Trump has avoided a bad deal with Taliban that was unlikely to bring peace to Afghanistan

Instead of seeing Taliban for what they are, Khalilzad and his team approached them as ‘noble savages’ battling for their traditional religious values.

By pulling the plug on the ongoing talks with the Taliban, US President Donald Trump has pre-empted a bad deal that was unlikely to bring peace to Afghanistan. All accounts of the tentative agreement negotiated by special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, indicated that it was heavily focused on giving the Taliban what they most want – a timetable for withdrawal of American troops. A genuine peace deal would prioritise ceasefire, not US withdrawal.

Trump’s decision to abandon the talks, for now, has come in for criticism for the manner in which it was cancelled. Diplomacy by Twitter is not really desirable. The revelation that Trump was almost ready to host the Taliban at Camp David on the eve of the 9/11 attacks, which the Taliban had facilitated, was also shocking. But the end result is still positive.

The US had avoided a bad deal that might have empowered the Taliban only to fulfil an objective –gradual withdrawal of the US military personnel – that could be fulfilled even without that deal, in return for a Taliban promise to not host international terrorists. Trump remains free to reduce the number of American troops. Any deal on the future of Afghanistan must be negotiated by the Afghan government and the insurgents that challenge its authority.

Wrong reading of Taliban

There are several reasons why the negotiations with the Taliban ended up with a poor draft agreement. Instead of seeing the Taliban for what they are, a totalitarian Jihadi extremist group, Khalilzad and his team approached them as ‘noble savages’ battling for their traditional religious values.

Khalilzad had embraced that view as far back as 1996 when he advocated US engagement with the Taliban regime, notwithstanding its atrocities and deep linkages with the al-Qaeda. The veteran diplomat had even accepted the Taliban’s false assertion that Osama bin Laden had left Afghanistan at face value.

Support for the recent Khalilzad effort came mostly from people who had worked with President Barack Obama’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. All of them sincerely believed that the US cannot win the war in Afghanistan, which has gone on for too long and must be ended through a deal with the Taliban.

Holbrooke, like Khalilzad, had imagined a peace deal with the Taliban, facilitated by Pakistan, in return for the US brokering a settlement between India and Pakistan. To Khalilzad’s credit, he was able to conduct nine rounds of talks with the Taliban. Pakistan was much more helpful this time around, raising hopes for a deal.


Deal offered nothing to US

But the war in Afghanistan is not a proxy war between India and Pakistan, nor are the Taliban just Afghan religious conservatives fighting to maintain old world values. In a 2013 article titled ‘Don’t Talk with the Taliban,’ published in The New York Times, I had pointed out that “unlike most states or political groups, the Taliban aren’t amenable to a pragmatic deal. They are a movement with an extreme ideology and will not compromise easily on their deeply held beliefs”.

In the Khalilzad-Taliban talks, the Taliban made virtually no concessions. The proposed deal did not require them to cease violence, condemn civilian casualties, or express remorse for their past (and present) association with al-Qaeda. They insisted on being referred to as the Islamic Emirate, the name of their regime when they controlled most of Afghanistan before the establishment of the current Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

The Taliban refused to accept the Afghan constitution, refused to recognise the elected Kabul government, and refused to guarantee full inclusion of women in the country’s future. They only agreed to an intra-Afghan dialogue without making any commitments about it.

In effect, the proposed agreement offered the Americans nothing but a fig leaf for withdrawal of troops and offered nothing to Afghans opposed to the Taliban.


It’s a stalemate for Taliban too


The Taliban would now have to end or substantially reduce violence for talks to resume though it is clear that the Taliban representatives in Doha control the actions of the Taliban’s military command. Moving forward, the US negotiators would have to give greater weightage to the Afghan government than ambassador Khalilzad has done so far.

The Taliban have talked peace while continuing to wage war and the Doha talks have only strengthened their narrative that their victory is imminent. They would have to reconsider this approach, now that Trump has signaled that he is not ready for the ‘peace at any price’ strategy, which has been pursued so far.

The fact that the Taliban came to the negotiating table should put to rest the myth that they control most, or even significant parts, of Afghanistan. The Taliban would not have joined peace talks so readily if stories about their extensive control of territory were true. They want to win the peace because they know that they are not about to win the war. A stalemate is a stalemate for both sides, not just for the Americans.

As a violent group that does not even have the support of 10-15 per cent of Afghans, the Taliban are given disproportionate weightage because of their disruptive capabilities. While they are far from being defeated, they are not on the verge of victory either.

Afghanistan’s military, raised only after 2002, is also not as toothless as portrayed in the media. The Afghans have borne the brunt of fighting for quite some time. It is just that an army takes time to develop esprit de corps and it takes at least 30 years for a second lieutenant to rise to the stature of a general.

It is right that the US cannot stay in Afghanistan forever. Nor should American taxpayers pay Afghanistan’s bills endlessly. Instead of Taliban-centric talks, the US must now engage seriously with the Afghan government to figure out how to transfer maintenance of security fully to the Afghans with lower costs.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His books include ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military,’ ‘India v Pakistan: Why Can’t we be Friends’ and ‘Reimagining Pakistan’. Views are personal.

This article was originally posted by The Print. It was posted here with the author's permission.

Photo Credit: Oliver Contreras | Bloomberg

After U.S.-Taliban Peace Talks Cancelled, Uncertain Path Ahead for Afghanistan

On Sunday, President Trump announced in a series of Tweets that the Afghanistan peace talks have been discontinued until further notice. The sudden reversal comes after a car bombing by the Taliban on the morning of September 5, which left a U.S. service member, Sgt. 1st Class Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz, dead -- the fourth U.S. casualty in just over a week and the sixteenth this year. Notably, the bombing was carried out on the same day that U.S. special negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad announced a potential agreement with the Taliban to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, pending the approval of President Trump. The possibility of such an agreement is now gone, with President Trump canceling a scheduled Sunday meeting at Camp David that would have involved senior Taliban leaders and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made appearances on multiple television news networks to confirm that the peace talks have been called off completely for the time being, telling NBC’s Chuck Todd: “We’ve recalled Ambassador Khalilzad back to Washington.” Secretary Pompeo also shrugged off criticism from Republican and Democrat leaders that the talks would have been held on U.S. territory with Taliban leaders, despite the fact that the group has openly continued to express support for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Taliban harshly condemned the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the peace talks, warning that U.S. “credibility will be affected, its anti-peace stance will be exposed to the world, losses to lives and assets will increase.”

The irony of the peace talks in Afghanistan is that they have not helped so far to reduce the violence of the war. With no ceasefire in place, the Taliban has ramped up attacks against U.S. and Afghan military forces in an effort to gain more territory and strengthen its bargaining position ahead of any potential agreement. The September 5 bombing, which also killed 11 others in addition to Sgt. Ortiz, is only the latest in a string of many other attacks carried out by the Taliban since the peace talks began progressing in July 2018. Just five days earlier on September 2, a Taliban truck bombing struck Kabul’s Green Village compound and killed at least 16 people. Around the same time, the Taliban was also leading offensives to capture Pul-i-Kumri and Kunduz, two cities north of Kabul which are currently controlled by Afghan government forces.

The escalation of conflict has not been one-sided. In April 2019, a UN report revealed that NATO-led forces in the first three months of 2019 had for the first time ever killed more civilians in Afghanistan than the Taliban, due in large part to an intensifying airstrike campaign. According to Borhan Osman, a senior analyst for Afghanistan at the Crisis Group, “The numbers of killed, injured and displaced have risen steadily since 2001.” In multiple interviews on Sunday, Secretary Pompeo stated that U.S.-supported forces had killed over 1,000 members of the Taliban in the past 10 days alone. Despite nine rounds of U.S.-Taliban talks, peace in Afghanistan has remained elusive. The Afghan government has questioned the Taliban’s commitment to peace and grown increasingly skeptical of the process, which it has not felt adequately included in. 

With the country’s presidential election approaching on September 28, the country appears set for a turbulent month ahead. Nevertheless, President Ghani has called for a renewal of the peace talks and a reduction of violence, insisting that, “Peace without a ceasefire is impossible.”

While the path forward for Afghanistan remains unclear, all parties to the conflict would do well to heed Ghani’s request. If the Taliban is not prepared to accept a ceasefire in advance of the upcoming elections, then it seems unlikely that they are willing to settle for anything less than full control of the country. After all, peace must be an everyday commitment, not an endless series of talks or a collection of signatures on a piece of paper.

Bombing to Ballot: Uncomfortable Truths from South Asia

"Terrorism has become a festering wound. It is an enemy of humanity." - Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Do terrorist bomb explosions and elections have a relationship? In South Asia, a region engulfed with a high level of terrorist activity, the record clearly shows that terrorists see the run-up to an election as an opportune time to act.  India and other South Asian nations have faced terrorism during election time.  Erica Chenoweth explains that high levels of political competition in democracies relative to non-democracies help explain why democracies experience more terrorism than non-democracies. 

On May 21st, 1991 in Sriperumbudur, the late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was campaigning for his forthcoming election when a 17-year-old suicide bomber, Thenmozhi Rajaratnam, also known as Danu and a member of LTTE leader Prabhakaran's Black Tiger suicide squad, successfully carried out an attack. It had a significant impact on the Indian election. The pre and post bombing election results varied greatly between phases since the assassination took place after the first round of polling. The Congress party did poorly in the pre-assassination phase but did well in the post-assassination phase, securing a victory for the Congress coalition with the Prime-ministershipof P.V. Narasimha Rao. The recent Indian general election in which Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv Gandhi, was leading the Congress party, had to face the suicide attack that killed more than 40 Indian soldiers on Valentine's day in Pulwama.

The Indian election was directly impacted by the bombing and the subsequent India-Pakistan dispute, giving Modi a springboard to come out from his unaccomplished economic targets and higher unemployment to a different election narrative. Milan Vaishnav, the director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace explains that the Pakistan crisis provided Modi with a golden narrative. “The thing about a national security crisis is that it plays up decisiveness, leadership, and nationalism. These are three characteristics he often touts.” The retaliation to hunt down terrorists played out well in favour of PM Modi's election campaign, framing him as a defender of the nation. PM Modi's comments such as “Even if they go below the seven seas, I will find them” worked well to secure a clear majority who saw his leadership as an integral part of India’s national security.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was shot and bombed at her election rally in Rawalpindi on December 27th, 2007, a few weeks before the election. The suicide attack was carried out by a 15 year old called Bilal, a horrific moment impacting the Pakistani elections. The end result of the election which followed was PM Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) coming back to power.  

Similarly, in Sri Lanka, bombs and elections are not uncommon to the general public. Gamini Dissanayake, the 52-year-old UNP presidential candidate, was completing his presidential campaign when a female LTTE suicide bomber carried out an attack two weeks before the Presidential election on October 24th, 1994. The bombing had a significant impact on the UNP’s party leadership, and many experienced politicians lost their lives, which had a significant impact on the election. Post assassination, his wife, Srima Dissanayake, was defeated by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK). Another attack was carried out by LTTE during CBK's second term election on December 18th, 1999, in which she was targeted at her Town Hall election rally in Colombo, where she injured her right eye. This attack had a direct impact on the voters in the Presidential elections, where she managed to secure the sympathy vote by appearing before television after the attack, resulting in an election victory against Ranil Wickramasinghe.

If you analyze all five scenarios (Table 1.0), the directly targeted assassination attempts have worked in favour of the candidate or his predecessor who was the targeted victim, resulting in victory over the opposition. There is only one scenario where the opponent won in 1994.

Terrorist bombings and election outcome (Table 1.0)

Terrorist bombings and election outcome (Table 1.0)

 

The 4/21 extremist attack which killed 250 innocent civilians had a devastating effect on the Government, resulting in changes to its corruption/war on drugs narrative towards fighting terrorism and national security. As the impact settles down over time it's important to analyze the impact it will have on the coming election. 

In the Sri Lankan forthcoming election, anything that turns the discussion to terrorism or national security will help the presidential candidate who has a background on the subject.

According to Daniel Benjamin, a Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution Think Tank in Washington, D.C., terrorists want to demonstrate that they are central players in determining outcomes, and they especially want to portray to their audience that they make a powerful impact on the world stage. 

Do the terrorists try to tilt events to help preferred candidates or political parties during elections? There is not sufficient precision to ensure the terrorist act can get a candidate elected. However, there is clear evidence in South Asia that bombs during elections have a significant impact on electoral outcomes.

Terrorist attacks do not necessarily affect voting patterns, but they leave a significant fingerprint on pre and post-election outcomes. 

Democracies provide their citizens with many peaceful channels to express their grievances, and discontented individuals could easily organize and conduct violent attacks on the state using civil freedom in democracies. According to Princeton scholar Deniz Aksoy in her paper on ‘Elections and Timing of Terrorist Attacks’, “democratic election times are periods of heated political competition and this competition has implications for terrorist group activity.” Further, she found that only in democracies with least the permissive electoral institutions is there an increase in the volume of terrorist attacks. 

Analyzing the volatile and torn democratic fabric of South Asian nations, it is important to understand and foresee probable underlying factors that could trigger terrorist attacks before elections which will assist to swing votes from pre-attack to post-attack. The highly emotional voter percentage will be sufficient to swing the votes towards the victim and influence the result. In South Asia, elections and terrorist attacks do have a strong correlation. Given the frequency of attacks during election campaigns which most of us have experienced in the past, they will likely have a direct impact on the outcomes of future democratic elections.

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera is the director general of the National Security Think Tank of Sri Lanka (INSSSL) under the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo Credits: Al Jazeera

South Asia Approaches a New Political Equilibrium

The political order within South Asia is fast approaching a new equilibrium. Washington must ensure that it is not a temporary, but rather a permanent equilibrium. Temporary political equilibriums pave the way for escalation of tensions, creating room for conflict and loss of innocent lives.

