattern. The Indian government has become increasingly distressed that Bhutan is beginning (for the first time) to conduct its external affairs with China without consulting India. Moreover, the fact that the details of the memorandum of understanding have not been shared with India reveals that Indian policy makers under the BJP leadership are completely blind to China’s influence in India’s neighborhood. 

China’s special focus and investment in Bangladesh in recent times is also a concern to India. However, for now, India can still retain comfort in holding its position as the largest trading partner of Bangladesh. New Delhi and Dhaka have a clear understanding and also have mutual concerns about the attempts of China towards fulfilling and satisfying Dhaka’s demands. At this stage, China always says that their relationship with Bangladesh is an opportunity for India. However, India has been silent amidst China’s warning to Bangladesh. Beijing has warned Dhaka against participating in the Quad dialogue group, of which New Delhi is a member. This warning concerns our neighbor Bangladesh. These small things gradually increase the doubts of our neighbors about our ability to handle China and safeguard their interests.

India and Myanmar have shared connections for many centuries. Myanmar was one of the provinces of British India. At present India is sharing a 1600km long border with Myanmar. India considers the South East Asian nation to be a gateway towards implementing its Act-East Policy. Military rule, civil war and human rights issues have tarnished the image of Myanmar and isolated it from the international community. India has a number of developmental projects with Myanmar. Nevertheless, this cannot be compared to China’s $21 billion FDI investment in Myanmar in 2020 and its contribution of 80% of Myanmar’s military equipment. However, India’s defense and security cooperation with Myanmar has been increasing. Whilst bilateral relations between China and Myanmar are sailing well, Myanmar has accused China of supplying military equipment to the rebel group near the Myanmar-China border. This pushed Myanmar’s military rulers towards India in 2011, thereby reducing its dependence on China. That is the reason why the Indian government did not talk much about the February 2021 coup in Myanmar against the democratically elected government, except in registering her general concern. The general view is – New Delhi is dancing without long term vision but only striving for short-term goal to fulfil her energy demand for her North Eastern State. Hence, the reality is – in the last eight years or so, India’s present strategy towards further reducing China’s influence in Myanmar has provided no robust results.

To summarize, instead of formulating policies to curb China’s influence in our neighborhood, the Indian government has instead showed cowardice to the weak section of Indian society like internal migrants, children, women, dalits, and minorities. The Covid-19 pandemic provided a splendid opportunity for India to protect our neighborhood against China’s assertiveness. Yet, the Prime Minister’s policies have failed and India is now being forced to face a declining fate. Neither India nor our neighbors have benefited from the Covid-19 opportunities.

Every Indian is asking the Prime Minister – why is he silent in the face of the Chinese threat? In truth, he is afraid of provoking China by strong action. Look at the leadership of Russia. They openly speak against the West and EU as their adversary. Why can the Indian Prime Minister not do likewise? How long will his silence continue?

Once, Sri Lanka’s focus on China was our main concern. Now, others are following suit, such as Nepal, Bhutan and even Maldives in the Indian Ocean. No concrete steps have been taken to deal with China’s influence in our neighborhood. India is facing shame after shame because of the Chinese approach towards our neighbors. One after another, our neighbors are falling into the trap of China. It is a matter of grave concern that the office of India’s Prime Minister’s remains undisturbed.  

Antony Clement is a Senior Editor (Indo-Pacific), Modern Diplomacy, an online journal. He is a researcher in Indian Foreign Policy. He is currently working on two books - “The Best Teacher” and “Diplomacy in Tough Times”. His research centres on India’s diplomacy & foreign policy and extends to domestic politics, economic policy, security issues, and international security matters, including India’s relations with the US, the BRICS nations, the EU and Australia. His recent book is “Discover your talents.”

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“Haqeeqi Azaadi” or “Political Invasion”?

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You call it a “Long March” or an “Azaadi March” or a “Haqeeqi Azaadi March” and lastly according to some people “Political invasion of the capital”; whatever attempt it may be, the impact of this “Long March” will not be “Short” at all. Seems like history is repeating. Yesterday, it was PTI, later it was TLP, then JUIF, PDM & now again PTI. This reminds us about a Supreme Court’s historic judgment on Faizabad Sit in by Supreme Court, which is quite relevant again in these crucial times. The historic judgment of Supreme Court on Suo moto quotes that “The leaders of the dharna intimidated, hurled threats, abused, provoked and promoted hatred. The media provided unabated coverage. Inflammatory speeches were delivered by irresponsible politicians. Some unscrupulous talk-show hosts incited and provoked citizens.” Isn’t the situation once again similar? Doesn’t it seem like history is repeating? Few analysts consider it to be a worst kind of situation.

