The Inadequacy of India's Climate Policy

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            Earlier this summer, Prime Minister Modi made headlines by vowing to go “above and beyond” the Paris agreement in India’s efforts to combat climate change. Mr. Modi’s stance on climate security underscores the Indian commitment to invest in renewable power and sustainable development, which is on track to supply more than 40 percent of the country’s energy needs by 2022. Behind India’s growing global leadership in emissions policy lies the very real concern over the impacts of unmitigated climate change for South Asia. India needs to increase the scope of its climate investment to include more policies that protect its many poor and at-risk people from the effects of warming. By investing in climate adaptation, India has the potential to protecting its people from deadly changes to their environment while simultaneously building stronger ties with their neighbors and increasing economic competitiveness.

            India’s desire to lead the world in sustainability stems from concerns over South Asia’s environment. South Asia is expected to be among the worst hit regions by climate change. Amidst record high temperatures in 2015, over 2 thousand Indians died to heat waves, a number that is expected to grow with time. Over 50 thousand Indian famers are estimated to have committed suicide last year due to the impact of rising temperatures on crop yields. In Pakistan, climate change threatens to exacerbate flooding and potentially destabilize Karachi, the country’s economic backbone. In Bangladesh, rising sea levels are projected to force 18 million climate refugees from their homes. It is hard to overstate the devastating potential of environmental degradation, which threatens to depress agricultural productivity and submerge cities such as Mumbai with rising sea levels.

             Experts fear that climate change will generate resource scarcities that fuel conflict in South Asia. By 2050, the extreme shifts in temperature and weather may increase food prices by 50 percent. At the same time, drinkable water will become increasingly endangered, as important glaciers which feed South Asia’s water basin dry up. Water scarcity has historically been a sore issue between India and Pakistan, and has been used as a rallying cry for violence in the past. Founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba Hiviz Saeed was quoted as saying, "India irrigates its deserts and dumps extra water on Pakistan without any warning… If we don't stop India now, Pakistan will continue to face this danger." Militants such as Saeed feed off of the discontent created by resource scarcity. As more South Asians see their livelihoods endangered, scapegoats become attractive, and conflict becomes more possible. This is because for poorer, more desperate people, militancy becomes attractive as the opportunity cost of conflict declines. Building a sustainable security architecture will therefore also require addressing climate insecurity.

             To combat the deleterious effects of climate change, India has aggressively invested in renewable technology. In 2016, India displaced the US as the second most friendly place for to do business in renewables. This is especially significant because India is projected to have one of the world’s largest energy markets for the foreseeable future. In order to meet India’s ambitious renewable energy targets, Prime Minister Modi is investing in new nuclear reactors to offset fossil fuel dependency, and is expanding hydropower in an effort to expand electricity access to the northeast.

            Unfortunately, preventive measures are unlikely to be enough to combat India’s climate issues. Even if India hits its green energy targets, it is unlikely to single handedly stop warming. The effects of climate change are being felt in the present, and need to be dealt with separately from attempts to stop future increases in greenhouse gasses. The inevitability of significant parts of climate change suggests that the Indian government should make climate harm-reduction an important priority in addition to existing efforts at prevention. These policies should be geared towards mitigating the impacts of climate change, such as flooding and heat waves. Realistically, even with total international compliance with the Paris climate agreement, the world will still experience several degrees of warming. While India should certainly continue its preventive measures of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, it needs to also commit to protecting its many vulnerable people from the inevitable impacts of climate change.

            Investing in climate adaptation would help prepare India for climate change while tackling many of its longstanding problems. Incremental, technocratic reforms which focus on alleviating the harms of climate change for the most at-risk individuals have the potential to save thousands of lives. Adaptation reforms have the potential to both shield the most at-risk from climate instability, and work towards solving longstanding social or development problems. For instance, investing in better fertilizers, drip irrigation, and crop rotations in rural India would simultaneously help adapt farmers to the impacts of climate change while addressing longstanding problems with malnutrition and rural poverty. Similarly, extending loans to Bangladesh for levees and assisting in flood protection would help stem the ongoing refugee crisis while at the same time making India a regional leader. Focusing on modernizing household cookstoves will help Indians cope with high energy prices while also addressing the 1.5 million deaths per year which result from inhaling particulate matter.

            Climate change is a serious threat to South Asian growth and stability, and the problem is not going away. Unless decisive actions are taken, mounting resource shortages and extreme weather issues threaten to kill thousands and inflame conflict. Climate adaptation presents India with an opportunity to tackle longstanding development issues while also becoming a regional leader. India needs to build upon the momentum and goodwill it has established in regards to environmental reform to prepare itself for the effects of warming.

The Death of Dissent: Free Speech, Extremism, and State Suppression in Bangladesh

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This month, the Bangladesh government is supposed to finalize the “Digital Security Act,” a new law which will — among other things — revise and possibly replace Section 57 of the controversial Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act. Meant to protect against defamation and seditious speech online, Section 57 has instead been predominantly used by the government to target the opposition. Under its vague formulation, journalists, bloggers, and activists have been arrested for incidents as trivial as criticising ministers on Facebook. At least 23 journalists have been sued since March of this year alone, and the law has been decried by civil liberty groups around the world as a “draconian assault on free expression.”  

But amidst the growing outcry for its repeal, the ruling party has only given token reassurances. At a cabinet meeting last month, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina insisted the law was not meant to harass journalists, but rather to protect against those who “want to harm the country, write against it, or against any person intentionally out of personal vengeance.” Law Minister Anisul Haque has stated, on multiple occasions, that the new Digital Security Act will clarify the ambiguities of Section 57. But the Act, a draft for which was released last year, does not offer much hope for free speech defenders. So far, in its current form, all of the mechanisms for the suppression of speech have been retained (mostly translated from the old Section 57 into a new Section 19). Equally disturbing, perhaps, is the government’s persistently noncommittal attitude; which maintains the outward appearance of concern for human rights, while inwardly tightening its authoritarian grip.

The existing Information and Communication Technology Act, first enacted in 2006, translates roughly as: “If any person deliberately publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the website or in any other electronic form, any material which is false and obscene...or causes to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person, or causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief or instigate against any person or organization, then this activity will be regarded as an offense". In 2013, despite broad criticism from human rights experts, the Awami League (AL) government amended the law to make it even more stringent. The maximum punishment was increased from 10 up to 14 years in jail, and — more significantly — law enforcement was empowered to make arrests without a warrant and detain those people, without bail, for an indefinite period of time.

Since then, according to the Cyber Tribunal in Dhaka, over 700 cases have been filed: 260 in the first half of this year alone. The law has increasingly been used — and abused —  to target and detain (without bail), not only suspected criminals and militants, but also members of the political opposition. According to Odhikar, a human rights group in Dhaka, more than 320 people have been unlawfully detained (or disappeared) since the AL took power 8 years ago. Further, the US State Department 2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices lists growing extra judicial killings, arbitrary detentions for the purpose of extortion, enforced disappearances, and torture among the abuses running rampant in Bangladesh.

In response to these condemnations, the ruling party has exhibited a familiar mix of apathy and denial. For example, after the release of a recent Human Rights Watch report, which highlighted the issue of forced disappearances and secret detentions, the Bangladeshi Home Minister dismissed the accusations immediately. “The organisation [HRW] has launched a smear campaign against us,” he said. “Whom will you say has disappeared?”

Moreover, the use of coercive tactics to suppress political opposition is nothing new in Bangladesh, and is certainly not the sole domain of the Awami League. Corruption, manipulation of the electoral process, and the intimidation of political opponents have marked Bangladeshi politics from their very first independent elections, in 1973. The triumphant “return to democracy” in 1991, after 15 years of military rule, has not changed the fundamental way power functions in the country. The most recent national election, which took place in January 2014, saw the Awami League retaining its power amidst massive boycotts and violence, and was widely discredited by outside parties.