The annulment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has led to a rise in tensions between Iran and the United States (U.S.). Emboldened by the hawkish national security advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump unilaterally annulled what he claimed to be a bad Iran deal. This action has severely strained the already tenuous relationship between the two countries, increasing the prospects of war.

Tehran understands that in the event of a U.S.-Iran conflict, U.S. attacks from Baluchistan, Pakistan’s South-Eastern province bordering Iran, remain a possibility.

Therefore, to prevent Pakistan from subleasing Baluchistan’s check-posts to the United States, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani issued statements seemingly in support of Pakistan on Kashmir. Moreover, this could also be an indication of Tehran’s readiness to resuscitate its cordial relations with its nuclear technology provider.

However, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which revoked special status of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, could usher in an era of prolonged instability in the region.

India’s Kashmir move has clearly taken Pakistan by surprise. With billions of dollars of aid from the Arab world and a ‘successful’ U.S. visit of its Prime Minister, Pakistan thought it was smoothly climbing the regional leadership ladder. It did not read Modi’s cards at all.

Taken by complete surprise, Islamabad approached the Arab World, hoping for the Muslim brotherhood to come to its support as it had done in 1948 and 1957.

However, Islamabad’s efforts to lobby the Muslim World have not yielded positive results. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have played by the script. They have presented Modi honorary civilian awards. This has made Pakistan’s foreign office understand that ‘International Relations are above religious sentiments’. Arab states will not give precedence to religious sentiments over economic ties. Their economic ties with India are far more fruitful than with Pakistan.

Now, Islamabad is left with two options. It will try to use its leverage over the Taliban to ask for U.S. assistance in Kashmir before any U.S.-Taliban deal is reached in Qatar. Or, it will use its insurgent-led guerilla warfare strategy in Jammu and Kashmir, a skill it learned from the CIA during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. However, there are two risks to this approach. First, using proxies could lead to a full-fledged conventional war between the two countries. Since Pakistan did not predict Article 370’s abrogation, it can be reasonably inferred that Pakistan’s armed forces have not prepared for an all-out conflict with India. Moreover, using insurgents in India can hurt Pakistan’s already dwindling economy. Any evidence of financing and equipping the insurgents can potentially place Pakistan on Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) blacklist, something Pakistan desperately seeks to avoid in its present economic crisis.

Therefore, the only reasonable option was gaining international support and endorsement of Pakistan’s narrative from friendly countries. However, it did not happen as expected. Now, Islamabad will either buy time until the FATF decision comes out in October or engage a trustworthy ally in reaching a deal with India over Indian Occupied Kashmir.

On the other hand, India must be happy about the present situation, but anxious about the future. It knows Pakistan’s expertise in insurgent-backed guerrilla war. India must also understand that the magnitude of operation will be different this time, because the curfew-locked Kashmiris are more likely to side with Pakistan-backed fighters. The massive human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir have given the Kashmiris a solid rationale to turn against the Indian state. Therefore, a rise in insurgency within Kashmir, voluntarily helped by the enraged Kashmiris, could lead to prolonged chaos and an anti-India separatist movement in the valley.

India needs to understand that any conflict with Pakistan would harm it the most. A full-fledged war would severely damage India’s growing economy. Moreover, China’s military support of Pakistan could not be ruled out. Therefore, with present gains in hand, India must be ready to make reasonable concessions to reach a solution to the present crisis in Kashmir.

Washington has been closely following recent developments. It understands Pakistan’s leverage over the Taliban. Any U.S.-Taliban agreement and its implementation would require Islamabad’s support. But, Trump’s ecstatic meeting with Modi at the G7, and designating Kashmir to be a bilateral issue might have created a trust deficit amongst Pakistan’s rulers.

Therefore, if Trump wants to fulfill his State of the Union address promise of ‘extricating’ his troops from Afghanistan and wants to isolate Iran, he needs to have Pakistan’s complete support. He can only win Pakistan’s support if he mediates to arrest the deterioration of peace in Kashmir–either directly or indirectly.

A round of talks between Pakistan and India can either be organized in Washington or Riyadh. Alternatively, either of them could be interlocutors between Islamabad and New Delhi. A legally binding agreement acceptable to both the parties could be reached. This would stem the deterioration and perhaps enable both countries to focus on alleviating their people’s poverty rather than engaging in warfare.

CDS: From Infighting to Warfighting; From Integration to Jointness

Editor’s Note

With the announcement by the Prime Minister during his Independence Day Speech, it’s apparently a done deal. India will have a Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). Whoever he might be, he would perhaps take office in the not-too-distant future. Quite a bit has been said and written in the past few days about the tortured, meandering path, as well as the imperative need for a CDS. This article looks at some possible implementation steps and the journey to the eventual purpose that Defence Integration and Joint War Fighting ought to achieve. 

This first appeared on "www.bharatshakti.in" on 20 Aug 2019.

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Selection Options for CDS

The government could consider either of the two options. First, to appoint one of the current Service Chiefs as the CDS. Thus, the first CDS would be one of three; the next would be one of the other two incumbents of the other two services; in the third and following iterations, there would really be no selection. If a two-year tenure for a CDS is envisaged (as was the suggestion for a Permanent Chairman of the COSC- Chiefs of Staff Committee), then it’s possible that a Service Chief would be plucked from his office in a few months and appointed CDS for a rather short two years tenure. Sometimes, this would happen even if a three- year tour of duty is mandated. Overall, this may not be an effective approach and would be similar to the revolving door system that Indian jointly- tenable senior billets have had for decades. At the highest level of CDS, the negatives of a metronomic, automatic rotation accompanied by almost no selection process, would matter even more. 

The second option is to broad-base the selection pool by choosing one of the twenty or so CINC (commander-in-chief)/equivalent officers. Even if this is to be by rotation of services, selections would be possible for the best possible CDS candidate from at least five very senior officers at the minimum. Once he is promoted to a four-star ‘primus inter pares’ (first among equals) as CDS, he could be given a full three- year tenure. 

There would be, quite naturally, arguments and preferences for one or the other within the armed forces. It would be argued that the US selects its Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) from one of the four –stars. That is true, but as mandated in the Goldwater-Nichols Act (GNA), 1986, this is from a pool of more than 20 of the 40-plus four-stars to choose from. Furthermore, the President may well select someone who may not meet the stipulations of the GNA if he so deems fit (Article 152 of the Act). In Australia, the Chief of Defence Force (CDF) is chosen from among the three service chiefs and the VCDF, but they are all three stars and the CDF is the only four-star officer in Australia. They no longer follow a foretold sequence of service-wise rotation. 

In our case, selecting from the larger pool might be the better and more effective recourse in the long-term. Someday, if there is a government decision to have joint theatre CINCs as four-star officers, they could form the pool from which to select. 

Rank, Protocol, Equivalence

In our warrant of precedence and protocol- conscious social and official structures, the positioning of the CDS vis-à-vis the other members of the COSC, and with key senior bureaucrats like the Cabinet and Defence Secretary, unfortunately, remains an issue to be addressed. Some “cultural” changes that seek to loosen the bolts of hierarchy and the functionally less relevant aspects of precedence, protocol and seniority have been made by the NDA government in its previous term across entrenched verticals. In due course, one hopes we become a culture where what one accomplishes is invariably seen as more important than where one sits or stands or chairs a meeting. In the interim, three factors may be considered: 

Firstly, that there would be no earth-shaking harm if the CDS has an equivalent protocol with the Cabinet Secretary. Like in Australia and the UK, the CDF/CDS also form a very workable, functional “diarchy” with their defence secretary/permanent under-secretary. The institution of the cabinet secretary, as it evolved in Britain and elsewhere in the Commonwealth is a very important one. This is the second factor, below. 

Therefore, the second factor: The original motivation for a Cabinet Secretary in the UK may be a useful one to recall. An officer from the Royal Marines, Lt Col Maurice Hankey was the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence from 1912 and in 1916 was made the first Cabinet Secretary in David Lloyd George’s War Cabinet. Thus, the genesis of the position itself was in the need to wage war more effectively. In fact, Hankey remained in that position until 1935 just as new war clouds were forming over Europe. His successor, Edward Bridges, retained several Prime Ministers’ trust in the important chair through WW II until 1946. Bridges had also served in the Army in WW I. 

The third factor is that this government has perhaps recognized the vital roles that a more effective arrangement of a “diarchy” in which the CDS, Chiefs and the Cabinet and Defence Secretaries work in cooperation and consonance to strengthen deterrence and war-fighting capabilities. All it would take is for continued maturity from all sides, putting the national interest first and casting turf sensitivities aside. Should the old model of “divide and try to rule” yield to “unite and get on with governance” in general and with specific reference to a happy and taut diarchy? The government does seem to think so.

Five-Star CDS Not Workable

In the same breath, thinking of a five-star rank for a CDS is not a good idea for at least three reasons. First, the rank does not exist functionally anywhere in the world and in terms of military diplomacy and interaction, it could even be a disadvantage. Second, it would ultimately be an ineffective way because it would try and leverage protocol for better functionality. In reality, it does not work that way. Third, there is a possibility that within the armed forces a five-Star CDF may remain trapped in the web of parades and protocol while in effect and not much would change in terms of preparing for the future of warfare that the Prime Minister spoke about.  

Integration and Jointness

It might be useful to make some distinctions between integration and jointness. Integration should be seen primarily as an input that has its main focus in New Delhi in terms of the “wiring diagrams” of HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), the Service HQs (SHQs) and the current avatarof the MoD (Ministry of Defence). Besides, integration would be required with other Ministries, Cabinet Secretariat, other agencies and organizations in the field of intelligence gathering, analysis and of course in the overall space and cyber domains. This could be a relatively slow, deliberate and very carefully thought out process. 

In the process of integration, existing expertise, output, speed of work and economy in resources must be kept in mind while ensuring that core functional autonomy, firewalls for security (amidst increasing cyber threats) are maintained and needless crossed-wires minimized. In either case, the change should be underlined by a dynamism to alter course to overcome hitches.

Jointness should be primarily seen as an output, not input. For too long we have tried out increasing amounts of jointness at the input end in terms of military education and training. This is important but by itself, not enough. For instance, if joint training at the earliest stage were effective, then the National Defence Academy should have become a very effective catalyst for jointness. After all, beginning in the mid-1980s, a great majority of starred- billets were occupied by ex-NDA officers. From the early 1990s, almost all Chiefs of Service have been ex-NDA as have been many most CINCs due to advantage in the age factor. None of this has translated into effective jointness in a military sense. The social camaraderie, “Academy spirit” and so on are of factually little relevance. 

For several decades now, we have had a Defence Services Staff College, College of Defence Management, National Defence College, joint capsules in war colleges and several other shorter courses. It can be said that no other major armed forces have had as much of joint training and education as an input at all stages of an officer’s career than the Indian Armed Forces.

It can also be said, regrettably, that we simply have not demonstrated sustained joint output and potential for future needs of jointness to the extent that several nations, bigger or smaller seem to have. Yet, one frequently hears of suggestions for even more joint training and input in the classroom whether within the syllabus in NDA or combining all three war colleges in one, etc. 

There is little evidence that officers from institutions other than NDA are any less able to be joint. (This writer is ex-NDA!). There is also a great need for enhancing single-service competence at the early stages of an officer’s education. Single-service academies are still prevalent in most countries. The Indian Navy was right in setting up a separate academy, Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala towards its future needs and while NDA continues to be a feeder, its proportionate numbers are small. 

A Road Map?

From some reports and views in the media, one supposes that a step-by-step approach is envisaged from appointing a CDS, and then crafting the road-map for integration followed by jointness as a war-fighting output mechanism. The main cautions to be observed in doing this are perhaps along these lines:

  • While leaps towards full integration and joint theaterisation are not advisable, very small incremental steps may encourage all stakeholders—not the least, the Services themselves—to put spokes and dampeners in execution. This helps in reiterating the “merits” of the status quo and the “why fix it- if- it-ain’t-broke” positions. The lack of interest SHQs showed in the ANC (the Andaman and Nicobar Command, India’s first tri-services command), once it was raised, is a good example.

  • “Theatre Commands (TCs) are not required in our context” is a bogey we have had enough of. What is so special about our context that doesn’t require integration as an input and jointness as an output? The principles are the same even when modalities may be adapted to our situations.

  • “We do not have adequate resources” for TCs also should be put to rest. The “context and resources” argument is mainly voiced by the IAF (mostly veterans). In response, one could say that:

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    • There never would be adequate resources for assigning separately to each command. That would be wasteful, expensive and is done, nowhere. For instance, much of CENTCOM (US Central Command) forces are on attachment from mainland US, EUCOM (US European Command) and PACOM (US Indo-Pacific Command). It has been that way since 1991. If required they would be reassigned to a new hot-spot.

    • The IAF has a valid point about the indivisibility of airpower, but only up to a point. For administrative, maintenance training and operational purposes, it has its own de facto TCs. The geographic CINCs and the Air HQs play a complimentary, cooperative and cohesive role in combat. They would continue to do so under some changed frameworks. Under the new labelling and framework, the criticality of airpower would be as central as before and perhaps increasingly so.

    • The Army informally voices concern about not having forces “under command”. This usually means they want all forces sort of permanently assigned to them. Ostensibly, this is for more cohesion, inter-personal relationships and training. These are not serious drawbacks for the TCs with rapid assignment and reassignment of forces working on SOPs, common operational and tactical planning as well as joint execution. The reality often amounts to the reporting channel which is conflated with the chain of command.

    • The Navy’s apprehensions are more subtle. It tends to over-emphasise the angle of autonomy, distant operations and perhaps an over-interpretation of an idea of maritime conflicts instead of conflicts with maritime dimensions.