Supreme Court writes in its judgment that “the freedom of speech and expression and of the press are fundamental right. However, these rights cannot be used to denigrate or undermine the glory of Islam, security or defence of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, or commission of or incitement to an offence.  He categorically mentions that “PEMRA Ordinance mirrors the restrictions as set out in Article 19 of the Constitution and further prohibits broadcasts which are, “likely to create hatred among the people or is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order or is likely to disturb public peace and tranquility.” So, Supreme Court has already given clear instructions that if some event is likely to disrupt peace and tranquility, media broadcasts can be prohibited.

Insiders say that we are in a dead end and this is the most crucial time of history for Pakistan, especially when the economic fate has to be decided by IMF on 25th May when Imran khan marches on Islamabad. So let’s playout the possible upcoming scenarios which political stakeholders may have to consider;

  1. Marching towards Islamabad with huge crowds is one thing but forcing a government to dissolve assemblies with this crowd is another thing. Imran Khan very well knows this is a do or die situation for his political career as well. He knows his March will only succeed if he can force an early election.
  2. Bringing larger mobs to Islamabad will only be fruitful if there is some kind of disruption by the present government or by the PTI itself. IK knows that a prolonged sit in without happenings in the red zone won’t be impactful.
  3. PTI leaders have been repeatedly convincing people including government employees, Army officers and police to bring their families in their Haqeeqi Azaadi March. The question which arises is that “Why IK doesn’t bring own family members to join the “Jihad” or “Haqeeqi Azaadi”?
  4. IMF has to take crucial decision on Pakistan’s economic fate. Without an IMF Package, a Srilanka type scenario may arise. The decision will come on the same date as of long march, on 25th May. This is a do or die situation for Pakistan’s economy. So the leaders of this March should definitely come with a futuristic economic plan and tell the masses how will they get rid of this dire economic situation.
  5. While Srinagar Highway will be full of Marchers led by the so-called Ambassador of Kashmir, a big decision is expected to come from Srinagar about Yasin Malik. Unfortunately, it is expected that his sentencing maybe announced on 25th May as well.

The government also has limited options. They are arresting leaders of PTI. They are raiding houses in their own panic mode which will further incite the situation. The removal of fuel subsidiary has become inevitable and when it happens it will be the most unpopular decision. Rising, Inflation will cut purchasing power. Finalization of IMF program has brought them to a dead end.

The dread is in the air. 25th May is around the corner. It is Crucial. It is Do or Die for Pakistan. We must fear!!

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When Politics turns Personal; The Toxic Allegations & Accusations become a Norm

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Image source: timeofpakistan.com

There is something happening beneath this political turmoil which is NOT looking good!!

Whenever Political landscape turns into a Personal battleground, defeats become unacceptable. These past few days are a perfect case study to see that how Political elite in Pakistan has done whatever it took it to stay in power. In this power grab scenario, there could be numerous losses including the integrity of institutions. We have unfortunately entered into a very dangerous phase, where some political stakeholders have put all stakes at risk, where they have stretched their limits beyond a constitutional limit, all to gather mass support, all to stay in power and avoid defeat. Is it a threat of losing power? Is it a double game? Is it a practical hybrid war we are fighting?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be good. All is at stake, all is at risk and all is toxic.

As if the political temperature was not noxious enough, Shireen Mazari Saga took place. Once again, accusations, allegations and assumptions started pouring in against the state institutions. Soon after her arrest, her daughter, a lawyer herself Imaan Zainab Mazari alleged that her mother was beaten by male police officers during the arrest. But few minutes later, a video clip surfaced that showed clearly that her mother was arrested by Female Police officers in broad daylight and as per the law. Lie number 1 of the daughter stood exposed. Within moments, without any cogent evidence the lady, known for many controversies in the past targeted state institution for such an act, although the anti-corruption already had taken responsibility of her arrest.

Abuse of power can never be tolerated, regardless of who it targets or from where it emanates. This mantra is true and everyone has an equal belief on it but let’s take a deep dive to see that how politics turned dirty in this case, how blame game took place and how this entire episode was used as a tool to churn propaganda against Army leadership and Armed Forces.