But if suspect methods and suppression are almost as old as the nation of Bangladesh itself, what has changed since 1971 is, importantly, the rise of domestic terrorism and Islamic extremism within the country. This stream of radicalism, growing quietly for years if not decades, has taken on crisis proportions in the last few years. It has distinguished itself with a particularly sickening pattern of violence: a series of prominent “blogger killings” in which secular writers and activists have been hacked to death with knives and machetes. After the first spate of these attacks in 2013, extremist groups released a “hit list” of 83 journalists, writers, and bloggers that were labeled “anti-Islamic” and blasphemous. Since then, dozens of activists and freethinkers have been forced to flee the country, or fall silent in fear.

The possibility of such spontaneous violence would be enough, anywhere, to threaten the exercise of free speech. But the Awami League’s conspicuous absence of an unequivocal condemnation of militancy points to a larger problem. In February 2013, when prominent blogger Ahmed Haider was hacked to death by extremists with machetes, the authorities quickly arrested several men, and Sheikh Hasina personally visited the family to pay her respects. However in response to the outcry of the religious right, who threatened to take to the street against the “atheist bloggers,” Sheikh Hasina all but assured them that the government was on their side. “You [Islamic parties] don’t need to go for any movement,” she said at a party meeting that March. “As a Muslim, I have the responsibility to take action...We have already decided what action to be taken against those responsible for hurting people’s religious sentiments.”

Soon after, five writers - including four bloggers and a newspaper editor — were arrested for posting articles that were “critical of the government’s attempts to appease the Islamist demands, or said the government had failed to address the concerns of minority religions.” The police described these writers as “known atheists and naturalists,” who would be charged for “instigating negative elements against Islam to create anarchy.” The Bangladesh authorities later brought 55 cases against the editor and several writers of the country’s most popular daily, Protham Alo, for criminal defamation and “hurting religious sentiment,” and the Law Minister announced that the government would increase its control over social media, blogs, and online news websites.

Since the Holey Bakery attack of 2016, the most high-profile episode of militant violence in Bangladesh to date, the Awami League government has cracked down harder on terrorism. But in the name of this zero tolerance counterterrorism strategy, human rights abuses have only increased. The government’s long-standing history of appeasing Islamist groups, moreover, continues to cast a shadow on their commitments to free speech and secularism. Most recently, the AL has shown itself willing to compromise with the Islamist group Hefazat-e Islam (“Guardians of Bangladesh”), which emerged in 2010 to protest against secularism and women’s rights. The Hefazat famously roused crowds of over 500,000 in their 2013 Dhaka demonstration, demanding — among other things— the death penalty for blasphemers and atheist bloggers. The AL’s tacit appeasement of such a group points once again, to its “power at any cost” politics. And these politics — the politics of expediency, of illegitimate rule, of suppression and sham democratic institutions — are a threat not only to free speech defenders, but to all of civil society in Bangladesh.

The rising threat of extremist terror has placed Bangladesh at a vulnerable and critical moment in its history, one in which upholding human rights and democratic values seems particularly crucial. Yet at this exact juncture, the state has chosen to propagate a climate of fear and self-censorship, utilizing repressive laws such as Section 57 to thwart dissent. And in doing so it has confirmed, disappointingly, the problematic politics at play behind its display of democracy. 




The FRBM Report: Implications for the States in India

The first FRBM (Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management) Act for the Union Government was enacted in 2003 under Article 292 of the Constitution (read with Article 283). Article 293 stipulates restrictions on the borrowing powers of State Governments. The Union Government appointed the FRBM Review Committee  under the Chairmanship of  Mr.N.K.Singh, which submitted a four Volume Report in January 2017.

As the review Committee noted, inherent in any FRBM Rules, there is a need for two sets of trade-offs. First, flexibility in implementation should be traded of against the fiscal anchor under the FRBM Rules. Second, trade off concerns should balance flexibility with simplicity.

Often, flexibility in FRBM implementation adversely affects simplicity, transparency, ease of monitoring and clear communication to key domestic and global economic agents.

The Review Committee has argued that India needs to re-examine the current FRBM Rules and Fiscal Framework. The Committee suggests that a medium term debt ceiling, achieved in a progressive, gradual manner, be set as an anchor for fiscal policy.

The role of the anchor is to firmly set the goal of fiscal policy, with the government’s policies and behaviour designed to give confidence to domestic and global economic agents, so that they can base their decisions with high degree of confidence.

The Review Committee recommends combining the medium-term debt ceiling target with an operational target of fiscal policy.


 The main policy recommendations of the Review Committee are stated below:

1. Adopt a prudent medium-term ceiling for general government debt of 60% of GDP, to be achieved by FY23.

2. Within the overall ceiling specified above, adopt a ceiling of 40% for the centre, and the balance 20% for the states.

3. Adopt fiscal deficit as the key operational target consistent with achieving the medium-term debt ceiling.

4. A path of fiscal deficit with fixed operational targets rather than a range. 

5. A path of fiscal deficit to GDP ratio of 3.0% in FY18-FY20, 2.8% in FY21, 2.6% in FY22, and 2.5% in FY23. 

6. Reduce revenue deficit to GDP ratio steadily by roughly 0.25 percentage points each year, to reach 0.8% by FY23.

Graphically, the above recommendations are summarized in Figure below.


The views of the Review Committee are consistent with the findings of the IMF, which posit that that FRBM types of arrangements are more conducive to “…lower financing costs if they are accompanied by independent monitoring mechanisms”.


Implications for the States

The recommendations of the FRBM Review Committee will have a significant impact on the manner in which the individual States set the FRBM targets, and on how FRBM is implemented and monitored. The States guarantees of loans are likely to be monitored more closely. The role of an independent monitoring authority, such as India’s CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) is also likely to become more prominent.

The Review Committee proposes bringing States debt levels to 20 percent of GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) by 2022-23; fiscal deficit to 2.5 percent of GSDP, and revenue deficit to 0.8 percent of GSDP.

These are ambitious targets, particularly as many States have incurred additional debt under the UDAY (Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana ) scheme that focuses on the power sector. It becomes even more imperative for the States to realize operational efficiencies envisaged under the UDAY scheme.

A report by RBI (Reserve Bank of India) on State Finances suggests that a significant number of States have little or no room for debt and fiscal expansion, if they are to meet the FRBM review Committee recommendations of debt ceiling of 20 percent, gross fiscal deficit of 2.5 percent of GSDP, and revenue deficit of 0.8 percent of GSDP..

The RBI Report estimates that for the 2011-2016 period, the combined gross fiscal deficit of the states was 2.5 percent of GDP (not GSDP); but for the 2016-17 period this deficit is projected to be 3 percent of GDP. The corresponding values for the revenue deficit were 0.0 percent, and -0.1 percent of GDP. It should be noted that combined GSDP of all states is lower than the GDP of India, resulting in higher denominator. The 2016-17 estimates are based on Budget Estimates which are usually over optimistic.

The RBI Report estimates the outstanding liabilities of state government during the 2012-2017 period averaged 22.6 percent of GDP.

Moreover, the current indications are that the borrowing costs of the States are increasing. Any State perceived by the market, in an environment of growing tendency to price government debt in a market determined rather than an administratively determined manner, would find their fiscal choices severely constrained. This in turn will adversely impact their ability to benefit from the Cooperative (and constructively competitive federalism) initiatives.

Thus, J.P Morgan in its Asia Pacific Emerging Markets research report dated 13thJune 2017, finds the science of worsening state finances. It reports that even without taking into account the impact on the state’s salary and pension bill of the 7th Pay Commission report and of firm loan waivers, in some states, the state deficits have widened by almost 1 percent of GDP over the last five years.

The J.P. Morgan research also finds that the borrowings by the states are rising at a much faster rate than that of the Union Government. Thus, in 2013-14, market borrowing by states was equivalent to 34 percent of the Union Government’s borrowing, but by 2016-17 the equivalent share of the States was 84 percent. There are indications that market borrowing of the state could exceed that of the Union Government in the near future.

Another indicator reported is that the spreads of the state bond over the benchmark government security has tripled from thirty bps (basis points) to 90 bps in just two years. The states thus, face higher cost of rollovers of their debt as well as when issuing new debt.

The higher borrowing costalso has implications for other borrowers such as the corporate sector, and therefore for private investment levels.