  • The “Civ” part of the “Civ-Mil” relationship (Civil–Military relations) in India is unique because of the overweening influence and authority of a generalist bureaucracy. There is merit to this argument, but again not as much as is voiced. Consider these aspects:

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    • A strong, often young, civilian bureaucracy exists in most ministries/departments of defence in democracies. Ours may be more pervasive, protocol and turf conscious than others, but this also has to be compared with the oft-unrecognized bureaucracy that the uniformed services create not only in SHQs but downstream as well. In some totalitarian systems, the party bureaucracy co-exists at all levels. Some “apparatchiks” maybe without personal military experience but have considerable influence anyway. So, in its ways, most systems have their challenges of the Pol+Civ-Mil interfaces.

    • Integration could create a working relationship that is better underlined by mutual awareness and the inter-relationship of the “ends-ways-means” that has to be dynamically considered. One thinks that with integration, the adversarial under-tones to the current arrangements under the existing Transaction/Allocation of Business Rules would abate. Of course, portions of these rules also need to be re-written. The focus of integration should be at the Joint Secretary (JS) levels who are the pivots in Ministries. Since the sinews of national strategy comprise Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic (DIME) instruments, it would be very beneficial to have cross-postings of another JS from the MEA in MoD and of a uniformed two-star in the MEA.

    • It can be assumed that a fair amount of work has already been done by HQIDS and SHQs on possible contours of what has been called the Integrated Theatre Commands (ITC). Since these commands, like the current geographic commands of the single- services, would be in the warfighting business, it would be logically more accurate to call them Joint Theatre Commands (JTC) rather than ITC. As explained earlier, this is more than a semantic distinction. The government might think of a small transition and implementation advisory committee of a few individuals who could dispassionately advise HQIDS/ SHQs/ MoD and the DPC (Defence Planning Committee).

 

CDS and the COSC

The CDS would be the Principal Military Adviser (PMA). However, the roles of the Service Chiefs as advisers remain necessary and vital. In the US system, dichotomies existed from WWII arrangements and were most clearly articulated in the GNA 1986. In India, the term “single-point military adviser” (SPMA) is quite prevalent and is reflected in the GoM Report (Group of Ministers) itself that recommended the creation of CDS. It also mentions the CDS as the PMA and first among equals elsewhere. 

Essentially, for all vital security matters, any government would solicit collective views of the COSC which would be discussed with the CDS more as the PMA rather than any notion of him as SPMA. The US GNA rightly emphasises the role of the other members of the JCS and the benefits of even contrary views that are formally conveyed. The idea of a CDS as “first among equals” deserves serious consideration and respect for the other “equals.” On the subject of the GNA, some observations below may be of interest because some misconceptions about it persist: 

·      The immediate trigger for the US GNA ironically came not from politicians’ push to reform the system, but surprisingly from the CJCS (US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). In February 1982, General David Jones, USAF (US Air Force) and the then CJCS opened his testimony before the HASC (US House Committee on Armed Services, commonly known as the House Armed Services Committee), with honesty rarely seen at that level, by saying, “It is not sufficient to have resources, dollars, and weapon systems; we must also have an organization which allows us to develop the proper strategy, necessary planning, and the full warfighting capability. We do not have an adequate organizational structure today.” (The last sentence is what Locher calls the famous nine words!)

·      Unlike the oft-held impression, the very purpose of the GNA was not to make the CJCS more powerful but to reiterate civilian supremacy and improve the quality of military advice that went beyond inter-service squabbling and was often merely a consensus on the least common denominator, quite literally like the Common Minimum Programme of coalition politics! The very  first sentence of the 88 pages that make the GNA is explicit on this:

An Act to reorganize the DOD and strengthen civilian authority in the DOD, to improve military advice to the President, NSC, Secy of Defense, to place clear responsibility on the commanders of the unified and specified combatant commands to accomplish the specified missions….” 

·      Another way of putting it that the purpose was not to make the CJCS more powerful but more effective and this should be the fundamental attitude and the principal motivation of all during the next few years as the Indian defence establishment reorganizes itself. The PM’s speech is explicit about this.

Transition of CDS as CDF

Eventually, the CDS and his HQs, with the active lateral frameworks linked to SHQs and of course the JTCs, should be in primary charge of the application of national military force in its multiple dimensions. This process could be completed during the tenure of the second CDS in say, a six-year span that allows for reduced interim disruption in case of a sudden conflict and the orchestrated settling- in of the various JTCs and functional commands. Thus, while we could continue to call him the CDS as in the UK, he would be the CDF (Chief of Defence Force) as in Australia and the UK and different from the CJCS in the US. It is quite significant that the ADF is the “Australian Defence Force” and not “Forces.” This is in line with the important thought that there are “three services but one force” as they put it. Semantics aside, this transition would have some benefits:

·      The Service Chiefs would transit to the primary, but equally vital roles of “Raise/Train/Sustain” and shed a large part of their operational roles in conflict to HQIDS/ JTCs.

·      All the above functions of the SHQs would benefit from the central strategy planning process for overall military strategies in terms of force planning and force-building processes. Among other things, this would help true indigenization and self- reliance without which India cannot be a great power.

·      An important consequence of integration and jointness could be—rather must be—the rise in effectiveness accompanied by the reduction of personnel strength. 

·      Once the CDS begins slipping into the driver’s seat for operations along and beyond our borders, the quality of joint exercises is bound to improve in a way that better utilizes existing resources and charts the way for harnessing new resources in terms of “people, ideas, things/hardware” as John Boyd put it. 

·      HQIDS’ involvement in scheduling, planning and learning to execute major exercises could begin in the near term so that the contours of the JTCs could be envisaged more clearly.

Conclusion

There are hopes and confidence that all elements of the Pol-Civ-Mil senior leadership will ensure that this major first step and the even more vital follow-on steps take India on the path to a much greater level of war fighting effectiveness across the spectrum of warfare. The PM’s speech clearly points out that the changing global security environment, the changing character of warfare and the need for all three services to march in step requires a CDS to be the catalyst of the reforms that are required. Therefore, one could leave the reader with three thoughts:

·      In his book, Victory on the Potomac: The Goldwater-Nichols Act Unifies the Pentagon,  James Locher writes in words that could not have said it better, instead of “Duty, Honor, Country…I was hearing something different. It sounded like “Turf, Power, Service.” 

·      In a paper this writer wrote 15 years ago on the lessons for the civil-military relationship that could be learnt from the President Truman-General MacArthur rift during the 1950-53 Korean War, leading to the latter’s dismissal, a sentence may be relevant here. “The lesson I may want to learn is that a strong, quietly opinionated JCS is the crucial interface between civilian leadership and the CINCs. Secondly, an emasculated JCS may provide a psychological edge to civilian egos, but is a wartime disadvantage as other wars show. The civil-military combined team must win wars and not internal arguments. The PM’s words about a CDS providing impactful leadership at the apex levels to all three Services are quite clear and reflective of the benefits that a strengthened COSC would bring to our security framework.

·      Finally, isn’t it time to actualize what the tentative title of a monograph this writer is working on conveys: “From Symbolism to Substance; From Infighting to Warfighting; From Integration to Jointness?” 

Rear Admiral Sudarshan Y Shrikhande (Retd)

Image Credit: PTI

Standing Tall in the Pivot: India's Eurasian Centrality and Importance to U.S. Grand Strategy in Asia

"Democracy refuses to think strategically unless and until compelled to do so for purposes of defence."  

-Sir Halford Mackinder

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, once wrote that India was the pivot around which the security in Asia would be determined.  In the sport of basketball, being able to pivot is everything.  It is the key to movement in either direction, right or left, for offensive purposes, and ultimately to put points on the board. In the Indo-Pacific, India is at the center of the key and standing tall in the pivot.  At this moment in history, it is critically important that we get our strategic relationship with India right, and like basketball, we need to be focused on the fundamentals, and not be overly distracted by present divergences in policies.

Some of these policy divergences are either trade related, such as the U.S. decision to impose aluminum and steel tariffs last year that adversely affected India, or the Trump Administration terminating India's preferential trade status under a U.S. program known as the General System of Preferences.  This program essentially allows some products from developing countries to enter the U.S. duty-free.  Other policy divergences are security related, such as India's increased purchases of Russian military equipment (to include the S-400 air defense system), or India's general anxiety about U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and talks with the Taliban.

All of these policy issues must be viewed in the context of the tremendous progress that has been made in the US-India relationship since the early 2000's.  A sea change in the strategic relationship came with the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement during the administrations of George W. Bush and then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.  Several important groundbreaking agreements have been signed more recently such as the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). These agreements will further military interoperability and logistical support between our armed services. Additional agreements are under negotiation and said to be close.  

As one senior India leader confided to me, the biggest problem that he sees confronting our two nations at the moment is the Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Because of India's decision to purchase the Russian S-400 system, the threat of secondary sanctions looms.  As this is a major obstacle to greater collaboration with India (much as it is with Turkey/US relations) we need to think very carefully about this.  The U.S. needs to weigh both the benefits and costs of such policies and ensure that they serve US strategic interests in the long term.  The U.S. also needs to be careful of overplaying our hand, especially when there are historic ties between countries as there are with India and Russia.

The real question of our time and the real concern that both India and the U.S. need to deal with is the challenge of China.  To a large extent, the three main players in this twenty-first century drama will be India, the United States, and China. The former Foreign Secretary of India, Nirupama Rao, refers to the India, U.S., and China triangle as an Isosceles Triangle. She states that "it is not an equilateral triangle by any means, and that it is the story of the world's superpowers and one of the rising powers."  What we should be more focused on, at least from a U.S. perspective, is how to help India build capacity to make this more of an equilateral triangle.  Liberal democracy, freedom, and a rules-based international order may stand in the balance.

The strategic balance of power in the Indo-Pacific is shifting.  China's maritime expansionism, surging economic influence, and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) reflects a grand strategy to achieve Xi Jinping's China Dream. We begin to see the realization of Xi's China dream with the building and militarization of islands in the South China Sea, the sudden declaration of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in 2013 that overlaps South Korean and Japanese ADIZ, and the intimidation of Vietnam in the contested waters near the Paracel Islands by China's National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), to name a few.  Now with China's expanding naval footprint in the Indian Ocean, the U.S. and India must be concerned that China could export some of this bad behavior into the India Ocean Region (IOR).  How do we react if China interprets the Indian Ocean Littoral as their "Near Seas?"

I started this article out with a quote from Mackinder, the noted English geographer and strategist who introduced the "world-island" and "Rimland" concepts.  The Rimland of IOR is increasingly under the control and influence of China.  In the Bay of Bengal the Chinese have built ports in Bangladesh and Myanmar.  There are proposals from China to build a canal across Thailand's Kra Isthmus which would connect to the Andaman Sea thereby bypassing the Strait of Malacca. The Chinese have a ninety-nine year lease on the strategic Sri Lankan port of Hambantota.  In Pakistan, as part of the BRI, China has built the port of Gwadar and has purported plans to construct a naval and air base in Jiwani, near Gwadar. China has made key inroads in the Maldives close to India's strategic sea lanes.  In East Africa, China's debt-trap tactics in Kenya have put the future control of the Port of Mombasa in question and China has a major port project that has been begun in Tanzania.  And finally, in Djibouti, China's first overseas military base is up and running. This gets us back to the ancient Indian philosopher, Chanakya, whose theories on balance of power and realist philosophy predates Machiavelli by close to 2000 years.  For India and the U.S., the issue is not about having to symmetrically keep up with the Chinese. It is about these ancient concepts that India well understands—the need for having buffers, of encirclement, and balance of power.  And here we are in good shape. 

For the U.S. and India, there are real opportunities for effective balancing to pursue in the Indian Ocean.  Brahma Chellaney wrote in the Guardian that "China wants to be the pre-eminent power in Asia and whether Asia ends up multipolar or unipolar will be determined by what happens in the Indian Ocean. Currently there is a power vacuum there and the Chinese want to fill it."  India well understands balance of power concepts and dynamics.  In India this goes back to the ancient teachings of Chanakya and the Arthahastra. To be sure, the Indian Navy has stepped up bilateral naval exercises in the Indian Ocean with the navies of Japan, France, Australia, and the United States.  But more needs to be done, and can be done between India, the U.S. and our partners and allies in this vital region.

The United States 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) introduced the construct of Dynamic Force Employment. The NDS stated that in the future U.S. forces would be "strategically predictable, but operationally unpredictable.  The U.S Navy first put this to the test with the Truman Aircraft Carrier Group just months later with a shorter but more impactful deployment to the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.  One can easily envision making these same types of deployments to the North Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.  This could involve utilizing a swing force concept that could rotate naval forces from the U.S. Fifth Fleet coming out of the Persian Gulf with U.S. Seventh Fleet assets from the east.  The command of these forces could also rotate much like the current Commander Task Force (CTF 151) model.  Currently the only naval forces that we routinely operate in that Northern Arabian Sea area are those transiting to and from the Fifth Fleet area of operations in the Gulf.  We need to have more "dwell time" in the strategic waterways of the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden. Utilizing the Dynamic Force Employment construct in this area would enable us to have more opportunities to work with the Indian Navy.   

The above plan would also mesh well with Indian Prime Minister Modi's engagement with the Middle East and West Asia under the "Think West" policy.  This policy comports with India's historic ties to West Asia and provides an excellent opportunity for India to play an increased role in ensuring the vital sea lines of communication (SLOCs) in this region and upon which her energy and commerce depend.  Having a discussion between U.S. and Indian government planners on how we might best leverage each other's strengths and weaknesses and time our operational presence in this strategic area could pay big dividends.

