The Republic of India and the Russian Federation have long held strong ties between themselves. The Cold War period was the closest India came to an alliance-based partnership with the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a then superpower, having emerged as an all-weather friend of post-colonial India. Well short of allies, friends, and support systems owing to a definitive turn of the United States of America (USA) towards Pakistan after an initial bromance with India after 1947, New Delhi was left to the USSR and its unconditional support as it looked to emerge on the world stage. Following the collapse of the USSR in the early 90s, India retained strong and sturdy bonds of friendship with its considerably weakened Eurasian neighbour in Russia.
India’s desire to dip its toes in many a waters is well evinced from its changing view of the United States. Although there still remain considerable differences between India and the US on several issues of contemporary international significance despite being democracies, India has become keen on purchasing top-grade military equipment from the US, in particular. A recent decision to suspend the purchase of US$ 3 billion worth of Predator drones from the American defense technology firm Lockheed Martin, however, does re-emphasise Indian commitment towards atmanirbharta or self-reliance in the realm of defense. India is also emerging as a world-class arms exporter with the recent decision to export the BRAHMOS (incidentally, a joint Indo-Russian creation) to Philippines having become a historical moment for the Indian defense industry.
The Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation (signed August 9, 1971) recently completed its golden jubilee and remains an inspiration for improving India-Russia relations. India and Russia should be compelled to redefine Soviet-era norms of cooperation and set the tone for possibly a century-long treaty that commits both sides to each other for the longest of terms. The rise to prominence of the Indo-Pacific region also further aids and assists Russian geostrategic interests in the Indian Ocean rim.
THE OLD ORDER RESURFACES
With the return of normalcy in India-Russia relations following a hiatus of at least five years, an old order has rigidly resurfaced and regained its lost stature and past. As things stand, India and Russia are in the midst of reinvigorating a special relationship and are urgently realizing the need to retain the finer geopolitical tenets of the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership in regions such as the Indian Ocean region (IOR) and the Indo-Pacific.
The Partnership was epitomized by the signing of twenty-eight Memoranda of Understandings (MoUs) during the visit of Russian Premier Vladimir Putin to New Delhi in December 2021. Further, the Joint Statement between the two parties figured a massive ninety-nine pointers that have set the course for future bilateral cooperation between the two strategic partners. A detailed assessment of the list suggests that India and Russia are keen on a holistic rapprochement in the international domain having lost some of their considerable traditional friendship and cooperation. Traditional defense parameters between the two countries were highlighted by the extension afforded to the Military-Technical Programme (or the Defense Cooperation Programme, incepted in 1994).
The ongoing conflict over the absorption of Ukraine into anti-Western Russia which involves the fiercely anti-Russian US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has also staged a much welcome involvement of India. India has lodged its stance unequivocally in favour of Russia with it even being believed that India is far from ‘neutral’ regarding the conflict and covertly supports the integration of erstwhile Soviet states into the Russian Federation. India’s abstention from a vote against Russia in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the Ukraine matter led to Moscow expressing its gratitude to New Delhi and lauding its bravery on the world’s highest decision-making body. Thus, it can be safely hypothesised that India attaches immense significance to its strategic autonomy while also being careful to not abandon its time-tested friends and partners such as Russia.
Moreover, the strategic partnership between Pakistan and the United States was re-affirmed by Washington D. C.. Further, the US remains reliant on Pakistan to gain inputs and assistance towards combatting terrorism in the world’s most dangerous region, colloquially known as Af-Pak. For India, there also remains the distinct possibility of the return of US defense aid to Pakistan (an example being that of US technical support extended to the Pakistani arsenal of Lockheed-Martin F-16s) and this could impact the Indo-US strategic partnership to its detriment.
An issue of contention for the India-Russia friendship itself is Russia’s nascent but increasing affiliation with Pakistan. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Russia precisely during the Russo-Ukraine conflict and cooperation in the energy sector was furthered between the two sides. A visit of President Putin to Islamabad has been scheduled for some time from now. Even the USSR, too, had taken an interest in developing relations with Pakistan during the Cold War times. In this regard, an article in The Print urges Russia to not take Pakistan too seriously and commit its long-term self to India and India alone.