The above analysis thus strongly suggests that the States need to accord much higher priority to improving public financial management, and in particular, progressing from a financing focus to an outcome focus through process, systems,and human resource improvements. This is important because better ranking in public financial management isnow a crucial benchmark to measure competitiveness among states in India.

Originally Published at MyInd at

Building Bridges, Building Trust: Japan and India Invest in Infrastructure

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China’s rise has made its neighbors uneasy. In recent years, China has dramatically expanded its armed forces, grown at an alarmingly fast rate, and expanded infrastructure deals such as CPEC to give itself a foothold beyond East Asia. As Beijing expands, India worries that it is being encircled by a ‘string of pearls,’ and Japan frets that it will lose control of their nearby waters and airspace. On August 3rd, Japan and India fired back with their own effort to expand and integrate themselves with the region: The Japan-India Coordination Forum and Asia Africa Growth Corridor. Tokyo and New Delhi are attempting to expand infrastructure in India’s remote North East and increase the amount of trade from East Asia through Africa. The goal is to develop an area of largely untapped economic potential, create transport corridors for regional trade with nearby nations, and expand India’s trade infrastructure. Cooperation between the democracies of Asia is not only a promising sign for sustainable development, but may substantially contribute the effort of counterbalancing the bellicose expansionism of China.

In order to appreciate the gravity of India’s growing cooperation with Japan it is important to understand the context of China’s growing influence in the region. In 2014, China launched its ‘One Belt One Road’ Initiative (OBOR). OBOR is designed to create a ‘second silk road’ by developing a vast array of maritime and land travel routes. One of the most notable projects is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which links China’s landlocked western provinces to the sea by developing transportation and port infrastructure in Pakistan. China has already committed over 60 billion dollars in various payments and loans to CPEC alone.

India and Japan worry that OBOR is a front for China to expand its military. For instance, in Pakistan, recent leaks have suggested that China is reportedly considering using the Gwadar port (which is ostensibly being developed to increase its trade capacity) as a naval base. Once China has its economic foot in the door of the host nation, resisting their requests for military bases may be difficult. Even if Pakistan wanted to, having received billions of dollars for infrastructure through CPEC, they are not in a position to turn down Chinese requests. Given the revelations that China is not averse to using OBOR ports for military purposes, Chinese investments in port infrastructure in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and other South Asian nations are viewed with suspicion by India.

The partnership between India and Japan is underpinned by a desire to increase economic growth. In the shadow of China’s behemoth of an economy, the other powers in the region need to stay competitive. Over the course of its rise, China has allocated more and more money towards the military, currently spending well over 100 billion dollars on defense. The more China is able to widen the gap between itself and its peers, the more its military will be able outstrip theirs. India and Japan understandably worry that as China economically grows and establishes links with partners across the world that they will be left isolated, weak, and poor.

In order to entrench their roles in South Asia, India and Japan have expanded their efforts at developing regional infrastructure. Tokyo and New Delhi believe that they can provide an alternative to OBOR that strengthens their position in the region and gives their neighbors an alternative to China. Right now, South Asia has one of the lowest regional connectedness of any regions in the world, and changing that may give Japan and India a means to integrate themselves with their neighbors.

One of the vital projects of the Japan India partnership is the development of the Indian Northeast. Historically remote and underdeveloped, the Northeast is the link between India and Southeast Asia. The Japanese share the Indian desire for developing these remote areas, and released an embassy statement saying “Japan has also placed a special emphasis on cooperation in North East for its geographical importance connecting India to south-east Asia and historical ties.” Echoing the Japanese desire for a corridor between India and its neighbors to the south-east, India has invested in infrastructure projects linking roads, bridges, and trains to Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

Japan is an important partner in India’s vision for infrastructure expansion. Japanese technology and finance promises to rapidly speed up the quality and quantity of development. This year saw the development of an ambitious high-speed rail line between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, using Japanese bullet train technology. The project is partially financed by Japanese loans to India, and is expected to fill a desperate gap in India’s rail network. Over 11 thousand miles of rail track in India is in desperate need of modernization, and current transportation between the two cities is stretched to capacity. The project promises to ease rail congestion and improve quality of transit between the two cities.

The broadest, and perhaps most ambitious collaboration between India and Japan is the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). The AAGC aims to build a series of maritime linkages between Africa and Asia by developing infrastructure, trade routes, and common standards. To support these initiatives, the Japan Bank of International Development has announced that it will depart from its usual practice of only funding Japanese ventures and begin financing projects headed by African and Indian firms as well. This departure from convention signals Japan’s willingness to commit to the development of trade infrastructure across South Asia. The AAGC plans on having a vision statement with a concrete list of which projects the two partners will invest in by next year. That being said, India and Japan must move quickly to keep pace with China’s rapid infrastructure investments.  

Cooperation between India and Japan is an important part of balancing a rising China. While Beijing’s economy has grown to become the second largest in the world, Tokyo and New Delhi are a formidable counterweight. Japan and India are the third and the seventh largest economies respectively, and their collaboration brings complementary advantages in technology, manpower, geography, and defense. Yet despite their advantages, both partners feel increasingly uncomfortable in a regional neighborhood that is being dominated by an aggressive China. In order for this collaboration to work, Japan and India must make good on their words and aggressively begin investing in regional connectivity. The two governments should reach out to more regional partners and break ground on more projects. China has already begun its infrastructure-expansion abroad, and only time will tell if Japan and India can match its’ pace.

India and Iran: Unravelling Ties

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On July 31st, Iran warned that it could decide not to grant the development project of the Farzad-B gas field to India, after a decade of negotiations. This statement is merely the latest stage of an ongoing feud between the two countries over the project. The quarrel, among other issues, calls into question the future of what used to be relatively good relations between Iran and India.

The Farzad-B gas field was discovered in Iran in 2008 by a consortium of Indian state-run companies, which have been negotiating with the Iranian government over the exploitation of the gas field since then. An agreement was reached in 2015: the Indian companies planned to extract 56 million cubic meters of gas per day and to export them to India.

Yet, while the deal looked like a win-win for both parties, negotiations turned into a year-long row. In what seems to be the latest retaliation, Tehran has threatened not to award the development project to India, and Gazprom, Russia’s state gas company, is to be considered in the bid. This Iranian statement comes as a response to India’s decision to reduce its crude oil imports from Iran by a quarter, since this cut was perceived as a means to pressure Iranians into granting the deal to the Indian consortium.

This vicious cycle reflects a certain lack of communication and understanding between the two parties. Beyond commercial concerns however, this feud might indicate a broader trust issue between Tehran and New Delhi.

Iran and India, once neighbors, are age old friends. Commercial and cultural links date back from ancient times. The shared heritage of these two nations can still be seen today through the influence of Farsi in the Urdu language, and the historically significant role of the Parsi community living in India. Even after India’s independence in 1947 and the Iranian revolution in 1979, their relations remained relatively unaltered. A new dynamic was set in the 2000s and Tehran and New Delhi initiated a strategic partnership, to promote better cooperation at the government-level.

However, the international sanctions imposed on Iran loosened its ties with India. Though traditionally a major trading partner, India complied with the sanctions and lowered its exchanges with Iran over the years, which explains the slowing down of the Farzad-B project negotiations. Bilateral trade attained its usual scope in 2015, when the sanctions were lifted after a nuclear deal was reached between Iran and the P5+1.

At present, Iran and India sustain ostensibly good diplomatic relations for all appearances. Indian PM Narendra Modi visited Tehran in 2016, Indian and Iranian officials met several times the same year, and Modi congratulated Iran’s President Rouhani for his re-election in 2017. Yet, behind official smiles and handshakes lie several issues, going beyond the Farzad-B feud, which can harm the future of the relations between these two countries.

The sanctions have impacted another decade-long Indian-Iranian project, the Chabahar port. Indian state-run companies are involved in the construction and management of the port, located on Iran’s coast. Along with railway networks in development, this major infrastructure project aims at connecting India to Iran and Central Asia, while avoiding unstable Afghan routes and the forbidden Pakistani ones. This project also intends to compete with the Chinese project at Gwadar port in Pakistan.