The French can and do play a key role here.  France has long been a power in the Indo-Pacific and in the Southern Indian Ocean with the islands of Mayotte and La Reunion. French armed forces are stationed at these two islands.  In the Northern Indian Ocean there are over 1300 French Forces in Djibouti.  Already a critical strategic location based on its proximity to key maritime choke points in the Gulf of Aden, it is even more important today with a Chinese military base in Djibouti.  The French also have a regional two-star admiral designated as ALINDIEN with a headquarters in the United Arab Emirates who is tasked nationally with the operational control of naval forces deployed to the Indian Ocean.  India and France have also signed a logistics support agreement along the lines of the LEMOA agreement mentioned above between the U.S. and India.  All three countries, the U.S., India, and France, benefit greatly with the operational and logistical flexibility these agreements offer to their armed forces.

The question then becomes what can the U.S., India, and France do to increase maritime presence in the Indian Ocean, not only bilaterally, but trilaterally.  Again, a lot of good progress in this area has already been made with the French Jeanne D'Arc Mission and the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle deployments as well as U.S. carrier deployments to the Indian Ocean.  But with expanding Chinese naval presence and influence expanding into the Indian Ocean, we should have further discussions on how to improve Indian naval capacity and capabilities in the Indian Ocean. Anti-submarine tracking and training is a pressing need. We should also look at submarine safety and what is called water-space management in naval terms.  The mechanics of water-space management can be difficult, even among close allies. With a strategic partner like India, we need to give this some serious thought.

The Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean will continue to increase.  It will be about protecting SLOCs for them as their energy and commerce traverse the same sea routes.  Protecting lines of communications at sea is as old as Homer's Iliad and the siege of Troy. Indians are, however, rightly concerned about growing Chinese submarine presence in the Indian Ocean.  While the Chinese submarines have every right to be there as long as they are in international waters, you still want to be able to track and monitor their presence.  The tracking of submarines is not only very hard but also very asset intensive.

 Here again, wouldn't it be great if the Indians and the U.S. could get together for a very discrete conversation on how to manage this together?  We both fly the P-8 aircraft designed for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare.  If we were able to fly from Indian facilities we could share tracking with these aircraft and conduct handoffs.  Think of shift work with eight hours on and eight hours off.  This would be a great way to operationalize some of the aforementioned agreements.  As we work with India on the Basic Exchange and Consideration Agreement (BECA), which could allow the sharing of geospatial data, the opportunities only increase. If we think of the COMCASA agreement as the left hand, and the BECA agreement as the right hand, one can see that real progress is being made and that there can be many fast-followers. Lastly, on this important issue, Prime Minister Modi is said to be close to an agreement with France on the sharing of satellites for maritime surveillance in the Indian Ocean.  This would comport nicely with the kind of bilateral and trilateral opportunities discussed above.

India is the pivot of Asia as Prime Minister Nehru once asserted.  If we believe this is the case, then we must continue the positive trajectory that the U.S. and India have been on these many years and we cannot let policy differences derail this strategic relationship.  Robert F Kennedy wrote over fifty years ago that "If a strong India is considered vital to the containment of China, and to our national security, the level of our economic and military assistance must reflect that priority."  I am with RFK.

The author of this piece is Rear Admiral William C. McQuilkin U.S. Navy (Ret)

Modi govt’s Kashmir solution was a preemptive move to keep Trump from meddling

If in a few years from now, young Kashmiris still feel alienated, repeal of Article 370 will mean little for India’s security or national integration.

The repeal of Article 370 – that provides special status to Jammu and Kashmir – by the Narendra Modi government is meant to resolve the long-standing issues of national integration and international legitimacy with respect to Kashmir.

The ruling BJP has successfully catered to the demand of its base and, for now, a large segment of the Indian intelligentsia and public seems to support its decision. But, like all defining decisions, this solution to a 70-year problem must also stand the test of time before being described as a permanent triumph.

The erstwhile state of Kashmir –the one Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India in October 1947 – no longer exists. Part of it is with Pakistan, which has already ceded a portion to China, and the part that was with India has now been bifurcated into two union territories.

By changing the reality on the ground, even with a potential legal hurdle before the Supreme Court of India, the government appears to be presenting a fait accompli. Any attempt by the international community, the US, the UN, or even Pakistan, to discuss the issue of Kashmir will now have to deal with this changed reality.

A new Kashmir

New Delhi will most likely benefit from the international community’s willingness to no longer see Kashmir as an international dispute. There might be little or no support for Pakistan when it tries to raise the matter at the United Nations Security Council.

From India’s perspective, Kashmir has now been completely integrated, and India can forego the parts occupied by Pakistan, provided Pakistan stops questioning the 1947 accession of Kashmir or stirring trouble among Kashmir’s Muslim population.

This might mark the end of the India-Pakistan aspect of the Kashmir issue. India has been moving in that direction gradually since 1952. But two other dimensions of India’s Kashmir problem remain unresolved: terrorism remains a challenge and the grievances of Kashmiri citizens will not go away until the two new union territories offer people a better, non-militarised life.

A preemptive move

New Delhi has always been sensitive to any global, especially American, statements on the Kashmir issue. India has also consistently pushed back against any external pressure or any notion of international mediation or third-party involvement in any India-Pakistan bilateral issue, including and especially over Kashmir.

In this context, President Donald Trump’s remarks on 22 July while he hosted Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan that he would be willing to mediate between India and Pakistan, apparently sent different messages to each country.

Islamabad (and Rawalpindi, where Pakistan military headquarters are located) may have interpreted the US President’s remarks as suggesting that the United States would mediate talks between India and Pakistan. New Delhi read it as a signal that the American desire to withdraw from Afghanistan may lead Washington to be amenable to pushing India to talk to Pakistan and reopen a chapter India thinks has been closed.

The de-jure integration and bifurcation of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir is India’s way of pushing back on any attempt to change the territorial status quo. It also provided an opportunity to the Modi government to fulfil an item on the Sangh Parivar’s wishlist dating back to the 1950s.

India has always maintained that Kashmir is Indian territory and the instrument of accession signed by the Maharaja of Kashmir, and successive elections within the province, demonstrate that the people of Kashmir wish to remain with India. Pakistan’s argument that as a Muslim majority area, Kashmir should have gone to Pakistan at Partition has lost whatever traction it once had.

Pakistan has nurtured a hardline ‘Kashmir bazor Shamsheer’ (Kashmir by the sword) lobby that portrays India as an existential threat to Pakistan – a view also supported by the country’s politically dominant military. Each of the four India-Pakistan wars (1948, 1965, 1971, and 1999) was initiated by Pakistan, which tends to maintain an ‘all or nothing’ approach on the Kashmir issue that has often surfaced after periods of bilateral dialogue.

As a status quo power, India had, until now, preferred to be reactive in its policies. The uncertainty with respect to American policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the hint of Pakistan’s role in fomenting terrorism in Kashmir, may have led Modi to believe that he had to change Kashmir’s legal status to pre-empt any potential demands by Trump about talks with Pakistan.

The Israel way?

In this respect, the repeal of Article 370 is like Israel’s steps to legally annex Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Just as Israeli annexation has not, of itself, brought terrorism in the Arab occupied territories to an end, this decision, too, will not be sufficient to end either Pakistan-backed terrorism or the restiveness of Kashmir’s population.

For that, a lot more needs to be done on ground. If in a couple of years from now, young Kashmiris still feel alienated, repeal of Article 370 will mean little in enhancing India’s integration or security.

The author is Research Fellow and Director, India Initiative at the Washington-DC based Hudson Institute. Her books include ‘Escaping India: Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy’ (Routledge, 2011) and ‘From Chanakya to Modi: The Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy’ (Harper Collins, 2017). Views are personal.

This article was originally posted by ThePrint. It was posted here with the author's permission.

Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Pool via Bloomberg

Pakistan should focus on reducing corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency, instead of flashy infrastructure projects

Pakistan recently announced the completion of the M5 Motorway, a 244 mile, $2.89 billion mega highway financed through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). While hopes are riding high that infrastructure projects can jump start its fragile economy, no amount of flashy infrastructure investment can compensate for Pakistan’s poor underlying business climate. It’s not an infrastructure problem. It’s a misgovernance problem.

China has pledged to invest more than $60 billion in CPEC projects by 2030, with the goal of developing new “ports, highways, motorways, railways, airports, power plants and other infrastructure” in Pakistan. Yet, CPEC, part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has been criticized for its use of debt financing as a means of extending China’s sphere of influence. With Pakistan facing continual debt crises, foreign reserves depletion, and the IMF predicting CPEC linked debt servicing will rise to $45 billion (9.9% of GDP) by FY2022/23, costly projects will only further increase Pakistan’s already ballooning debt liabilities.

This past July, the IMF approved a $6 billion loan package to Pakistan, contingent on the implementation of austerity measures. While the IMF bailout was likely a necessary evil to ensure at least short term macroeconomic stability, Pakistan will need to address the core issues of corruption, high taxes, government efficiency and political stability if it wants to achieve longer-term economic growth and prevent future debt crises.

In response to the IMF package requirements, Pakistan recently unveiled a new budget with an “ambitious tax revenue target of Rs5.6tn ($35.4bn)— an increase of more than 30 per cent compared with last year — to balance its Rs7tn budget.” Yet, with only 1% of Pakistanis actually paying taxes, Islamabad faces an uphill battle in achieving this goal. The government’s efforts thus far don’t look promising, with hundreds of thousands of businesses going on strike in protest of an increased sales tax. Blindly raising taxes on small businesses won’t bridge the revenue shortfall the government faces. Combatting tax fraud and corruption will. Pakistan should aim to become a low tax, high tax compliance nation. 

According to the Business Anti-Corruption Portal, “The Pakistani tax administration is highly susceptible to bribery and other corrupt practices.” In particular, companies often complain about “demands for advance tax payments,” and confusing and inconsistent “federal and provincial tax regulations.” Furthermore, because taxes are routinely evaded by Pakistan’s wealthy and entrenched elite, the tax burden falls “overwhelmingly on the poor who pay in various indirect ways.” Tax administration corruption, combined with new business taxes, is a recipe for economic depression, and no new highway or airport will address the underlying problems the business community and the impoverished (who make up 1/3 of the population) face. 

Customs administration is also plagued by rampant corruption, with businesses indicating that “irregular payments and bribes are common.” “Burdensome import procedures, tariffs, and corruption at the border are cited by businesses as the biggest impediments for importing.” The legal system, while officially protecting land rights, lacks clarity on land titling and inefficiently manages contract disputes. A corrupt bureaucracy increases barriers to conducting business, with “irregular payments and bribes” commonly being necessary to secure public services and licenses.

Combine this with regular political instability, and it’s no wonder the country has “failed to attract any significant foreign investment” in recent years, except from China. No Pakistani prime minister has ever completed a full term in the country’s history, and the regular removal of political leaders is a major reason why Pakistan ranks 147th out of 190 in the World Bank’s 2018 Ease of Doing Business ranking. Foreign investment, especially equity driven foreign direct investment (as opposed to foreign debt financing), is directly linked with economic growth, providing access to new export markets, investor expertise, networks, and new jobs.

Flashy infrastructure projects just serve as red herrings that distract from Pakistan’s real economic problems. Some of these projects do have the potential to drive economic growth, but only if the government effectively reforms the bureaucracy and tackles corruption. Pakistan’s energy crisis is a continual contributor of debt to the state’s balance sheet, with the country requiring regular and costly oil imports. With “20% of existing energy lost to pilferage,” and almost no attempts at diversifying the country’s fuel mix, blackouts have become a regular occurrence. Irregular power delivery has strangled the manufacturing and service sector, and according to a World bank survey, “66.7 percent of the businesses in Pakistan cite electricity shortages as a more significant obstacle to business than corruption (11.7 percent) and crime/terrorism (5.5 percent).” Energy infrastructure projects have a high potential to improve ease of business, but only if projects are efficiently planned and executed.

But with nine out of ten firms reporting an expectation of bribes to secure government contracts, and the aforementioned theft of state-energy resources, energy projects will likely just continue the trend of expensive, debt financed infrastructure as a cosmetic solution to structural economic problems. High levels of corruption correlate with significantly lower average incomes, levels of foreign investment, trade, and efficient resource distribution. 

It has been treated as “an article of faith” for many Pakistani politicians “that investment in infrastructure is a foolproof way of boosting the economy.” The country is “blessed” with a myriad of “modern and spacious” airports that are largely underused. All this infrastructure awaits an economic boom that has never arrived, and until Islamabad addresses rampant corruption and poor economic fundamentals, Pakistan will continue to be plagued by perpetual macroeconomic crises and poor economic growth.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Bhutan to Strengthen Bilateral Ties

                             India and Bhutan have shared a unique partnership, grounded by the Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship with India, signed in 1949 and revised in 2007. The original version of the treaty established that Bhutan would defer to India’s guidance on “external relations” and India, in return, would provide Bhutan with military support against China as it sought to claim Bhutan. In 2007, the treaty was revised to reflect Bhutan’s self-sufficiency in the realm of foreign affairs and affirmed the continued partnership between India and Bhutan. This relationship is reinforced by Modi’s “Neighborhood First Policy,” which prioritizes bilateral ties with India’s closest neighbors. In the not so distant past, the terms of the treaty have certainly come to fruition. In 2003, the Royal Bhutan Army conducted a  military operation  to seize militant Indian rebels that had been operating in Bhutan, using it as a base. Bhutan rejected a deal with the militant groups to cease the operation in exchange for their relocation and instead cooperated with Indian troops situated at the border to capture and hand over the rebels. In 2017, Indian and Chinese military troops engaged in a standoff at the border between India, China and Bhutan, instigated by China’s move to expand its road construction into “disputed territory.” India stepped in to assist the Bhutanese military in pushing China away, citing the Friendship Treaty.           