CONCLUSION – A RESURGENCE OF AN OLD FRIENDSHIP IN THE INDO-PACIFIC
The Indo-Pacific, while not a Russian stronghold in terms of geostrategic influence, is witness to a large number of geopolitical imbalances resulting in the United States having imposed its leadership in the region. While Russia also maintains a stance of unequivocal friendship towards China, its equation with India is now strongly emphasized and for the better. This does create a dilemma for Russia to a certain extent given that India is largely antagonist to China owing to personal conflicts while close ties between, say, India and Japan and India and South Korea also doesn’t fall within Moscow’s better interests. Differences between India and Russia need to be resolved through a separate dialogue which can be secretive in nature. R. Jagannathan, noted Indian strategic affairs scholar, encouraged India to gain stakes in Russia’s rise (and rightly so) and intertwine the same with its own.
A partnership with America remains on the backfoot and seems to be now featuring mere cooperation involving a large number of multilateral outlets such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) and Indo-Pacific maritime security forums. Routine India-US meetings, too, are now according equal priority to multilateralism over other bilateral facets while India and Russia retain a traditional duopoly between themselves. While the US expressed hopes for Indian leadership in the Indo-Pacific given the blue-water prowess of its navy, there remain maritime concerns between India and America. The recent US Navy Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOPs) in the Bay of Bengal which transgressed India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) serves as a timely reminder of a warped past in the same sea area.
It remains to be seen how accepting Russia attempts to become of the rising strategic profile of the Indo-Pacific region – a predominantly maritime area which has interested all of the world’s major powers and positioned India all too well in maritime domain. The Director-General of the National Maritime Foundation, Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, aptly quoted the Indo-Pacific – “We will all sail or sink in 100 years. It’s about how dexterously and adroitly we dance on the oceans”. For Moscow, the Indo-Pacific presents a geostrategic opportunity like no other to re-assert the lost supremacy from the Soviet era and in tune with its military assertions in eastern Europe.
In the Indian Ocean, in particular, Russia is more than capable of casting its naval shadow and interest itself in sea lanes’ security. This would help the country continue to reinforce its credentials to global superpowerdom by ensuring comprehensive maritime domain awareness (MDA) of the vast seas and oceans to its immense south. For now, it can be safely assumed that Russia, at the very least, may not be eyeing the Indo-Pacific region but is certainly looking at India again with pleased eyes.
Politics of Pakistan: A Riot or an Opportunity
On 14th August, 1947 Pakistan appeared on the world map as the largest independent Muslim state of that time. Sixty-five million people out of Ninety-five million population were Muslims. Despite of the shared religion of its majority, Pakistan is still struggling to build a national identity. Earlier, linguistic and cultural diversity were a hurdle but, in the Common Era political imbalance, rivalry and groupings left Pakistan with nothing but social, political and economic crisis with no future of stability.
Division of Sub-continent into India, West Pakistan and East Pakistan was a kick start to the largest demographic movement in history. Unfortunately, Muhammad Ali Jinnah died when Pakistan was less than a year old. The politics of Pakistan has not been less than a roller coaster ride. Till date the State has been ruled by 27 different Prime Ministers where some of them ruled twice and even thrice. Adding to that, the state has been under dictatorship four times since its independence. This political chaos has badly affected the economy of Pakistan. Not that Pakistan is a barren landlocked country with no reservoirs or no beneficial source to strengthen the economy, but, the political riot has played a vital role in paralyzing the social and economic bodies. Pakistan’s politicians have obediently followed the tradition of blame game since independence. Political representatives have always considered it necessary to blame the opponents for unstable environment in rather than being united against the state issues. The truth is that none of the political party could ever succeed in fulfilling the objectives of their five-year plan.
Due to sudden change of government, corruption, fragile institutions, the country’s economy suffered harsh weather. In 1980’s the economic growth was an impressive 6.3% which had a sharp decline during 1990’s and dropped to 4.9%. By the end of dictatorship the growth decelerated to 1.7% in 2008 and political instability accelerated to -2.4%. During the regime of PPP, the Nation succeeded in nothing but increase in economic instability, rise in corruption, inflation, and unemployment. PPP has set Karachi as a portrait of their inefficiency which the city witnesses every year during monsoon season. In 2013, the biggest political parties of Pakistan, PMLN and PTI fought the elections and undesirable results ended in a 126 days long dharna in the Capital of Pakistan with the inclusion of rallies, aggressive speeches and corruption cases against the opponents to hold them responsible and throw them out. The dramatic political unrest forced the country to lose hundreds of millions, foreign trust, foreign investment as well as paralyzing the Capital of the state. Nawaz Sharif was proven guilty and sent to jail, PMLN succeeded in making the institutions fool and Nawaz Sharif flew to the UK for medical treatment. In 2018, the ineligibility of Nawaz Sharif, Panama leaks and support of the number of people of the nation gave Imran Khan a chance to win the majority vote in National assembly. Forced to habit, the opposition instead of efficiently working with the government for the welfare of state, jointly formed PDM to demolish PTI’s government. Protests, long march, boycotts became the fate of Pakistan and which couldn’t affect the government much but, to lead to vote of no confidence in April, 2022 which resulted in Imran Khan’s removal. PTI blames PDM for joining hands with US in their regime change strategy. Even during PTI’s government, the instable economy was in the destiny of Pakistan. Currently, Shahbaz Sharif is the Prime Minister of the State and the economic conditions are nowhere near to a betterment; a total chaos.