Chabahar’s development was relaunched in 2015, after the sanctions against Iran had been lifted. Yet, the honeymoon already seems over between Iran and Indian contractors. Since Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency, Indian investors are getting cold feet. With a vehement opponent to Iran in the White House, they dread the imposition of new sanctions that could make the project cumbersome. On top of that, the Iranian government has decided to open the bid for the port development to other contractors, with China in the crosshairs. Thus, an Indian-run Chabahar seems increasingly less likely.

Beyond these failing cooperation projects, Iran and India are growing apart on other fronts, ranging from oil trade to the Kashmir question.

India is Iran’s second most important importer of crude oil, and Iran is India’s third largest supplier of oil. But oil trade, which encompasses the major part of the bilateral trade between Indian and Iran, is shrinking. India is today diversifying its oil imports, increasing those from Iraq and Russia for instances, but also from Saudi Arabia, Iran’s arch rival.

India and Iran are also linked through their mutual neighbor, Afghanistan. The three countries initially cooperated on the Chabahar port project and the Central Asia trade routes. But while India is helping to promote democracy and the rule of law in Afghanistan, Iran has been accused of sponsoring the Taliban. If this Iranian support becomes official, it could be a bone of contention between Tehran and New Delhi, since the latter consistently supported the Afghan government and would therefore be reluctant to back the rebel fighters. 

These political divergences go further. Ayatollah Khamenei recently expressed support for the Muslims of Kashmir, and talked of the disputed region in terms of an independent nation. These declarations, aimed at upsetting the Indian government, were made in the run-up to Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel, Iran’s enemy. On July 4th 2017, Narendra Modi paid a groundbreaking visit to Israel, being the first PM to set foot there in 25 years. This historic event epitomized the enhancing relations between India and Israel, which Tehran looks unfavorably on.

India’s increasingly closer relations with the United States put additional strains on the relationship between Tehran and New Delhi. During a visit last June, Trump and Modi reiterated their willingness to sustain a strong relationship. But Trump takes a hard line on Iran and has voiced his discontent with the nuclear deal. He has not pulled the US out of the agreement yet, but the American Treasury issued sanctions against Iranian individuals and companies in July. Under the previous administration, India could maintain good relations with both parties, trade with Iran, and get closer to the US at the same time. However, if the new American administration takes a more severe stance, India might be compelled to choose a side. If so, it is likely to let go of Iran.

Thus, many issues hamper cooperation between New Delhi and Tehran. Once strategically closer, both countries are now looking for new allies. In view of these unravelling ties, the future does not look promising for Indian-Iranian relations.





Prime Minister Sharif's Resignation Spells Uncertainty for Pakistan

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On Friday July 28, the Supreme Court of Pakistan disqualified Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif from holding public office. The revelations came after months of hearings following the Panama Papers Scandal regarding his and his family’s corruption. While PM Sharif was not named in the leaked documents, his children Maryam, Hassan and Hussain were implicated in property purchases in London conducted via offshore holdings. These were not declared in PM Sharif’s wealth statement. The opposition led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party then filed petitions against Sharif and his family in the Supreme Court, which led to months of investigations, allegations and denials. Based on the findings by a special Joint Investigative Team (JIT) created by the Supreme Court in April 2017, a 5 judge bench unanimously ruled that PM Sharif was “not honest” under terms described in the Pakistani constitution. Following the ruling, PM Sharif filed to resign as Prime Minister, while stating his reservations regarding the verdict.  Further, the court called for criminal investigations by the National Accountability Bureau against all accused in the case.

While this development is being touted by the Pakistani opposition and civilians as a landmark decision and an encouraging step towards a corruption free Pakistan, it highlights the problems of judicial overreach and lack of constitutional sanctity for the position of prime minister.

As Pakistan’s 70 years of political history demonstrates, none of Pakistan’s 18 prime ministers have ever served a complete term. Tenures have been cut short by assassinations, military coups, judicial coups and arbitrary presidential dismissals. This event marks PM Sharif’s 3rd incomplete term as prime minister of the country, after his controversial resignation in 1993, and his dismissal in the bloodless coup of 1999. Moreover, Sharif is the second prime minister to have been disqualified by judicial order, the first being ex-Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani who was disqualified in 2012.

The role of the Supreme Court in PM Sharif’s dismissal is a troubling case of judicial overreach. PM Sharif was not found guilty via a criminal trial, but through violation of constitutional provisions under Article 62(1)(f) that demands that members of Parliament be “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and Ameen.” This provision, established under General Zia ul Haq’s tenure, highlights the fragile security of the position accorded to members of parliament and thus holders of public office, as it subjects them to unrealistically high standards of morality, while enabling their arbitrary dismissal by the judiciary. Given concerns regarding the motives of the judiciary and military in the previous dismissal of PM Gilani, this further raises questions about the motives of various organs of the Pakistani government in Sharif’s dismissal.

Given the interventionist nature of Pakistan’s judiciary, the motives behind the ruling are questionable. The JIT appointed by the SC contained currently serving members from the ISI and the military, which raises potential doubts about the independence of judicial action in this case, given PM Sharif’s anti-establishment rhetoric and tenuous relationship with the military. There is ample evidence of civil-military conflict during PM Sharif’s tenure, such as the role of the military in compelling PM Sharif to dismiss two of his top aides earlier this year. Moreover, speculations surrounding the supposedly apolitical army Chief Qamar Bajwa’s meeting with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party chief Imran Khan, indicate that the military continues to be actively involved in Pakistan’s political affairs. Pakistan’s history of military interventionism means that this may not augur well for the future of civilian democracy.

Future Prospects

The immediate priority is to occupy the vacant Prime Ministerial post. Speculations within the ruling party- the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) in the past week centered around PM Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Speaker of the National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq.  Although Minister Asif and Speaker Sadiq would have both been strong candidates, the decision was tipped towards Shehbaz Sharif from the start. On Saturday, Nawaz Sharif announced that the post of interim PM would be held by former Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi for 45 days, and that Shehbaz Sharif would run for a seat in the National Assembly to enable his take over as Prime Minister. This was unsurprising, given that Nawaz Sharif and his family hold immense clout within the PML-N.

This scandal may not spell the end of Nawaz Sharif’s political career, as experts point out that he might benefit from taking a back seat and later spinning this issue into one of political martyrdom. Sharif is also planning to challenge the Supreme Court’s decision. While the current verdict doesn’t enable him to lead from the front, he and his family will still have considerable influence on administrative decisions should his party win the next election.

Parties will have to choose a Prime Ministerial candidate for the upcoming elections in 2018. The 2018 contest however, will be a tough one for the PML-N, given the severe blow the Panamagate judgement has dealt to the party’s image. The party’s continued backing of the Sharif family and its denial of guilt, while obvious, has the potential to delegitimize their position among sections of Pakistan’s voters. The PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami will certainly capitalize on their role in filing the case against Sharif and this will most likely yield electoral benefits for them. However, given that the PML-N currently holds the majority of seats in the National Assembly and still enjoys a strong base of support in Punjab, it may be able to retain power.

The prospect of a military takeover, as ever, remains like an ominous cloud overhead. However, experts, such as Michael Kugelman at the Wilson Center for International Scholars at Washington D.C highlight that public opinion in Pakistan doesn’t currently favour military rule. He further elaborates that given the extensive influence the military already enjoys along with its concern to be positively perceived by civilians, it seems unlikely that a military takeover will take place in the near future. Indian journalist Barkha Dutt at NDTV and Ambassador Husain Haqqani at the Hudson Institute however, highlight the dark side of this influence. They point out that Sharif’s disqualification highlights that the military does not need to take over directly as it can impose its will via other existing institutions of government- in this case, the judiciary.

The verdict in the Panamagate Scandal in Pakistan thus seems to demonstrate the continuation, rather than the disruption, of the disturbing status quo of judicial intervention and military subversion. Corruption is still prevalent. Even the current face of the anti-corruption movement- Imran Khan- has publicly admitted to owning offshore assets for tax evasion purposes. The scandal re-emphasizes the continuing question about Pakistan’s failure to allow strong, democratically elected civilian governments to take root. For Pakistan to succeed as a nation on the world stage, its political parties and institutions of government need to work together to secure the future of democracy in the country.