                              Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded his two-day visit to Bhutan on August 18. The purpose of the visit was to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the two nations with a special focus on space technology, education, and trade cooperation.  Modi’s recent visit to Bhutan is the first since his visit in 2014, which marked his first foreign trip as PM of India. Prime Minister of Bhutan Lotay Tshering and Modi signed 10 Memoranda of Understanding, many of which focused on educational collaboration between universities in India and Bhutan. Seeking to stimulate energy trade, Indian trading company PTC India Ltd, signed a power purchase agreement with the state-run, Bhutanese Druk Green Power Corp Ltd to purchase surplus power from Bhutan’s Mangdechhu Hydro Electric Project, which was “inaugurated” during Modi’s visit. Additionally, to promote Bhutan’s space technology sector, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) helped to produce the Ground Earth Station for the South Asian Satellite, also inaugurated during Modi’s visit.

                             PM Modi also implemented the Rupay card system in Bhutan. According to Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, the inauguration of the Rupay system in Bhutan will be directed towards “Indian travelers in Bhutan” at first, with the hope of working towards “empowering” banks in Bhutan to issue RuPay cards to Bhutanese citizens and strengthen commercial ties. India affirmed its role in supporting Bhutan’s developmental progress with a commitment to give Bhutan Rs five thousand crore, which converts to roughly seven-hundred million US dollars worth of aid.    

                             Modi’s two-day itinerary also contained a significant cultural component. Upon his arrival in Bhutan, he was greeted by a red-carpet followed by a welcome ceremony at the Tashichhodzong Palace, where he was presented with a Chipdrel procession and a guard of honor. PM Modi met with the resident monks at Simtoka Dzong, a Bhutanese landmark and religious centre, and planted a religiously symbolic Cypress tree sapling. The two Prime Ministers exchanged sentimental words regarding the relationship between India and Bhutan. In a speech he gave at the Royal University of Bhutan, Modi described Bhutan as embodying the concept of “Gross National Happiness”. Prime Minister  Lotay Tshering described the durability of the bilateral relationship saying, “India and Bhutan may vary in size but our beliefs, values and motivation are common. Today, I am overwhelmed with the sense pride that the two countries are living the definition of true friendship.”     

'Pakistan will make a lot of mistakes'

‘A couple of Pulwamas will bring the two nations to war and it will be limited to J&K itself.’

“We are heading progressively towards a deteriorating situation on the LoC,” says Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (retd).

As commander of the XV Corps based in Srinagar, Gen Hasnain conceived the 'Hearts Doctrine' in Kashmir, and has been hailed as the people’s general. He tells Rediff.com’s Archana Masih what is the best way forward in Kashmir.

What will be the security challenges before the Indian Army and security forces when the clampdown in Kashmir is lifted?

This is a strategic decision at the highest level. In purely military terms, a strategic decision has to be made actionable -- and that is done operationally.

The threats will have to be visualised. The threats emanate from three areas which can undo this strategic decision.

One, the international domain: Pakistan will try and paint India as the villain. It will try and take advantage of what transpired between President Trump and Imran Khan.

The misunderstanding of the term ‘mediation’ and exploitation of the perception in the US; and the exploitation of the changing geopolitics of the Indian Subcontinent.

All this is a plus for Pakistan and they will try to exploit it.

The first occasion where Pakistan will definitely go international and try to brow-beat India once again will be when the United Nations General Assembly begins on September 17.

India has to counter this with a strong campaign which is not diplomatic alone, but with an information based campaign.

It should not only target the diplomatic community of the world, but also the strategic communities -- the various thinks-tanks of Washington, Brussels, Paris, London, Sydney, Singapore etc. We should have the Indian voice everywhere giving a justification for why this was done.

Second, Pakistan wants to keep the J&K issue alive. The best place to do it is on the Line of Control. Tensions have already built up in the last 10-12 days, in the Kashmir segment in particular.

In the last 15 years, most of the tension on the LoC was primarily in the Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch areas, but now Uri, Tangdhar, Gurez etc are becoming very active.

You are finding artillery and mortar firing across the LoC in the Kashmir segment which is a rare thing. This is in aid of the traditional understanding that we have always had of infiltration related to heavy amount of firing by Pakistan to assist in infiltration.

Let’s relate it to why infiltration is required at this time.

Infiltration is desperately required because the terrorist numbers have fallen drastically. This year recruitment has been completely down -- 47 confirmed recruitments till June 30, compared to 190 in 2018.

One of the most important elements of terrorism is human resources, so it makes it necessary for Pakistan to pump in terrorists.

There is a dearth of terrorist leadership in the Valley with many being killed including Zakir Musa. There is no leadership for performing high profile acts.

In such a situation, pin-prick attacks will not make much difference. They will fall into Indian hands if they do that. Pakistan will need a large scale series of coordinated action and that can only be done by well experienced leaders.

So they will try to infiltrate the leadership inside.

This is the time you can expect some officers from the Pakistan army being utilised in the garb of terrorists to organise acts. This happened in 1999 in Sopore and other areas during the Kargil crisis.

What do you make of Pakistan army chief General Bajwa’s threat that they would go to any extent to protect the rights of the Kashmiris?

That is a statement by which he has opened up the whole spectrum. It means from the lowest profile hybrid war to the highest profile conventional war – you pick and choose depending on the situation.

I suspect that Bajwa’s first priority will be activating the streets inside Kashmir, similar to the situation of 2008, 2010, 2016. But I don’t think they will succeed to the extent they did that time because the Indian government very smartly over the last two years has targeted the ecosystem of terror in Kashmir.

Every year we had a list of terrorists who were killed, but what about the over ground workers? The guys who come and have a cup of coffee with the army and at the same time indulge in separatist activity.

Owners of certain big media houses in Kashmir who write insidious literature about India and in the evening are meeting army people. Professors in universities drawing salaries from the government and writing insidious literature against the government -- these are the over ground workers.

This is the ecosystem. There is also the financial ecosystem. It was an invisible system that couldn’t be penetrated easily. There have been attempts in the past to destroy it, but we have not done it seriously -- but in the last two years there has been reasonable success.

Therefore, money has dried up, and the threat of arrests, investigations, raids on J&K bank, threats against high profile families -- all these have gone into diluting the ecosystem.

So the level of terrorism that Bajwa could expect in Kashmir may not come about. The next 10-15 days will tell us because Kashmir is under a lockdown. The first signs will emerge as soon as the curfew is lifted.

There is no defiance of the curfew unlike what happened in Burhan Wani’s time.

Do you fear an upsurge of violence after the measures are removed?

I don’t. The leadership has lost its confidence. Unless the mainstream political parties PDP and NC become like separatists, then that is a completely different matter.

The leadership is in a quandary. The Government of India must help the polity to come out of it and regain self-esteem. Not having a polity in Kashmir is not good. All kinds of elements will enter that space otherwise.

My initial fear was if government measures would push mainstream regional political parties into the separatist fold. But looking at the manner in which Omar [Abdullah] has been handling it particularly, I think they will come around.

There are sops that the Union Territory status is not permanent and when governance improves it may revert. It may never happen, but at least they are saying that it may revert to a status of a state.

If you search your heart, the issue is governance to a large extent. By making it a UT, while they may be diluting the self-esteem of the polity of Kashmir, definitely they will bring the administration and governance under greater central oversight.

The bureaucracy will be more answerable and that may improve overall governance of the state.

People are actually fed up of the corruption and lack of governance in Kashmir.

How long do you think Kashmir will remain under siege?

It is transitional. I think the decision was taken keeping in mind that we are approaching Independence Day when there will be a major threat in the Valley.

The government has been able to paralyse the state to a great extent and therefore for anyone to rally around at this time is going to be a very big challenge.

On August 15, if there is no major attempt at breaking curfew, the clampdown will start progressively diluting after August 15.

General, you were complimented for your measures to win the hearts and minds of Kashmiris as commander of XV Corps. What advice would you give if the PM asked you how to reach out to the Kashmiri people?

At the moment there is no one in India who has the confidence of the people of Kashmir -- like Atal Bihari Vajpayee -- who can actually reach out to the people and convince them that what is happening is good for them.

Neither is there a political party or a community of people who can do that.

My suggestion to the Government of India would be that at this time political consensus works to your advantage.

I quote the example of 1994 when Narasimha Rao’s government was under intense pressure internationally on human rights. He sought the support of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and they passed the joint resolution in Parliament saying that entire territory of J&K belongs to India.

That issue-based political consensus is what we need.

On the issue of winning hearts and minds of Kashmir, let’s have a joint parliamentary committee. They should go and meet Kashmiris, hold public meetings, seminars, meet the youth and put forth the legalities and rationale to them in a friendly manner. The government should reach out to other political parties and take their support for it.

Jammu has a very major role to play. The decision not to split up Jammu from Kashmir is probably the best decision. Someone has done his homework and understood this correctly that Indian states cannot be divided on religious lines.

Geographically isolating Kashmir to create a Muslim majority Union Territory or state would be the worst possible situation.

Indian states are divided on ethnic or linguistic lines, not on religious lines. Although there is a geographical divide between Jammu and Kashmir regions, but the connect is tremendous -- business houses depend on each other, much of the economy of Jammu depends on Srinagar, those who visit Vaishno Devi also make a trip to Srinagar, those who come to Srinagar also go to Vaishno Devi.

We should bring the people of Jammu and of Kashmir from different professions to come together through seminars on gender sensitivity, economy, education, business, sports, etc.

We always have been looking at how to integrate Kashmir with the rest of India, we have never thought about how to integrate Jammu with Kashmir first.

You have to have ideas. I spoke about this at a public function in Jammu and got a standing ovation.

Do you believe Article 370 was a hurdle in bringing development to Kashmir and, secondly, in which areas should development be brought?

The imagination and perception prevailing in the rest of India that people can go and buy property in Kashmir is an erroneous one.

There are ways of protecting Kashmiri property. Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have local laws, Nagaland and Manipur also have similar laws and outsiders can’t buy property there.

So J&K will be protected and I recommend to the government to do this so that Jammu and Kashmir are not swarmed by people.

The tourism sector will see a lot of development. Kashmir has only seen tourism development in Pahalgam, Sonamarg and Gulmarg. The scope of tourism in certain other areas is tremendous.

The start of new industry is difficult because there is no land in Kashmir apart from the higher reaches which will lead to major ecological problems.

But there is potential for eco-friendly village tourism.

These ideas were given by me to the government of J&K many times, but no one would act. Now with central oversight I hope people will be far more enthusiastic.

My recommendation to the Government of India would be to select 30-50 high quality bureaucrats who will be responsible for developing this area looking at it as a conflict zone being developed for peace.

Do you think a conventional war over Kashmir is possible?

I am very much of the thought that it is possible. Pakistan is going to make a lot of mistakes. They think that they will continue these hybrid activities and remain under India’s threshold of tolerance and acceptance.

But they will make mistakes, Pulwama was a huge mistake -- a couple of Pulwamas will bring the two nations to war and it will be limited to J&K itself.

I am convinced we are heading towards more trouble in Kashmir on the LoC. An Operation Parakram kind of situation will come up in J&K in the near future and some major incidents may happen in the Valley.

You are convinced we are heading towards war?

We are heading progressively towards a deteriorating situation on the LoC.

In the event of such a conflict, unlike the 1965 and 1971 wars when the Kashmiri population supported the Indian Army, the Kashmiris may not be on India’s side?

We did not have Rashtriya Rifles at that time. The rear areas of the Valley are well covered by the RR and CRPF battalions.

I don’t think Kashmir is going to rise up because the ecosystem has been impeded. If you don’t allow a rabble-rousing community to rise up again, the rear areas will be reasonably secure.

This article was originally posted by Rediff.com. It was posted here with the author's permission. The interview was conducted by Archana Masih

Photo Credit: Umar Ganie, Rediff.com

Pakistan needs to stop thinking of Kashmir as an unfinished business of Partition

Pakistan has repeatedly altered the status of the parts of Kashmir it controls, weakening its current protestations.

For decades, Pakistan has sought to internationalise the problem of Kashmir, hoping that it could change the territorial status quo over the erstwhile princely state. India’s decision to repeal Article 370 of its Constitution, ending the special status of Kashmir territory under its administration and dividing it into two Union territories, has had the opposite effect. It makes Kashmir an internal issue for India as well as Pakistan.

The Kashmiri leadership now has three choices: it could take the matter to the Indian Supreme Court and argue that the decision violates Indian constitutional principles; it could mobilise protests that could turn the Kashmir valley into a South Asian West Bank, along with the misery that might bring for the Kashmiri people; or it could try and see how to extract maximum advantage from the new order.

All of these options fall squarely within the framework of India’s constitutional and political system. There seems to be little role for Pakistan, or the international community, in the way forward. India has also not given up claim on all of the former princely state so that it could negotiate a final settlement with Pakistan based on on-ground realities.

If massive protests ensue and India puts them down with a heavy hand, one can expect denunciation of human rights violations. But in today’s world, human rights violations have, regrettably, lost their salience as instigators of international pressure.

Pakistan taken by surprise

When Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said ahead of India’s general elections that he saw a better chance of ‘settling’ the Kashmir issue after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election, this is not what he had in mind. Pakistani euphoria over US President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate over Kashmir too had raised Pakistani expectations that they would gain something, not lose standing on the issue altogether.

Khan and his Pakistan military mentors were clearly taken by surprise by India’s move. As if in pique, Pakistan has now downgraded diplomatic relations with India and suspended the meagre bilateral trade in protest. But that is just a weak response to domestic critics, led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter, Maryam Nawaz, who have started allegingthat Imran Khan (and the army leadership that backs him) might have ‘sold Kashmir out.’

Public opinion in Pakistan has been fed on Kashmir-related rhetoric for 70 years. But other than political noise at home, funding protests in Kashmir, and raising the spectre of nuclear war, Pakistan has few options.

Since 1989, Pakistan has tried using terrorism as leverage to force India’s hand but that has not worked either. Right now, Pakistan might not want to attract blacklisting by the UN’s Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which would be unavoidable if it tries to step up terrorist attacks.