The fake promises of every government has left the nation with nothing but empty bank accounts, economic collapse, inflation, extreme foreign debt, intolerance and extremism among its own people. The prime reason to every government’s failure is more or less their self- priorities. It was and is never about the betterment of state and its people but the authority, rivalry and seat. Every government without any discrimination focused on plans which would temporarily benefit the Nation during their tenure but, later due to huge foreign debt and IMF instructions, the country suffers inflation and hurdles in development of the country. Moreover, every new government finds the work of the former useless and terminate the projects, plans and policies initiated by them. This restricts the foreign investors from huge investments as more political instability leads to more economic deceleration.
Another huge drawback is that every government demands the state’s institutions to work their way, for example; the security departments’ ultimate duty is to protect the state from internal and external threats but what they do nowadays is to arrest the opponent leaders, raid their houses, protect red zone and blindly work under government’s thumb.
The biggest threat to Pakistan is its own poisonous politics. The political parties do not find their victory in providing the Nation with excellence and betterment but, the lust of power and hatred has forced the public to witness a psychotic political behavior. Election campaigns, days of protests in Islamabad, societal unrest and cyber-attacks have become a trend which has divided the Nation into groups.
Pakistan is on the verge of losing everything. IMF and other states have either denied or are delaying in providing aid to the country and the major reason is the political unrest but, a bitter reality is that politics cannot be ignored as it plays a prime role in connecting Pakistan on national and international levels. Political stability shall be the ultimate goal as it would help in formation of beneficial policies and would allow the institutions to work in a normal way which would only make Pakistan a healthy developed state. This 75th year and the years coming ahead can be good for Pakistan if elections are truly conducted on their time and the losing parties instead of creating a chaos, aids the ruling party in running the affairs of Pakistan smoothly.
Seventy-Five Years of India’s Independence
If anyone had asked Jawaharlal Nehru as he made his midnight speech on August 15 and freedom dawned, how he visualized India 75 years hence, he would have described a Fabian paradise of equality and plenty. Would he be disappointed?
The neo-liberal agenda, far removed from socialism, introduced by Manmohan Singh a few decades later was designed to invigorate the economy. He lowered taxes, privatized state-run industries and encouraged foreign investment. It did spark an economic boom but the withdrawal of the state from healthcare, education, banking and credit made it a country obsessed with profit.
If cities boomed, rural areas were left to stagnate. GDP grew but the growth favored the upper 50 percent — the lower half did not enjoy a similar access to education or healthcare or have the same mobility.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), a quarter of the world’s undernourished people now live in India and a fifth survive on less than $1.90 per day. WFP has been working in India since 1963, and it reports that in the last two decades per capita income tripled yet the minimum dietary intake fell, and the gap between rich and poor actually increased despite this high economic growth.
Nehru’s ideal was a country of different faiths and different ethnicities, speaking many languages but living harmoniously and sharing a common Mother India. Instead, unbalanced growth at the cost of the lower half of the population has led to scapegoating and the major target is the sizable Muslim minority.
The blame game now includes historical revisionism blaming Mughal emperors from India’s glory days when the exquisite Taj Mahal was constructed, the arts flourished and India generated almost a quarter of the World GDP.
This game also chides the Hindu Rajput princesses that Mughals married or the respected Hindu advisers that served the Emperors. The much decried last great Mughal emperor in this blame game is Aurangzeb who extended the empire to almost India’s southern tip, ruling a vast area stretching into Afghanistan and its borderlands in Central Asia.