Indians value cows over their women: An insight into India's sexual violence problem

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A recent project by Indian photographer Sujatro Ghosh- illustrating women in cow masks - has once again questioned the distressing status of violence against women in India. According to Ghosh, putting women in masks in the context of daily life addresses the disturbing fact that a slaughtered cow receives justice faster than a victim of sexual violence. Cow protection groups take only hours or days to find the person accused of killing the cow, whereas it can take years before a court punishes a woman’s assaulter.

The 2017 Human Rights Watch Country Report on India stated that the Supreme Court deemed it “unacceptable” that gender discrimination exists. Yet, despite an increase of sexual violence persecutions, Indian women do not receive the prompt investigation and safety services promised by the government. The stigma on reporting sexual violence deters women from punishing the guilty.

Additionally, statistics on crime against Indian women highlight how the problem is far from being controlled. In January 2017 alone, there were over 350 rape and molestation cases reported, and almost 50 percent of these cases remain unsolved. The Delhi police reported proactive measures taken to lower crime rates, but there was still a total of 2,155 cases of rape filed in 2016. There is an average rate of six rapes a day, highly indicative that the Indian government lacks attention on the subject.

It is no surprise that Ghosh’ photography brings about harsh criticism and threats from Hindu nationalists as his project is described to be an indirect comment on the BJP. For someone like Ghosh who strongly believes in transforming Indian society’s attitude on women, these threats are not enough to disrupt his project’s powerful message. As a nation that has coined itself a “rape capital”, India cannot afford to keep ignoring a persistent oppression against its female population. Especially when it is published by surveys that 40% of Indian women experience sexual violence before the age of 19. The only way to interpret why the problem still exists on such a large scale is to look at a history of gender discrimination.

Indian society’s oppressive nature towards women roots itself in the ideological beginnings of the country. From the time of India’s independence in 1947, only men were recognized in the fight against the British, wrote the constitution, participated in government roles, provided for their families, and continued to deform and subjugate women. Even as the nation welcomed its first female prime minister, there was no inch to back away from traditional gender roles. Today, in a land that is home to some of the world’s top female CEOs, political figures, and journalists, gang rapes, domestic abuse, and female infanticide still exist.

Men remain at the pinnacle of Indian society and have been taught to use their masculinity as a defense mechanism. According to a study on India by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in 2014, a large majority of Indian men agreed on the notion that exerting dominance on a woman and controlling her was a true sign of masculinity. Additionally, the study also reported that certain male gender norms - particularly being expected to provide for the household - greatly contributes to violence, as men often use women as outlets for household stress. Because so, the normalization of oppression against women within the Indian male population makes it increasingly difficult to change the situation.

The 2012 Delhi gang rape marked the grave reality of the modern sexual violence problem. Not only did the case receive such widespread attention because of the incoming wave of new, Indian voices targeting the government’s inability to punish the guilty, but the brutality experienced by the victim and the idea that she was a simple, middle-class girl who worked towards a promising career angered international populations, putting heavy pressure on the Indian government to reform rape laws immediately and effectively.

While domestic and international advocates were vital in addressing the 2012 case, the sad reality is that this type of backlash does not exist on a day to day basis. There can only be so much expectation for an entire population to change mentality when Indian feminism itself is flawed.

Why is it that feminists are angered by the rape of a woman in South Delhi, but do not share similar sentiments towards the gang rape of a Bihari woman? The answer lies in how the value of life changes based on urban and rural settings. Women who are victims of sexual violence in more underprivileged areas will never be able to experience marches and demonstrations in their names because their stories are merely facts on paper. Their hidden identities only add to the increasing number of cases in country reports, whereas the 2012 victim has her own Wikipedia page.

More so than flawed feminism, these protests and pleas for reforms in India’s judicial system can only prompt institutional changes. For an ideology ingrained so deeply into the culture, a significant decrease in violence has to come from within the population. This is not to say that the government should not encourage initiatives like expanding economic and educational opportunities for women, but without transforming the discourse, India should never expect to witness an eviction of its sexual violence problem.

The standard of life has improved for many Indians, but their mentality remains stagnant. Instead, women are now being taught how to survive a patriarchy. Women describe survival techniques such as avoiding parks and alleys at night, changing travel routes, and working towards a career despite the psychological consequences that emerge after an attack. The tragedy of India’s sexual violence problem continues because efforts are focused on women instead of men. Rather, Indian society needs to teach its men to disassemble the social system of dominance and oppression.





Assessing the Impact of GST on Cost- of-Living of Households

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Originally published at the Narendra Modi Website

It has been about three weeks since India’s landmark GST (Goods and Service Tax) became operational on July 1, 2017. Its impact on the overall economy business, households, and the government organisations is expected to be multi -faceted, and will be felt by different sectors over differing time periods in a dynamic and non-linear pattern.

This column focuses on the factors which need to be considered in assessing the impact of the GST on the cost-of-living of households.

The impact of cost of  living is assessed by estimating the amount a household spends on a given bundle of goods and services purchased by a household before the GST and what it spends after the GST has been implemented.

As household bundle of goods and services differs with income level, preferences, age composition, and others, the impact of the GST may vary across households. Thus, a single definitive answer to the impact of GST on households is not helpful, though there are pressures to supply it.

In the absence of a detailed household expenditure data, it may be useful toas approach the issue through a qualitative analysis of various factors which may impact on the cost of living of households due to the implementation of the GST.

 It is important to distinguish between the cost-of- living on the one hand and inflation on the other. The latter refers to persistent rise in the price level (e.g. reflected by the Consumer Price Index) year after year; while the cost-of-living refers to short term (it could last for up to six to eight months) on the cost of a bundle of goods and services that a household purchases.

To separate the impact of the GST on the household expenditure on a given bundle of goods and services, an estimation of the difference between the effective tax rate (not headline nominal tax rate) on a good or a service previously existing, and the rate applicable under the GST needs to be estimated.

This effective rate needs to be estimated, not assumed. This exercise requires the extent to which businesses and consumers have adjusted to the levying of a domestic tax on goods and services. This in turn depends on the price elasticity of demand and supply for concerned goods and services. Econometric estimates of such elasticity for Indian households are very scarce. In general, higher the price elasticity of demand, less pricing power a seller has.

It is the differential not absolute tax rate which matters. The differential rate again needs to be estimated, and this is not an easy exercise. Therefore, comparing simple addition of nominal rates of various taxes subsumed under the GST (such as central excise, service tax, and entry tax) with the designated GST rate is an inadmissible procedure to assess the cost of living impact of the GST. 

The factors relevant in making the cost- of-living impact assessment may be summarized as follows.

First, with the GST, in general, the tax rate on goods is likely to be reduced as compared to previously, and the tax rate on services increased. However, within the goods and services category, this generalization may not hold for specific commodities in each category.

As households progress towards higher income brackets, the share of household budget spent on services increases and on goods declines. So the above overall trend would exhibit tendency towards lower burden for low and lower-middle income households, while the reverse is likely for upper middle income and high income households. This would significantly mitigate the negative impact of the GST on the bottom half of the population.

The GST council has made efforts to ensure that the GST rates on any given good or a service is as close as possible to the old nominal tax rate to minimize disruptions to households and to businesses.

Second, the differential way rates on goods and on services are affected by the GST, provides opportunities to households to readjust the commodity bundle purchased to minimize impact on cost-of-living. Provision of timely and accessible information on prices of key commodities to households on a systematic continuous basis is essential to facilitate such a readjustment.

The Union Government, and its tax agencies as well as that of some states have been making commendable efforts to monitor, and to facilitate GST implementation across the country. These efforts are also helpful in mitigating the impact of the GST on the cost-of-living.

However, a constructive  role by the electronic media,specially the regional language print media and social media, opinion-makers, and domain experts is essential to further and more sustainably enable the households to minimize the impact of GST on the cost of living. 