Pakistan doesn’t have a strong case

Ideally, the people of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir should be able to live in peace with full human rights and economic opportunities on both sides of the Line of Control. That is unlikely as long as the issue is framed as an India-Pakistan conflict rather than as a matter relating to the lives of Kashmiris.

In any case, Pakistan has also repeatedly altered the status of the parts of Kashmir it controls, weakening its current protestations. In April 1949, Pakistan took over Gilgit-Baltistan (then called the ‘Northern Areas’) through an agreement with the government of Azad Kashmir and the political party, All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference.

In 1969, a Northern Areas Advisory Council (NAAC) was created, followed by the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) in 1994. Pakistan’s Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas retained all law-making powers until the 2009 Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, which created an elected legislature and the office of chief minister.

Pakistan’s stance that the status of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was yet to be settled also did not come in the way of the 1963 Pakistan-China boundary agreement that resulted in China ceding some territory to Pakistan and Pakistan recognising Chinese sovereignty over hundreds of square kilometres of land in Northern Kashmir and Ladakh.

Pakistan needs to shed inflexibility

India’s latest moves might require a change in Pakistan’s inflexible position that Kashmir is the unfinished business of Partition. That view, notwithstanding its legal merits and the strong sense of injustice among Pakistanis that stems from it, has fewer takers internationally than ever.

In 1948, when India originally took the issue of Jammu and Kashmir to the United Nations complaining about armed Pakistani raiders, a majority of the UN’s 58 members shared Pakistan’s view that princely Kashmir’s accession to India needed review.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for a plebiscite to give the people of Jammu and Kashmir self-determination, which was not implemented by both Pakistan and India. But the last UN Security Council resolution about plebiscite in Kashmir was in 1957, when the total UN membership was 82.

Now, with 193 members, the United Nations shows little interest in the issue. Pakistan’s leaders still refuse to recognise that the territorial status quo and a better life for Kashmiris might be all they can hope for. They prefer to keep Kashmir alive as a problem that is neither solved nor set aside.

Pakistan’s desire for an international solution to Kashmir seems farther from the realm of possibility than ever. In the aftermath of the recent Indian decision, the US noted that India considers it an internal matter.

Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Maldives – all members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) – acknowledged the internal nature of the constitutional changes. Among member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), United Arab Emirates (UAE) took the lead in expressing the hope that the changes would improve the lives of Kashmiris.

Imran Khan’s call to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan elicited a promise of “steadfast support” without condemnation of India. A similar call for support to Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad resulted only in a lukewarm expression of concern.

Even China’s criticism focused more on its territorial dispute with India over Ladakh than on Pakistan’s stance although the Chinese statement did refer to the dispute as “an issue left from the past between India and Pakistan.”

International relations are seldom about legalistic and moral arguments of the kind Pakistanis offer about the invalidity of then Maharaja Hari Singh’s accession and subsequent UN resolutions on Kashmir. Countries care more about their interests and Pakistan offers less and less in terms of value in relations to others.

China’s annual trade with India amounts to $95 billion compared to $13 billion with Pakistan. Turkey’s trade with India stands at $8.6 billion against $1 billion with Pakistan. Malaysia-India trade at $14 billion is 14 times more than the $1 billion of goods and services Malaysia exchanges with Pakistan.

It is time for Pakistan to take these harsh realities into account instead of just emotional and religion-based appeals to settle what could not be settled in 1947.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His books include ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military,’ ‘India v Pakistan: Why Can’t we be Friends’ and ‘Reimagining Pakistan.’ Views are personal.

This article was originally posted by The Print. It was posted here with the author's permission.

Photo Credit: Asad Zaidi/Bloomberg

A Forgotten Crisis: The Rohingya 2 Years Later

Although no longer the subject of international headlines, the Rohingya Muslim crisis continues to worsen each day with no end in sight. As of April, there are more than 910,000 refugees situated in the Cox’s Bazar district of Southern Bangladesh effectively forming the world’s single largest refugee camp. Forced to rely almost entirely on humanitarian assistance, the displaced Rohingya population, now faced with the daunting challenge of surviving the infamous South Asian monsoon season, is more vulnerable than ever to disease, poverty, and the pandemic violence that is responsible for their current state.  

Since 2017, more than 700,000 persecuted Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar and settled in Bangladesh. Mismanaged and overpopulated, the main Rohingya encampment in Cox’s Bazar is plagued by sanitation, hygienic, and pollution issues. The government of Bangladesh has refused to grant much of the displaced population refugee status, instead labeling them as Forcibly Displaced Myanmar Nationals. As a result, unregistered refugee camps lack access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene. Without ready access to private water tankers, refugees are forced to consume contaminated water from rivers or streams, increasing the spread of already prevalent water-borne diseases. Furthermore, with no organized method of sludge management or access to basic hygiene products like hand soap, infections and disease run amok and unchecked. With the monsoon season now in full swing, these issues have only been exacerbated. Since July, nearly 6,000 refugees in Bangladesh have been displaced, and 3,500 shelters have been destroyed. Lacking both the resources and support necessary to escape their current downward spiral, there appears to be no end in sight to the plight of the Rohingya people.  

To make matters worse, Bangladesh as a country can no longer support the amount of refugees for whom they provide a safety. Bangladesh has received high praise for its spontaneous decision to accommodate the massive amount of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar; however, various media outlets put the current cost of maintaining this refugee population at close to 15 million USD, an exorbitant and unsustainable sum of money considering Bangladesh has a fragile economy boasting an annual per capita GDP of just 1,827 USD. Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque told the United Nations Security Council that the crisis has gone from “bad to worse.” As the amount of refugees increasingly becomes both a financial and political burden on the government of Bangladesh, his question of why Bangladesh appears to be “paying the price for…  showing empathy to a persecuted minority population” reflects the weariness of the country.

However, hope is not lost for the Rohingya population. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) working in close conjunction with the government of Bangladesh has recently issued more than half-a-million identification cards to refugees in order to ensure better access to basic humanitarian aid. Often the first form of official identification they have ever owned, these cards represent tangible evidence that their lives will take a turn for the better. Monowara Begum, a refugee living in Cox’s Bazar, says, “This identity card has eased my life at the camps. Now, I don’t need to wait a long time in the queue to receive monthly food aids for my family.” Furthermore, in preparation for the upcoming Eid celebrations, 4,000 cattle has been gifted by NGOs and other philanthropic entities to be sacrificed, whose meat will then be distributed among the 210,000 families of refugees providing much needed relief from many who struggle daily to fight starvation. 

Despite the appearance of progress, the dire reality of the situation is that life for the Rohingya is not getting better. During an interview with The Daily Star,Former Director of the UNHCR, Dr. Shamsul Bari, stated that “the problem will continue to fester till it explodes, one way or another, in the not-too-distant future. No one should think that it will be resolved over time.” Unless the Rohingya people are given the opportunity to reclaim their homeland in Myanmar without fear of another ethnic cleansing, the underlying tension and hostility between the Rohingya and the Burmese will endure. As can be seen with the Palestinians and the West Sahrawis, history dictates that no matter how much time passes or aid is given, the Rohingya will never stop dreaming of their stolen homeland. Without a concerted effort from world powers to put pressure on the government of Myanmar, the Rohingya crisis that world and the media has so easily forgotten about, is doomed to be remembered as just that, another humanitarian crisis that the world did nothing about.

Photo Credit: Time Magazine

Eighth Round of Negotiations Concludes: Peace Anywhere in Sight?

The eighth round of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban concluded this week with no clear outcome or deal to secure peace. U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan,  Zalmay Khalizad, upon the conclusion of the latest round of talks, claimed that the discussions, which centered around “technical details” were productive. A Taliban spokesman had also suggested before the eight round began that a deal was imminent. However, there are reasons to be skeptical. The Taliban’s chief negotiator stated in April that the United States is on the “verge of defeat,” and confidently claimed that U.S. troops would soon withdraw either by choice or by force.   

 The U.S.-Taliban talks are aimed at securing a peace deal before the Afghan presidential election on September 28. The American public’s opinion of the 18 year-long war has been divided. U.S. involvement in Afghanistan has come with a price tag of over one trillion dollars and the deployment of thousands of troops. Most opposition to the war seems to be based on the notion that in so far as the U.S. has been involved, the U.S. has failed to diminish the authority and violent activities of the Taliban, pointing to the expansion of Taliban controlled territory and a rising number of civilian deaths.   

However, with the exception of a few excursions targeting Taliban officials and terrorist activities, the central purpose of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan has currently been to equip the Afghan government and military with the training to take control of its own security and defense,  an ability which it previously lacked. For the past several years, the Afghan National Army has been “on the front line” battling the Taliban. Unlike the earlier years of the war, the Taliban now no longer has a stranglehold on central transportation and urban areas, and in the few times that it has been able to control major cities, it has only been able to do so for an extremely short time.  

 Now, whether or not the Taliban discussions are the means by which the U.S. will maintain its strategic interests and support the Afghan government is a separate question from whether or not the U.S. ought to immediately pull out. Some consider the negotiations themselves to be futile and do not foresee the Taliban making any genuine concessions. If these discussions are to continue, there need to be clear boundaries set by the U.S. The Taliban must not allow other terrorist groups to take refuge in the territory it occupies. And the Afghan government cannot be excluded from an agreement, as to do so would affirm the Taliban’s de-legitimization of the Afghan Government and would undermine their trust.  

So far, in the eight rounds of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban, the Afghan government, considered by the Taliban to be a puppet of the U.S., has not been included, per the demand of the Taliban. Afghan President Ashram Ghani expressed disapproval of the Afghan government’s exclusion, saying “Our future cannot be decided outside…We don’t want anyone to intervene in our affairs.” Meanwhile, the Taliban has insisted that an intra-Afghan discussion will only take place after a resolution between the U.S. and the Taliban.   

 As the discussions continue, the U.S. ought to remain weary of legitimizing the Taliban by making drastic concessions. Additionally, promises made by the Taliban must be demonstrated through actions, as a simple written agreement would require a level of trust which simply cannot exist with any given terrorist organization—this is especially true given that throughout the duration of the Doha talks, the Taliban has continued to routinely carry out attacks in Afghanistan, killing innocent Afghan citizens, U.S. military personnel, and humanitarian workers. It is hard to foresee the Taliban coming to any agreement that doesn’t include the U.S. quickly pulling out troops, but one thing is for sure, a hasty withdrawal is not the answer.    

 

 

 

 

 

Modi Should Keep His Promise and Enact Bold Economic Reform

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sailed into his second term with an overwhelming mandate by the Indian people, and the political capital to pass sorely needed economic reforms. Yet, the departure of many liberal economists, including former IMF alumnus and chief economic advisor (CEA) Arvind Subramanian, does not bode well for India’s economic prospects in Modi’s second term. If Modi wants India to reclaim the position of the world’s fifth-largest economy and rebound from this year’s declining economic growth, he must fulfill his promise to the Indian people and enact genuine business-friendly economic reforms, rather than continue the failed policies of patronage development.

In 2015, Modi sought to reform land ownership laws that limit economic development, but he was forced to backdown due to political pressure and public appeals by the Congress party. The political unpopularity of policies considered “low-hanging fruit in opening up the Indian economy,” such as “easing labor and land-acquisition laws, privatizing state-owned companies and hacking back government’s restrictions on agriculture,” have historically hampered meaningful economic reform. 

Modi’s first term has been no different, according to Carleton University professor of economics Vivek Dehejia, with the last five years being marked not by reform, but rather increasing government efficiency. Professor Dehejia goes on to say that the “BJP has shown it isn’t willing to risk votes for a theoretical boost in economic expansion.” More bluntly put by Sonali Ranade and Sheilja Sharma of ThePrint, “the BJP, which projected itself as the true champion of economic reforms at election time,” has continued to pursue the same “statist welfarism” that the Congress Party was “pilloried for.” The BJP’s national spokesperson for economic issues, Gopal Krishna Agarwal, has indicated that this aversion to reform will continue, saying that the government is focused on “the better implementation of existing laws,” and that “[a]t present India doesn’t require…structural big-ticket reforms.”

Yet, on August 12, in an exclusive with the Economic Times, Mr. Modi outlined economic reforms he hoped to implement that would attract more foreign and domestic investment, including “liberalising our FDI policy, simplification of labour laws, further enhancing ease of doing business, power sector reforms, asset monetisation and asset recycling in public sector, and reforms in banking, insurance and pension sectors.”

Prominent Indian economists and groups have also called on the government to enact these kinds of structural reforms. Rathin Roy, director at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy and a member of Prime Minister Modi’s Economic Advisory Council, believes India is headed toward a “structural crisis,” with the economy growing based on what “the top 100 million of the Indian population wants to consume.” Averting this crisis will require changing the engine of demand, accomplishable only through changes to India’s economic strategyNITI Aayog, the Indian Government’s policy think tank, has set up a task force to prepare a blueprint for structural reforms in the agriculture sector.

According to Ravi Aron, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, the key areas of reform the Modi government should target include “labor reforms; divestment and privatization of state-owned enterprises; and unwinding protectionist policies that restrict foreign direct investment.” Reform to the Industrial Disputes Act, which has stifled labor flexibility and “choked the growth of manufacturing labor in India for more than 40 years,” could actually increase employment. Increasing labor flexibility would resolve employer reluctancy to hire employees who are practically unfireable under the current law.

That said, Aron is not optimistic that Modi will enact truly structural reforms, instead opting for “slightly cosmetic changes” that will not upset entrenched special interests, like labor unions. In terms of divestment and privatization, Modi already has cabinet approval to privatize “some two dozen public sector undertakings (PSUs).” Yet, Modi’s first term was marked by a reluctance to take meaningful steps toward privatization, “except at the margins,” and largely in the form of divestment from minority stakes in companies to manage budget deficits. Opposition by some vocal Hindu nationalists in the RSS to divestment from state-owned enterprises only further decreases the likelihood that the BJP will pursue full scale privatization of state companies. In all five years of Modi’s first term, there has not been a single large privatization of any major public company.