The Aurangzeb narrative excludes a simple fact: the majority of Aurangzeb’s advisers were Hindu. A Hindu chronicler, Bhimsen Saxena, penned a memoir titled Tarikh-i-Dilkusha or a history that warms the heart, describes life as a soldier in service to the Emperor for more than a quarter century. He may rail at Aurangzeb’s tactical or strategic errors but is forever loyal. Hindu generals, nobles and advisers … they were not on the outside looking in, they were an integral part.
For centuries, religion was not a divider. Adherents of the two principal faiths worked together, lived together, married each other, and fought together including in 1857, during what the British called the Indian Mutiny and Indians refer to as the First War of Independence.
Thereafter, the British instituted systems and processes to develop rivalry and resentment, including quotas for intake into the prestigious Indian Civil Service as well as the lower level jobs. The rivalry progressed into mistrust, then riots and killings, eventually into two countries fighting wars, and then to a nuclear stand-off and a divided Kashmir.
North versus South, East versus West, a continent is difficult to govern. Have we heard this story before?
The two Punjabs
Even in the midst of tensions between India and Pakistan, people to people linkages between both countries – with both Punjabs (Indian and Pakistani) as key stakeholders – have given reason for cautious optimism.
While cultural commonalities and the emotional attachment on both sides has been the driving force for Punjab-Punjab initiatives, the potential economic benefits of improved relations have been repeatedly reiterated not just by the business communities, but political leaders (especially from Indian Panjab)
In recent years, ties between both countries have steadily deteriorated. After the Pulwama terror attack in 2019, economic linkages between both countries have got severely impacted, and this has taken its toll on the economy of Panjab (India). India imposed tariffs on Pakistani imports, and revoked Most Favoured Nation MFN status to Pakistan in February 2019, while in August 2019, trade links via the Wagah (Pakistan) -Attari (India) land crossing were snapped after the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. The suspension of trade ties between both countries has had a serious impact on the economy of the border belt of Punjab (India) with over 9,000 families being impacted as a result of job losses in the tertiary sector.
Developments of the past few months
The one glimmer of hope has been the Kartarpur Religious Corridor which was inaugurated in 2019 (in 2020 this was closed due to the covid 19 pandemic but re-opened in November 2021). The Corridor connects Dera Baba Nanak (Panjab, India) with Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur, Narowal, Pakistan) which is the final resting place of Guru Nanak (the founder of the Sikh faith). Devotees from Panjab (India) can pay obeisance at Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur) without a visa, though they do need to carry their passports. While the number of people crossing over, via the corridor, is way below the initial target of 5000, it has helped in promoting people to people ties as well as re-uniting a number of separated families. There has been a growing demand for easing out visa procedures for individuals over the age of 75 years and those from separated families (some of the individuals reunited at Kartarpur have been issued visas) which has been backed strongly by civil society organisations – as in the past.
The phase from 2019-2022 has been witness to people to people linkages, especially with regard to religious tourism, but interactions between state governments of both the Punjabs, or what is referred to as ‘paradiplomacy’ unlike earlier years has been restricted. After the re-opening of the corridor in November 2021, then Chief Minister of Panjab (India) Charanjit Singh Channi, and other political leaders from the state, paid obeisance at Darbar Sahib (Kartarpur), while also flagging the need for resumption of trade via the Wagah-Attari land crossing — though to no avail.
There have however been calls for resumption of trade from sections of Punjab’s political class, business community as well as farmers from Indian Punjab. Pakistan which has been buying essential commodities including wheat at exorbitant prices could purchase the same from Panjab (India) and the Punjabi farmer could benefit by getting much higher prices for his produce.
In conclusion, even in the midst of strained ties between both countries, the Punjab has played an important role in trying to reduce tensions and build bridges between both countries, and the role of civil society, business community on both sides and the diaspora needs to be acknowledged. In the 75th year of independence while ties between New Delhi and Islamabad remain strained developments of the past few months, in the realm of people to people contact have given reason for hope as a result of the tireless efforts of civil society and some individuals committed to peace. The next stage of this should be easing out of visa regimes especially for certain categories of individuals – specifically those over the age of 75 who want to visit their ancestral homes. Resumption of trade via the Wagah-Attari land crossing will benefit not just Panjab (India) but other parts of North India and the Pakistani consumer. If both countries can focus on giving a greater fillip to people to people linkages and economic ties — with the Punjabs taking the lead – ties between India and Pakistan could be less frosty.
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