1. The anti-corruption police had arrested Shireen Mazari and she herself accepted that Prime Minister and Interior minister were responsible for my arrest. But the mother daughter nexus brazenly started blaming institutions without any solid evidence. Shouldn’t there be an inquiry on this too?

2. PTI was always of the opinion that why courts were opened mid night to send IK packing while he wasn’t listening to anyone however when same court gave a verdict in favor of PTI ex minister, late night, it was celebrated and much appreciated by Shireen Mazari & IK who have been spearheading anti judicial tirade until recently. Isn’t it blatant hypocrisy? Judicial inquiry has been ordered by the Court which is a positive sign, but the serious allegations which Mazari nexus have raised must also be inquired during this newly formed judicial inquiry. Should the Judiciary not question them on hurling these baseless allegations?

3. The present government, whose Police itself arrested Shireen Mazari disowned this attempt. Attorney General displayed his ignorance about the matter in front of the court. So, somehow the government created this impression in the public eye that they are not to be blamed for the arrest of Shireen Mazari. Was it a double game? Or a deliberate effort to discredit institutions?

Pakistan is already facing serious economic downfall, political uncertainty and civil strife. PTI has also announced Long March to Islamabad on 25th May which is likely to further exacerbate already fragile political and economic instability. It has become quite evident now for achieving petty political ends, our political elite has no serious resolve to address the crisis confronting the country. Country is being deliberately pushed to limits of economic and political dead end. The political immaturity and lack of vision to handle the crisis situation is also hurting the repute of institutions amidst internal political wrangling. If political leadership doesn’t come to grips of the critical situation prevailing which is likely to aggravate further in coming days, people of Pakistan in particular and the country in general are likely to suffer unprecedented damage. Political elite must put its acts together and steer the country out of prevalent political and economic crisis by showing sagacity and political wisdom until it’s too late.

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Accusations to Acknowledgement: The Battle of Article 63 A

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The weather is heating up. As the May is ending, Political temperatures are soaring. The fate regarding the country’s political and economic stability will be measured in the upcoming days. Earlier, PDM built momentum by taking on institutions. Maryam Nawaz raised the temperature by targeting key personalities and institutions. Allegations were bursting against the institutions in all dimensions. Today, we witness reversal of roles. Accusations have been outflowing in every Jalsa by PTI. But now suddenly, the “accusations” turned into “acknowledgment”. “Complaints” started transforming into “Compliments”. Is it the change of narrative? Is it another U-turn? Or is it the restoration of confidence in the institutions? Where will this chaos end?

The Supreme Court’s “decision” or as they say “opinion” or “binding” on Article 63 A has raised some pertinent questions on the status of CM Punjab election? In the interpretation of Article 63 A of the constitution, the Supreme court categorically condemns the practice of horse trading by calling it “a cancer afflicting the body politic”. Supreme Court in its decision of 3-2 rejected the vote count of these dissident members against the party directives. So the future of the Chief Executive of Punjab is now under threat because it is contrary to what happened in National Assembly. The political instability continues and the situation is messy.

In light of this verdict, Hamza has a support of 172 MPAs in Punjab assembly but at the same time, he also has 4 dissenting members which draws the figure to 168. Now further moving ahead, PTI and alliance also has a collective figure of 168 votes minus 21 dissenting members. The situation here in Punjab is way too complex now. A support of 186 members is required for a clear majority in Punjab assembly to formulate a government. This current Punjab government can either fall through a governor led vote of no confidence or a Supreme court order. The governor even has a right to dissolve the assembly with his discretionary powers according to Article 112 (2) of the constitution. Supreme Court has already made its decision on cross voting against Party fiat.  Now legal experts are interpreting the decision in their own dictionaries. What will happen in Punjab? What will happen on the federal level? Will there be an election call? If so, what will be the care taker setup? Will there be a fresh mandate? Who will make the hard economic decisions?  Lot needs to be answered in these crucial times.

From “My judges disappointed me” to “Thankyou Supreme Court”, a lot has happened and a lot is ready to take place. Islamabad is full of gossips, interpretations, whispers and predictions these days. There is something seething under this political turmoil. The Red zone is under a lot of pressure whether politically or economically. Pre – Elections, Elections and then Post elections, we have a lot of consequences of a lot of hard decisions. But hard decisions need to be taken. Question is who is ready to make the hard choices? Be Afraid!!

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