Third, global environment of subdued economic growth, lower commodity prices, such as for energy, and in general constrained pricing power of businesses also augurs well for the GST not having significant impact on the cost-of-living of the households. Favourable monsoon season for Kharif and Rabi seasons this year, as projected by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), would also help the households in managing the cost-of-living impact.  Given the above favourable environment, it is strongly urged that the government deemphasize the anti-profiteering provisions of the GST, and when utilized, approach them with a ‘soft touch’.

The above analysis once again underscores the urgent need to focus on a system of collecting and analysing household income and expenditure data, and making such data widely accessible. Lack of robust data bases and analytical capabilities, including econometric studies, are hampering empirical-evidence based assessment of GST on household cost-of-living. This gap needs to be addressed.

In conclusion, the timing of the GST has been favourable from global and from domestic perspective in minimizing the impact of the GST on the cost of living. The design of the GST, and government initiatives have also helped in this respect. The media and other stakeholders, and the households themselves need to also play a constructive role in adjusting to the GST. A more service oriented culture, backed by technology and professionalism by the GST tax authorities could help sustain the apparently smallinitial impact of GST on the cost of living over a much longer period.

MUKUL G. ASHER, an Indian national, is a Professor in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. 

Reemerging Sectarianism in Afghanistan

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Afghan warlord turned vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum is no stranger to conflict. A veteran of decades of conflict and embroiled in ongoing scandal, Dostum has been a central figure in Afghanistan’s political scene for the last thirty years. Last week, the Vice President’s plane was diverted from landing in Afghanistan amidst a power struggle between him and President Ashraf Ghani. The government attempted to redirect Dostum’s plan to Kabul, but the Vice President responded by flying to Turkmenistan. Dostum’s departure from Afghanistan can be read as the latest chapter in the struggle between the central government and sectarian interests.

Abdul Rashid Dostum’s part in Afghanistan’s long history of civil war has set him up as one of the most important power brokers in the nation. Dostum fought during the 1980s under the Soviet occupation. When the Soviets withdrew, Dostum fought with different factions, switching alliances as his rivals gained and lost power. Later, Dostum would fight the Taliban from the North where he governed in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, commanding 50 thousand men. Dostum fled during the war and returned to join the US led coalition against the Taliban in 2001. Since then, he has played a variety of roles in the Afghan government, serving at times as deputy defense minister and chairman of his own political party, The National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan.

True to his past, Dostum has remained a highly controversial figure at the center of Afghanistan’s political scene. In 2014 despite his history as a warlord, Dostum became the vice president of Afghanistan under the new Ghani regime. In 2016, Human Rights Watch accused The National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan of abusing civilians and Dostum of ordering the sexual assault of a political rival. The latter has resulted in ongoing litigation against Dostum by the Afghan government. Dostum has been uncooperative with federal investigators and his bodyguards have repeatedly refused to show up to court. Further, Dostum has resisted multiple attempts by the judicial system to question him and his allies and has been uncooperative with the attorney general. Despite the case being brought against him, Dostum recently took a trip to Turkey for medical checkups due to rumored health problems.

Dostum’s political rivalry with his president, Ashraf Ghani, echoes the history of sectarian violence in Afghanistan. Sectarianism has played an important part in Dostum’s political career. The Vice President helped the ticket win Uzbek areas which were crucial to Ghani’s win. But despite running on a joint ticket, the current government has been at odds with Dostum for some time, with the VP claiming that Kabul marginalizes Uzbeks and does not do enough to fight the Taliban in the north. Last year, Dostum raised the specter of ‘gathering his people’ against the government, in a thinly veiled threat to the Ghani administration. After Dostum’s recent visit to Turkey for medical attention, the Ghani government has sought to keep him at arm’s length and out of the country, where his presence has been seen as inflammatory.

The balance of power in Kabul is maintained through an intricate balancing act between Afghanistan’s different ethnic and ideological cleavages. President Ghani is Pashtun, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, and Abdulla Abdulla, the Chief Executive, is Tajik. Throughout the 1990s, Afghanistan’s civil war divided the nation along ethnic lines as militias - claiming to represent different ethnic groups - ravaged the nation. Indeed, maintaining an inclusive balance of power while keeping volatile personalities from colliding is a difficult game. This is especially true because efforts to expand government power usually fly in the face of sectarianism, where increasing taxes and accountability collides with the agendas of local elites.

The most recent developments with Dostum’s plane may be part of the government’s attempts to centralize power. Ghani’s administration ran on and has worked to develop a technocratic central bureaucracy while sidelining sectarianism and patronage. The Ghani administration’s attempts to keep Dostum in Turkey follow a similar logic. By holding sectarian warlords back and out of the public eye, Ghani can focus on building more robust civilian institutions without having to worry about having to cater to militiamen. Therefore, the most recent developments may be yet another attempt to shore up domestic political support around the central government and away from ethnic power brokers.

The Ghani administration has good reason to clamp down on sectarianism. Every year, millions of dollars are siphoned off of the central government for local patron-client relationships. Patronage networks result in cronies being appointed to government positions as political favors, and selective enforcement of the law in favor of clients. These relationships are not only inefficient, they also undermine the efficacy of governance and push the dispossessed into the arms of the Taliban. This is because without the ability to appeal to the formal political structure for assistance, locals on the outside of patronage networks are forced to rely on militants as guarantors of protection.

Headlines about the NATO force and the Taliban dominate the news, but one of the most important issues for Afghanistan’s future lies within the government itself. Indeed, the drama surrounding Dostum is only the most recent example of the tension between central and sectarian interests. In May, after years of exile, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Kabul. Hekmatyar is an ideologue and warlord from the civil war era, who was known as “The Butcher of Kabul.” Many are worried that Hekmatyar’s return and legacy of sectarian violence will further polarize the country. The return of sectarian warlords is a significant internal problem for the Afghan government. While most media attention on Afghanistan’s security situation focuses on external groups, like the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the regime’s internal balance of power is just as important. Will the Afghan central government be able to overcome sectarian interests and establish a strong central bureaucracy?

Pakistan sticks to a sad tradition

This article originally appeared in The Hindu

The decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to disqualify Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reaffirms the iron law of Pakistani politics: a politician can amass wealth and engage in corruption only as long as he does not challenge the ascendance of the country’s powerful national security establishment. Although Mr. Sharif has ostensibly been disqualified over the so-called Panama Papers, which exposed holders of offshore bank accounts, the verdict against him has little to do with the revelations in the Panama Papers.

Mr. Sharif and his family have definitely expanded their assets several fold since his entry into politics more than three decades ago as a protégé of the Islamist military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, and the former chief of the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). But he was not put on trial for corruption and convicted. Instead, the Supreme Court acted politically, as it often does, and created a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that included military intelligence representatives. The JIT’s job was ostensibly to uncover the trail of the Sharifs’ wealth and the Supreme Court used the JIT’s findings to determine that Mr. Sharif could no longer fulfill the constitutionally mandated qualifications for his office.

When he ended Martial Law, General Zia had added several provisions to Pakistan’s Constitution, some of which related to moral qualifications for membership of parliament. Their purpose was to give the all-powerful national security establishment a constitutional instrument to control the political process even after the military’s withdrawal from direct political intervention. Those provisions have finally been invoked to rid Pakistan of a meddlesome Prime Minister.

Articles of expediency

During the 1990s, civilian Prime Ministers who failed to toe the line in key policy areas could be dismissed by the President, who was always a reliable establishment figure. After three dismissals, twice of the army’s bete noire Benazir Bhutto and once of Mr. Sharif, the civilians got rid of Article 58-2(b) of the Constitution that authorised the President to unilaterally dissolve Parliament and dismiss Prime Ministers. The absence of the establishment’s safety valve paved the way for General Pervez Musharraf’s military coup in 1999.

Aware that the 21st century is less conducive to direct military takeovers than preceding decades, Gen Musharraf reintroduced the notion of presidential dismissal before sharing power with civilians again. The civilians dispensed with it again in a consensus constitutional package in 2008. Since then, Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution, inserted by Zia and ironically kept alive with the support of Mr. Sharif and Pakistan’s religious parties, have been cited as the means whereby the establishment can keep politicians on the straight and narrow.