Especially in the financial sector, it is unlikely that Modi will push for privatization. Public sector banks, which are already highly exposed to bad loans, have been regularly used to finance other public sector enterprises and development projects. It is unlikely that Modi would privatize companies that are “core to his welfarist strategies, including banks.” Modi’s first term was marked more by development schemes like toilet construction, cooking gas provisions and other populist measures, than by business-friendly policies. 

But, despite entrenched opposition and few political incentives to implement broad structural reforms, Modi is nonetheless well positioned to take the bold action required to liberalize the Indian economy. With the BJP winning an outright majority in 2019, Modi should use his second term political capital to make the difficult decisions necessary to propel the Indian economy toward the $5 trillion GDP target. With the depth of the Prime Minister’s mandate, it’s no longer a question of the political feasibility of enacting reform, but a question of Mr. Modi’s political will to do so.

Photo Credit: India Today

Understanding the US-India Strategic Defense Partnership

The US-India relationship is one of the most important in the world.  As the oldest and largest democracies, respectively, the United States and India have formed an especially close relationship, particularly in the post-Cold War era.  Indeed, Americans have a highly favorable view of India, with a 2017 Gallup poll indicating that 74 percent of Americans view the South Asian country favorably.  For a Pew Research poll taken during the same year, 49 percent of Indians had a favorable view of the United States, while only 9 percent displayed an unfavorable view.  Such views are indicative of budding ties between Washington and New Delhi. 

Although Indian foreign policy strives to maintain its non-aligned status by not entangling and entrenching itself with one great power or coalition-alliance over another, it has been deepening its military cooperation with the United States.  In the 21st century, both countries have participated in a number of military exercises that seek to boost their military preparedness and interoperability.  Both armed forces have on an almost consecutive annual basis participated in the Yudh Abhyas military exercises (consecutively since 2004), and last year commenced the Vajra Prahar military exercise.  Both countries’ navies, along with Japan, have participated in the Malabar naval exercises.  These exercises are largely aimed at countering China’s presence in the Indo-Pacific, particularly as a response to Beijing’s increasing activity in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. 

In addition to military exercises, the United States and India have sought to harmonize their militaries in technological and intelligence domains.  Recently, both countries have been holding high level meetings to sign various agreements that would facilitate technology transfers and intelligence sharing. 

According to Sudhi Ranjan Sen, writing for the Hindustan Times, the two countries are likely to finalize two critical agreements: the Industrial Security Annexure (ISA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).  The ISA serves as an addition to the General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which enables the US government and defense companies to share classified information with Indian private defense manufacturers.  While the GSOMIA allowed sharing between these US actors and the Indian government and Indian government-owned defense firms, this addition opens up sharing to the Indian private sector.  Meanwhile, the BECA will allow India to use US geospatial maps to achieve pinpoint military accuracy of automate hardware systems and weapons, such as cruise and ballistic missiles, and even drones.  This comes at a particularly important moment after India recently carried out an anti-satellite missile test in late March.  The test, which caused space debris to spread and potentially impact other nearby satellites, briefly increased worries about heightening tensions in space.  Such advanced technologies would allow India to refine its anti-satellite capabilities. 

Both countries have already signed two military agreements: the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) and Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).  The first agreement allows the US to transfer communication equipment to India to facilitate secure transmission of data and real-time information between the two countries’ armed forces.  The second agreement allows both armed forces to use each other’s facilities and eases access to supplies and services. 

In addition, India has sought to diversify its military procurements portfolio by relying less on Soviet and Russian equipment.  Although it has made steps to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense system—and facing potential US sanctions for doing so—India has also been open to furthering arms agreements with the US.  In fact, in the past decade, the country has purchased $15 billion USD worth of American military hardware.  Currently, both Lockheed Martin and Boeing are vying an arms deal worth an estimated $15 billion USD to manufacture over 100 fighter planes in India. 

However, according to The Economic Times’ Manu Pubby, it is unlikely that the two countries will sign the BECA.  Though the ISA is likely to be formally signed in the near future, the BECA’s signing remains stalled because for Indian Defense Secretary Sanjay Mitra, “too many issues” still remain unresolved.  This comes in contrast to an article by Firstpost, published in early August, that suggested that, “Although India initially had reservations on geospatial mapping on grounds of national security, the Narendra Modi government has made up its mind to sign BECA, provided its concerns are addressed.” 

Ultimately, despite the BECA’s finalization remaining uncertain, the fact that the US-India strategic defense partnership has already evolved to this stage reveals both the depth and breadth of this relationship.  With joint military exercises to continue unabated and further Indian military procurements of US equipment likely in the works, defense cooperation will be further strengthened.  For India, the partnership represents an opportunity to modernize its armed forces and enhance its capabilities and standing as a great power.  For the United States, India is a critical component in its Indo-Pacific strategy to counter China. 

Although trade disputes and other issues linger, both countries view each other as vital for addressing economic and security matters.  Former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in a 2017 speech at the US think tank CSIS, said, “Indians and Americans don’t just share an affinity for democracy; we share a vision of the future.  The emerging Delhi-Washington strategic partnership stands upon a shared commitment upholding the rule of law, freedom of navigation, universal values, and free trade.  Our nations are two bookends of stability on either side of the globe standing for greater security and prosperity for our citizens and people around the world.”  Regardless of which political party governs in New Delhi or Washington, the US-India strategic partnership is here to stay. 

Photo Credit: US Department of State

Brewing Tensions: Talking Tea and Terror from the South

“trade friction [were] started by the US, if the US wants to talk we will keep the door open. If they want to fight, we will fight until the end…Bully us? No way,”

~General Wei Fenghe, Chinese Defence Minister at Shangri-La Dialogue 2019

Geography can provide safety and prosperity. It can also leave a country’s citizens exposed and struggling.  Sri Lanka is located at the busy center of East West Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs) in the Indian Ocean. It is a strategic maritime hub. Her people have become prisoners of location, increasingly defined by external spheres of influence from powerful nations.

Trade wars between US and China have heightened hurting global trade. Chinese companies are accused of cyber espionage and labelled as a direct national security threat to the US.  Singapore will need to take a different perspective on their 5G network if Chinese telecommunication products are seen with suspicion. Quoting his father Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore said at the Shangri La Dialogue,

“When elephants fight, the grass suffers, but when they make love, the grass suffers also.”

The US-China rivalry has caused multiple effects and many nations are already paying the price.

Donald Trump’s thirst for a trade war with China is wholly misguided. It will likely hurt American consumers just as much as it does the Chinese, explains  Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History at Oxford University in his book entitled The Silk Roads: A New History of the World. The USA has extended the trade war from China to the Middle East through sanctions on Iran. A recent statement by President Trump declared, “US air force was cocked and loaded to attack three Iranian targets...but called off the strike with 10 minutes to spare after being told that the airstrike might kill as many as 150 people in Iran.” A direct military confrontation will take much more than a hundred and fifty lives. An asymmetric confrontation is already in place between US and Iran. It is carried out by proxies who destabilize the region and its surrounds.

A destabilized Middle East region has sent multiple waves of security and economic threats. It echoes and enters across seas into islands such as Sri Lanka. The Middle East origin of ISIS and effects of trade sanctions on Iran have hit Sri Lankan tea exports, a primary export commodity.

The Trump administration has tightened the noose on Iran, with her ability to export oil directly affected. Ships are advised to avoid Iranian territorial waters. Located between Oman and Iran, the Strait of Hormuz, is vital for transporting over one-sixth of global oil production and one-third of the world’s liquified natural gas (LNG). A total of 40% of the world’s seaborne oil and roughly 60 percent of crude oil pass through the 39km long Strait and goes to China, Japan, South Korea, and India. The tensions at the strategic choke point have escalated after multiple attacks to oil tankers. President Donald Trump has directly accused Iran for the attacks, while the US 5th fleet is securing the sea lanes.  Strangling Iran is seen as the only strategy to stabilize the Middle East region. The escalation of tensions and resentment  at the social and political levels will lead to a further unstable region. The geopolitical effects will ripple the world over.

Global energy security requires a stable Middle East region. Nations cannot be expected to downgrade their profile in the region and coerced into stopping concessional oil imports from Iran. Heavy-handed US tactics have led to a sharp rise in the oil import bill. US attempts to undercut many nation’s strategic ties with Iran are going to pose serious challenges for their internal foreign policy. Short-term US unilateralism will bring instability to the entire Middle East region and surrounding nations. It is inevitable that many nations including Sri Lanka will have to face the indirect economic consequences. The impact to Sri Lankan tea exports is already felt due to sanctions on dollar transactions with Iran by the US. Iran is one of the top five markets for Sri Lankan tea. In 2018, Sri Lanka sold 23,914 metric tonnes (MT) of tea to Iran compared to previous year which was much higher at 27,418 MT.

In the backdrop of US trade sanctions to Iran and trade war with China, then-US Acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan released the first comprehensive strategic document on the Indo-Pacific at the Shangri-La Dialogue.The Indo-Pacific Strategy Report (IPSR) opens to identify the Indo Pacific—the massive geographic construct—as the Department of Defence’s “priority theater”. Sri Lanka is referenced 13 times in the IPSR, from the importance of her strategic location, to building military partnerships, political instability and the Chinese debt repayments.

The IPSR highlights the People’s Republic of China, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, as seeking to reorder the region to its advantage by leveraging military modernization, influence operations and predatory economics to coerce other nations. The report identifies China as a ‘revisionist power’ accusing China for undermining the ‘International System by exploiting its benefits while simultaneously eroding the values and principles of the rules-based order’. On Chinese investments, the IPSR points out its one-sided and opaque deals are inconsistent with the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific and are causing concern in the region. IPSR references three nations, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka in this regard.

India’s Prime Minister at the 2018 Shangri-La dialogue refers to Indo-Pacific eleven times in his keynote address. While his previous tenure witnessed a series of defense-related agreements including the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) allowing the Indian and US forces to use each other’s facilities signed in 2016., the next agreement to follow was Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), allowing the US to transfer communication equipment to India for the secure transmission of data and real-time information, which was signed in 2018. Finally, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BESA), the last of the three agreements which is likely to be signed soon.

In a similar manner, the USA has put forward renewal of several defence-related agreements to Sri Lanka the ACSA(Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement) and SOFA (Status of Forces arrangement) which is at the center of discussion in the Sri Lanka at many levels due to the dual position taken from Prime Minister and the President from the Government. The ACSA was concluded in 2017 without considering the inputs provided by the national security think tank under Ministry of Defence, and SOFA is now on the table. These agreements need to be discussed and amended according to the Sri Lankan regulations and laws. The narratives from certain critics are highly politicized and would stain the relationship between the two countries if such observations are believed to be accurate. SOFA has been signed in many countries after careful consultation with their respective legislatures. Sri Lanka should do the same and amend accordingly and proceed. President Sirisena has taken a strong position rejecting the SOFA in its present state pointing out as a threat “I will not allow the SOFA that seeks to betray the nation. Some foreign forces want to make Sri Lanka one of their bases. I will not allow them to come into the country and challenge our sovereignty,” said while Prime Minister denied the SOFA would lead to a permanent US presence on the island.

In the midst of US military agreements and the cancellation of the recent visit by the US Secretary State Mike Pompeo to Sri Lanka, the Chinese built P-625 vessel with fire power was donated by China to enhance patrolling capabilities of the Sri Lankan navy and arrived at the Port of Colombo on the 8th July. A month before General Wei Fenghe, Chinese Defence Minister at the Shangri-La Defence Dialogue in Singapore made his remarks clear to the entire audience that China will not be bullied. After Sri Lanka signed the ACSA a Chinese officer was also clear to articulate his position to this author that don’t be surprised if China also sends a similar agreement to the Sri Lankan Government in the future.

Each year the Chinese footprint expands in Sri Lanka and its Indian Ocean vicinity. The US, witnessing the Chinese influence as a strategic threat will invest in Sri Lanka and enhance the regional maritime security and collaborations to secure bilateral military agreements. The great power struggle between US-China has affected the Sri Lanka’s security, economy and foreign policy. While US administration is vocally concerned about 150 Iranian lives, it is also essential to understand the global effects of unilateral sanctions to China and Iran, and their clear effects on other nations.

 Asanga Abeyagoonasekera is the director general of the National Security Think Tank of Sri Lanka (INSSSL) under the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense. The views expressed here are his own.

Thailand: The Future of “Act East” in an Era of Modi 2.0

With a trilateral naval exercise scheduled to take place later this year with Thailand and talks underway surrounding Thailand’s intention to purchase Indian BrahMos supersonic missiles, it is clear that New Delhi has set its sights on the strengthening of Indo-Thai relations as the next step in Prime Minister Modi’s “Act East” Policy.

Historically, India and Thailand have not shared a very strong relationship. Between 1947 and 1992, the Prime Minister of Thailand has only visited India twice, both of which were extremely brief, uneventful meetings. In 1983, Thai Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda took a tour of South Asia, visiting Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh, but failed to make even a short trip to India along the way. However, India too did not make an effort to increase diplomatic relations with Rajiv Gandhi, in 1986, being the only Indian Prime Minister to visit Thailand during this entire time period.

However, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, New Delhi has adopted a so-called  “Look East” policy to aid in its search for a new partner to fill the economic and strategic hole left behind by the Soviets. Kick started by former Prime Minister of India, Narasimha Rao, the policy mirrors Thailand’s own “Look West” policy, which was launched in 1996, marking the beginning of a period of renewed India-Thailand cooperation. In 2003, Thailand became the first member state of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to create a Free Trade Area (FTA) with India. Close to a decade later in 2012, former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited India as chief guest of its Republic Day celebrations. She returned in December of that year to take part in the Commemorative Summit, celebrating  20 years of the Dialogue Partnership between India and ASEAN. After these visits, bilateral trade between the two countries rapidly increased, reaching around 9 billion USD during the 2014-2015 fiscal year and is expected to reach 16 billion USD per annum by 2021. Over the course of the past three decades, on account of now almost regular economic and strategic exchanges, India and Thailand’s relationship has evolved into a blossoming partnership.

According to sources at the Hindu, “negotiations are on” between India and Thailand regarding the sale of Indian BrahMos missiles. This comes on the heels of the Royal Thai Navy Chief Admiral Ruddit’s visit to India in December, reflecting the effectiveness of increased visits between high level members of the Modi government and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government. Furthermore, Thailand has requested India for assistance in the repair of their Dornier maritime patrol aircraft. Bangkok has become increasingly dependent on India for not only weaponry and other forms of militarial infrastructure but also as a key source of support in maintaining its autonomy in the Indian Ocean, one of the most highly militarized bodies of water in the world. As China aims to increase its presence in both the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, the upcoming trilateral exercise between India, Singapore, and Thailand is of utmost importance. First proposed by Prime Minister Modi during the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore, the exercise not only serves to deter China from meddling in the affairs of India, Thailand, and Singapore but also is part of a larger effort by Modi, which is laid out in his “Act East” policy, to create a network of alliances within Southeast Asia. Aside from this exercise, Modi has carried out numerous joint operations with other ASEAN nations such as Indonesia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. 

Although the recent general elections are behind him, it is clear that Modi has not forgotten about the proposed partnerships with Southeast Asian nations that played a central role in the foreign policy of his first term. If Prime Minister Modi’s latest efforts to woo over Thailand with promises of advanced technological weaponry and Indian milarial support serve to show anything, it is that as the world increasingly worries about a rising China, it must not overlook a rapidly growing India, whose promising alliances with Southeast Asia may soon be a key factor in isolating China.

Photo Credit: Sputnik International

Taking to the J&K streets

The trigger for this essay comes from the mounting protests in Hong Kong; an advanced society in the throes of street turbulence. Sooner than later China may throw caution to the winds and send in the People’s Liberation Army to take over the territory and quell democracy. But my focus is elsewhere, on home territory, Kashmir. Having faced street protests there for many years it’s a different ballgame to Hong Kong. I am drawn back to it because of the rumours in the air of impending changes that could act as triggers. Kashmir usually sits on the edge and street violence, for the last ten years, has been a norm. Will we see it implode again as it did in 2008 with the Amarnath Shrine Board agitation, in 2009 with rumours connected to the Shopian rape case, in 2010 with the Machil and Tufail Mattoo incidents and in 2016 with the killing of Burhan Wani? I am not examining here anything remotely related to the merits and demerits of Article 35A, the abrogation of which is being assessed as a likely trigger.

The power of the street was realised by the separatists in 2008 taking inspiration from the Palestinian Intifada. Little known but the other inspiration for Kashmir’s street turbulence was a book called ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’ by an American scholar called Gene Sharpe. The latter is considered the father of modern revolutions and his chapter — ‘98 Ways of Non-Violent Action’ has inspired many of them. Syed Ali Shah Geelani is known to have read it and been inspired by it.

In Aug 2008 when we faced the murderous one lakh strong mob which attempted to march from Sopore to Uri, there was no social media. Yet thousands of people poured into the streets. None of us, the army, intelligence services or JK Police were prepared for it.  Thereafter, seasoned commanders of anti-terrorist operations were taken aback by the vehemence and passion in the streets. They had little idea about dealing with such protests.

Many a time women led the front pushing even children ahead. Over a period of time, the art of street violence was near perfected by the Kashmiri protestors no doubt with some guidance from across the LoC. Social media expansion became the means of rallying protestors, taking inspiration from Tahrir Square, the Lotus Revolution and many other such protests of the Arab Spring. As the age of the street protestor became younger we witnessed 11 and 12-year-olds take to the streets. From 2014 an innovation entered into the methods with protestors rallying in support of terrorists cornered in houses through intelligence-driven cordons. This proved a major challenge for the security forces (SF) and led to more civilian casualties. The notion that separatists support nonviolent ways of protest has been a misnomer successfully fed to human rights organisations.  In 2008-10 two recalls are of significance. First, the Army held a moral sway; its young company commanders had the networking skills and courage to walk up to leaders of protesting mobs and dissuade them many times to put an end to the protest in their area. Secondly, while the police had the most uncomfortable and challenging job the protestors mastered ways of breaking up police squads, attracting them into by lanes and then targeting them, forcing them to fire and cause civilian casualties. 

The ecosystem of J&K, of which much is being written and spoken about today, has been the core centre of the organisational capability to run the agitation which at one time came to be termed as ‘agitational terror’ for various reasons. Protest without money power would have ground to a halt. In the town of Baramula from where the protests really began and spread there were fixed rates for each stone thrower. Stones were ‘imported’ by vehicles and stone-throwers came from other towns so that identification of leaders was difficult. The rallying of mobs was done by a large network of over ground workers (OGWs) armed with an information system multiplied many times over today due to social media. Manipulated video clips and rumours form the focus of the information system which the government establishment has a little answer for except the shutting down of the internet. Civilian casualties draw mass response at funerals and increase alienation manifold. The local media with more publications than found in Delhi or Mumbai has rarely found itself under control except during periods when curfew restricted the movement of its workers.

No one is saying that we are heading towards a period of street protests but it’s always good to be wary and cautious when attempts are being to change the tack of the strategy and campaign in J&K. The SF’s identified weakness is what the separatists consider their strength. That is the lack of a professional way of tackling mass protests. We cannot sit on a moral high horse and claim the use of minimum force when the international community throws such things in our face. Also, let us not gloat over our capability to resist international pressure. China may get away with treatment of Uyghur in Xinjiang and possibly even with handing over of Hong Kong to the PLA; that is because China does not claim democratic norms of functioning. Yet, even as Government of India is getting down to tackle issues which have never been tackled in the past it should ensure none of this is done in an unsmart way. It has done well to go after the ecosystem but the same is so strongly entrenched that it will take time. The money conduits and information system which help the separatists run the power of the streets must be legitimately choked completely. Let there be more transparency about this. 

No doubt this seems an appropriate time to tackle the separatists when Pakistan too is under pressure and attention is more on Afghanistan. Kashmir’s stamina for resistance is also low notwithstanding formation of joint resistance committees by the separatists. There are far more smart, legitimate and humane ways of controlling violence in the streets than by just pumping in a hundred companies of armed police forces. May be good to take a cue from what the Indian Army does before it sends any troops to conflict zones. It trains them for the situation and threat that they are likely to meet. Untrained soldiers or armed policemen can be a greater liability than can be imagined. Lastly, where is our information system to counter the separatist misinformation? Rumour mongering isn’t the best way of tackling such situations.

The author commanded the 15 Corps in J&K

This article was originally posted by DNA India. It was posted here with the author's permission.

Photo Credit: Stone Pelters, Reuters

The Taliban Smell Blood

Even when the Taliban talk peace, they make war. Discussions in Doha, Qatar, have not stopped their attacks in Afghanistan. One killed a U.S. serviceman Saturday. A July 7 car bomb killed at least 14 people and wounded more than 180, including scores of children. This talk-and-shoot approach reflects the Taliban’s belief that the talks concern only the orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. That won’t do. The U.S. should now suspend talks with the Taliban to drive home the point that peace, not simply withdrawal, is America’s goal.

The two sides seem to have been working at cross-purposes since the negotiations began last October. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, described the goal of his first meeting with Taliban representatives as exploring the prospect of “a peaceful Afghanistan where all Afghans see themselves included.” The Taliban insisted in their statement that the talks were about “the end of occupation and a peaceful resolution for the Afghan issue.”

After eight rounds of direct talks, and several side meetings aimed at facilitating dialogue among Afghan political factions, the Taliban’s stance on the scope of discussions remains the same.

Photo Credit: WAKIL KOHSAR/AGetty Images

Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal here

Trump promised Americans he will make them win again, but a bad Afghan deal won’t help

Once US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan, the conflict there would be a continuation of the civil war that preceded the US military involvement.

The Donald Trump administration flattered Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief General Qamar Bajwa, hoping that Pakistan will use its influence over the Taliban to advance the Afghan peace process. The recent spate of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, including the one targeting vice-presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh over the weekend, makes it obvious that the Taliban see an imminent US withdrawal as an opportunity to escalate violence, not to end it.

The optics of Khan’s visit have encouraged Pakistan’s belief in its indispensability to the US. The ongoing talks with the Taliban in Doha without a ceasefire have contributed to the Taliban’s faith in their imminent victory. But such exaggerated Pakistani and Taliban expectations could delay rather than expedite a reasonable settlement.

President Trump should now take steps, including an invitation to Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani for an Oval Office meeting, to dispel the impression that the US is ready to abandon its Afghan allies for the sake of a quick US withdrawal.

Don’t ignore the ally

As signatory to a Bilateral Security and Defence Cooperation Agreement with the United States as well as a Status of Forces Agreement that covers the presence of NATO and US troops in Afghanistan, it is Afghanistan’s government, not the Taliban or Pakistan, who should have first say on the terms of a peace settlement.

An ally is defined as “a state formally cooperating with another for a military or other purpose”. The Afghan government and its national army have fought against the Taliban alongside American troops. Even if Pakistan were to fulfil its promise of helping the United States in talking to its battlefield adversary, its role in giving the Taliban safe haven in the first place cannot be forgotten.

Trump’s eagerness to end US involvement in the Afghan war should not encourage future supporters of insurgents who attack Americans to play both sides. Any deal secured by ignoring those who fought alongside Americans while embracing those who enabled the enemy won’t work. It would only encourage other states to do what Pakistan seems to have done successfully.

Taliban & definitional differences

Even with Pakistan’s full support, which is hardly ensured, the road to peace in Afghanistan is not easy. Americans and the Taliban seem to have very different notions of peace even as they continue talks in Doha. The Taliban continue attacks across Afghanistan and seem interested only in securing American withdrawal, not in committing to an inclusive peace.

The Taliban are an ideologically motivated group and their ideology leads them to see things very differently from others. For example, the Taliban’s latest attacks have come soon after they promised in the ‘roadmap for peace’ in Afghanistan to “avoid threats, revenges, and conflicting words, shall use soft terminologies and words during their official gatherings, and shall not fuel conflict and revenge”.

How are violent attacks and suicide bombings not a violation of that commitment? According to Taliban negotiator Abbas Stanikzai, actions against foreign occupation are not the violence that the Taliban have promised to avoid. We can expect similar definitional differences even after a peace deal is finalised.

The roadmap for peace agreed to by the Taliban assures women’s rights “within the Islamic framework of Islamic values”. It also promises to institutionalise “an Islamic system in the country.” It is unlikely that the Taliban would agree to liberal or tolerant interpretations of Islam.

Similarly, the Taliban’s “assurance of zero interference from neighbouring and regional countries in Afghanistan” can only be taken with a pinch of salt. The group’s leadership continues to be based in Pakistan and it is from Pakistan that the Afghan negotiators have been travelling to Doha and other destinations for peace talks.

Make Taliban agree to ceasefire

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, had stated that talks with the Taliban were focused on four aspects and progress on all was necessary for a final deal: counter-terrorism assurances, US troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire.

Of these, the US’ decision to withdraw its troops does not require an agreement with the Taliban while the Taliban’s counter-terrorism assurances are likely to lack credibility. The Taliban have made no significant concession by ‘agreeing’ to let the US withdraw its forces in return for the promise that anti-American terrorists would not be allowed to operate from Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s refusal to accept a ceasefire is explained away as an insurgent group’s fear of losing its leverage. But only when they agree to a ceasefire would the Taliban make a real concession, which makes that the most important test of their willingness to compromise.

The term ‘intra-Afghan dialogue’ suggests that Afghanistan is back to where it was when the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001, without an effective government. At that time, the international community gathered leading Afghan personalities and cobbled together an interim government.

That situation no longer applies. Afghanistan has an elected government, however flawed some might consider it. Real negotiations for peace must eventually take place between the Taliban and the Afghan government. But the Taliban do not recognise the government, describing it as an American puppet.

Flawed deal is no win

Once US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan, the conflict there would be a continuation of the civil war that preceded the US military involvement. In her study, ‘Committing to Peace: The Successful Settlement of Civil Wars,’ Professor Barbara Walter of the University of California, San Diego established that most civil wars end in decisive military victories, not negotiated settlements.

Only a quarter (25 per cent) of civil wars end in negotiated settlements, which “tend to divide political power amongst the combatants based on their position on the battlefield”. The Taliban are likely to demand a larger chunk in power-sharing, citing their ability to attack and disrupt various parts of the country with support from Pakistan.

There is no guarantee that Pakistan will not support the Taliban in another march on Kabul like it did in 1994-96. The US government’s ask from the Pakistan government should be to help diminish the Taliban’s fighting capability, not just transporting Taliban leaders from their comfortable homes in Pakistan for talks.

Trump had promised Americans that he will make them win again. A flawed deal that does not result in peace and is projected by the Taliban as an American defeat would hardly be a win for America. The US would look better if the Taliban are chastened by the prospect of losing their Pakistani safe haven and the Afghan government that is America’s ally has a key role in negotiations.

Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C., was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008-11. His books include ‘Pakistan Between Mosque and Military,’ ‘India v Pakistan: Why Can’t we be Friends’ and ‘Reimagining Pakistan’. Views are personal.

This article was originally posted by The Print. It was posted here with the author's permission.

Photo Credit: Tom Brenner | Bloomberg