In its judgment disqualifying Mr. Sharif, the Supreme Court has found him in violation of Article 62(1)(f) that demands that members of Parliament be “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and Ameen”. The last of these, “Ameen”, meaning ‘the keeper of trust’ is one of the attributes of Prophet Muhammad, which by definition is a hard standard to meet for any Muslim who deems the Prophet ‘the most perfect’ human being. Ordinary mortals can easily be found in violation of that noble standard.

By claiming the right to disqualify any elected representative of his/her office for not meeting such exacting standards of probity, the Pakistani Supreme Court has arrogated to itself the authority similar to that of Iran’s Guardian Council, which vets all candidates for elective office. The Council routinely disqualifies politicians on grounds that they are not sufficiently dedicated to Islamic values.

Setting a precedent

The disqualification of Mr. Sharif sets the precedent for future judicial coups. That does not mean Mr. Sharif has not amassed wealth beyond explainable means or does not have property across the world that might have been acquired through questionable transactions. But corruption must be dealt with by legal means, not on the say of rival politicians or intelligence operatives operating without being subject to laws of evidence.

If legally admissible evidence of corruption had existed, there would have been a trial, not direct intervention by the Supreme Court, which should only be the court of final appeal in criminal matters. So what is really going on? Pakistan is simply keeping its sad tradition that disallows politicians to ever be voted out of office by the voters who elected them to that office in the first place.

In the last seventy years, all Pakistani Prime Ministers have either been assassinated, dismissed or forced to resign by heads of state with military backing, or deposed in coups d’etat. Mr. Sharif is the second Prime Minister, after Yousuf Raza Gilani, to be sent home by an activist Supreme Court amidst an orchestrated media furore. Ironically, Mr. Sharif was installed as Prime Minister in 1990 by the military in intrigue that was exposed decades later. That intrigue involved the army creating the multi-party alliance, Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), through the ISI and funding Mr. Sharif and others with money taken from corrupt businessmen. At that time, the Pakistani establishment deemed Benazir Bhutto ‘a security risk’ over her avowed desire to change attitudes towards India and the rest of South Asia.

Mr. Sharif fell out of the army’s favour when he decided to assert himself in the conduct of foreign and national security policy after becoming Prime Minister. He was ousted once by the President and a second time by the army chief in a coup. Elected for a third time, he has now been sent packing through the Supreme Court. He is clearly a flawed man but the manner of his removal from office is even more flawed.

The India Connection

During the Panama Papers saga, Mr. Sharif was accused in social media of being an Indian agent and rumours swirled of his alleged investments in India and ‘secret partnerships’ with Indian businessmen. This reveals the real cause of anxiety with him, which could not be rumours of corruption because that did not bother the establishment when it initially supported him.

The role Mr. Sharif played in the late 1980s, as the establishment’s Cat’s Paw, has now been taken over by cricketer-turned politician, Imran Khan. There is no guarantee, however, that if Mr. Khan ever comes to power he would not meet a similar fate when he insists on making policy instead of being content with having office and implementing the establishment’s prescriptions. Just like the IJI-ISI intrigue was fully uncovered decades later, we will probably find out details of the intrigue leading to Mr. Sharif’s ouster several years later too.

Unfortunately, Mr. Sharif’s ouster is unlikely to stem the tide of widespread corruption in Pakistan. It might also not be the end of Mr. Sharif, who could possibly win another election in his Punjab base. But the episode proves again that Pakistan is far from being a democracy where the law takes its course, institutions work within their specified spheres and elected leaders are voted in or out by the people. 



Don’t Take the Bait: Why Alarmism Over CPEC is Unjustified

Pakistan has called its relationship with China “sweeter than honey and stronger than steel.” Recently, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has dominated the relationship between the two powers, totaling $62 billion of investment from Beijing. Aimed at increasing trade and building Pakistani infrastructure, CPEC is a series of development projects in Pakistan that includes the expansion of the Gwadar port, transportation corridors, and energy infrastructure. CPEC’s apparent convergence of Chinese and Pakistani interests has not fallen upon deaf ears; security experts in the U.S. and India have voiced concern over China’s interest in developing Pakistan.. But the impacts of CPEC are largely overstated, and the situation provides American policymakers a valuable opportunity to reevaluate their strategy in the region. Rather than succumb to alarmism and double down on American commitments to Pakistan to combat the threat of Chinese expansionism, US policymakers should approach CPEC with level heads and caution.


The dream of an economic corridor between China’s isolated Western provinces and Pakistan’s ports had been romanticized since the 1990s, but not agreed upon until 2015. The final agreement included upgrades to the Karakorum Highway that links Pakistan to China, major enhancements to Pakistan’s rail system, and large energy plants aimed at reducing Pakistan’s perpetual energy shortages.


Major players in the region, especially India, have met CPEC with a great deal of skepticism. Understandably, there is a worry that China’s is hiding its regional power aspirations behind the veil of economic development. CPEC cuts through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which prompted India to announce, “no country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.” In Delhi, many see CPEC as the collaboration between two regional rivals in order to establish a balance of power that excludes India.


India and the United States have worried about China’s influence in Pakistan. In the past, Pakistan’s collaboration with China manifested itself in weapons shipments, diplomatic cover, and even technical assistance by Beijing for Islamabad’s nuclear weapon’s program. Siegfried Wolf of the University of Heidelberg wrote that, “these new Chinese investments could boost Pakistan's economy but at the same time it will also create dependency…Islamabad will be expected to align its political decision making with Beijing's approach towards South Asia and beyond.” There are worries that the port in Gwadar will eventually be used to station Chinese marines, triggering the Indian fear that China is attempting to encircle the subcontinent in a “string of pearls.”


While there are areas of concern for the US and India, and China’s collaboration with Pakistan is serious, CPEC itself is unlikely to be game-changing. The supposed benefits to Pakistan from CPEC are almost certainly overstated; construction is already well behind schedule, and it is questionable that the Karakorum Highway can ever bear the massive amount of transit required to make CPEC economically profitable. Furthermore, the money for CPEC is largely financed by loans, and it is unclear if Pakistan will be in a position to pay them off. Recently, The Economist wrote that, “Unlike loans from the IMF or World Bank, some two-thirds of those taken out so far, for $28bn-worth of early projects, are on commercial terms, with interest high at around 7% a year. When these loans come due, argues Farooq Tirmizi, an emerging-markets analyst, Pakistan will need a bigger bail-out than ever before.”


CPEC and United States Aid- The Case for Less Aid


Since 9/11, the United States has given Pakistan over $20 billion in military and economic aid. Because of the centrality of aid in U.S. policy towards Pakistan, how the United States responds to CPEC must be framed in the context of the aid program.  


During the war on terror, the United States has flooded Pakistan with military aid, assuming that problems in the region stem from a lack of capacity to fight militants. In reality, Pakistan has demonstrated an unwillingness to crack down on insurgents, playing a “double game” of accepting American funds while quietly backing militants that undermine US interests. Although Pakistan claims to no longer support militant groups of any kind, the government has not acted against many armed groups that operate freely within its borders. At various times Pakistan has tolerated, supported, and even financed the Haqqani Network, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbul Mujahadeen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed, among others.


Despite not cooperating with the U.S. military over counterinsurgency, the specter of a rising China has allowed Pakistan to continue securing American aid. In her book, Fighting to the End, Christine Fair writes that the “depiction of China as Pakistan’s all-weather friend has allowed Pakistan to wrest greater resources from the United States.” This rent seeking behavior has fostered the development of a bureaucracy within Pakistan geared towards constructing and deploying the narrative that China is Pakistan’s eternal ally which increases the likelihood of securing assistance from the US to combat Chinese influence. A lack of expertise and a desire to combat Chinese expansionism at every turn has left the U.S. government susceptible to Pakistani leverage over assistance.


Fears of Chinese cooperation with Pakistan are implicitly part of any discussion of CPEC. Pakistan’s rhetoric about Chinese friendship and cooperation being ‘stronger than steel’ presents CPEC as the beginning of a greater role for China in Pakistan. At the same, CPEC has been pedaled as the next step of Chinese expansionism in South Asia.


In reality, CPEC is unlikely to cause Pakistan to lose interest in U.S. aid. Pakistan is loaned, not given, money from CPEC, and potential economic gains will be felt in the far future, if at all. On the other hand, the United States never expects repayment for assistance, and includes weapons systems that the Pakistani military desperately needs. Pushing Washington away is especially prohibitive to Islamabad given recent positive developments in U.S.-India relations. Thus, the U.S. will remain an indispensable partner for Pakistan. Therefore, without real cause for alarm, giving more aid to Pakistan to make up for a perceived loss of influence due to CPEC would be a tactical mistake.


Even if American influence in Pakistan were threatened by CPEC, increasing military assistance to Pakistan in an attempt to counter Chinese regional expansion would likely be counterproductive. Patricia Sullivan of UNC conducted a review of US military assistance, concluding that, “increasing levels of U.S. military aid significantly reduce cooperative foreign policy behavior with the United States.” Simply put, the US carrot-based approach towards Pakistan does not work; deeply ingrained ties between the military and a culture of militancy makes cracking down on groups that Pakistan’s establishment has tolerated for decades unthinkable.  


Overreacting to CPEC by doubling down on aid to Pakistan would be a mistake. American money has never won Washington Islamabad’s loyalty, and CPEC is unlikely to fundamentally change the balance of power in the region. Instead, enforcing conditions on aid and investing in the development of friendlier regional partners would be more likely to preserve U.S. influence in the region. Recent steps taken by General Mattis to freeze aid over Pakistan’s support for the Haqqani Network are a good step, and may demonstrate the start of a more realistic approach towards Pakistan. Washington should be careful to not let the fear of encroaching Chinese influence lead America back into the futile effort of trying to buy the Pakistani military’s loyalty.

Nawaz Sharif's Corruption Scandal Highlights Pakistani Military's Continued Strength

This week, the Pakistani Supreme Court began hearings that will determine whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will keep his job amidst a sensational corruption scandal. Last year, the leaked Panama Papers revealed that PM Sharif’s children owned luxurious apartments in London through offshore companies. Seizing on the opportunity, political opponents like Imran Khan quickly claimed the funds used to buy the properties were gained illicitly, and that Sharif should resign and be charged with corruption. In response to these claims, the Pakistani Supreme Court commissioned a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to examine the allegations and make recommendations. Last week, the JIT released its findings, stating, “there exists a significant disparity between the wealth declared by the respondents and the means through which the respondents had generated income from known or declared sources,” and advocating that Sharif and his children be tried for their crimes.

Embroiled directly in the scandal is Sharif’s daughter Maryam, viewed by many as her father’s political successor. In order to clear herself of any wrongdoing, Maryam released records from 2006 that supposedly demonstrated she did not own the London properties. However, the Calibri font used in the document was not commercially available until 2007, leading many to conclude she illegally falsified the paperwork. Now dubbed “Fontgate,” this scandal has the opportunity to undermine civilian leadership in Pakistan and reassert the military’s status as the country’s ascendant political power.

While it is possible the Sharif family engaged in corruption, the maneuver is largely a byproduct of the Pakistani military trying to reassert its power over the country. Historically, the Pakistani military has undermined democratic and civilian leadership at every opportunity to perpetuate its own power. As a result, in Pakistan’s 70-year existence, there has never been a regular transfer of power between two prime ministers; all leaders have been dismissed, resigned, assassinated, or overthrown in a coup.

In his early days as a politician, Nawaz Sharif began as a “protégé” of military leader and former Pakistani President General Zia ul-Haq. However, over time his relationship with the military deteriorated significantly. During his second term as prime minister in 1999, PM Sharif planned a move to force army chief Pervez Musharraf into retirement. However, the plan backfired, and Musharraf loyalists in the Pakistani military marched from Rawalpindi to Islamabad to depose Sharif from office. After the coup, Sharif was first sentenced to life in prison, and then exiled to Saudi Arabia, where he remained until returning to Pakistan in 2007.

After returning to office in 2013, PM Sharif’s relationship with the military has remained tenuous. This year, his volatile affiliation with the military boiled over into the press, after members of his administration leaked word of a meeting where the civilian government lambasted military leaders for their hesitance to cut ties completely with Islamist groups. The military responded quickly and harshly, temporarily banning the article’s author from leaving the country and removing Pervez Rashid as information minister. Although Sharif fired two aides that supposedly facilitated the leaks, the military deemed his gesture insufficient, publicly defying his authority and challenging his leadership abilities.

In this context, the corruption scandal takes on a whole different light; instead of a well-intentioned attempt to eradicate corruption and stabilize Pakistan’s political system, it can be viewed as a power play by the military to discredit a long-time rival. The fact that the JIT contained members from Pakistan’s Military Intelligence (MI) and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) organizations – Brig. Kamram Khurzheed and Brig. (retd) Nauman Saeed – demonstrates the complicated entanglement between Pakistan’s military, judicial and political systems. Furthermore, it indicates there are few effective checks and balances that stop the military from extending its influence into politics.

Thus, the Fontgate scandal illustrates the immense power the Pakistani military still holds; if Sharif was still aligned with the military, corruption charges would never have been considered. While Pakistan’s new army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has been described as “apolitical,” when threatened by the civilian leadership it manufactures a coup or magnifies a scandal to keep the government weak and turn popular opinion against democratically elected leaders. It is essential to institute a fair political system in Pakistan, and the Sharif family must be punished if it broke the law. However, allowing the military to act with impunity and slowly demolish the civilian government is not the best way to accomplish this feat.

Indian foreign policy has moral dimension, Chanakyan realpolitik: Author Aparna Pande

Originally published at

Aparna Pande’s second book, From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy, was released on July 17. Published by Harper Collins India, the book traces the roots and various strands of the Indian foreign policy.

In the book Pande, who directs the Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia at Hudson Institute in Washington, DC, tries to — in her own words — “examine the ideas, individuals and institutions that have shaped India’s worldview over the decades.”

Pande holds a master’s in history from St. Stephens College, Delhi; an MPhil in international relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi; and a doctorate in political science from Boston University.

At Hudson, she is also a Fellow of the Center on Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World. Her first book was Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy: Escaping India.

In an interview with The American Bazaar, Pande speaks about her new book and US-India relations, among other issues.

What was the inspiration for the book?

Every country’s foreign policy has an underlying paradigm that explains what has influenced its policy and why that country takes the stand that it does. This paradigm is the product of the nation’s history and its view of self. Leaders, especially those in premier positions for long periods, also shape how a nation sees itself in relation to others.

I have always wanted to write a book that explains India’s foreign policy to the world: what are the ideas that have influenced foreign policy, the individuals who have left their mark and the institutions that play a role in shaping the policy.

In the book, you deal with a vast canvass of history: from 3rd century BCE to the contemporary world. Tell us more about the book?

My book is an effort to examine the ideas, individuals and institutions that have shaped India’s worldview over the decades.

I go back in history to examine the legacy of the past on Indian foreign policy from the times of Chanakya through the medieval era and finally to colonial rule and the national movement. We can still see the legacy of ancient philosophers, medieval sultans and British colonial strategists on India’s external relations.

The moral dimension is strong in India’s foreign policy choices but so is Chanakyan realpolitik. Five thousand years of continuous history and civilization have bred a belief that the subcontinent is one, even if there are different political entities, and that India’s security is tied to its South Asian neighbors.

Every Indian Prime Minister from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi has left his imprint on India’s foreign policy. My book not only analyzes the foreign policies followed by all prime ministers but also examines what their rationale was for doing so. While they tried to carve their own paths what is interesting is there has been a remarkable degree of continuity in the policies followed over the decades.

My book also looks at the stance not taken in earlier decades by examining the policy prescriptions offered by the right of center Swatantra party and the Bharatiya Jana Sangh.

A strong sense of Indian exceptionalism permeates every aspect of India’s external relations. Others might judge states by their economic or military indicators, but for Indians the past achievements are a source of pride and justification for India being viewed as a future great power.

The book examines the Indian desire for strategic autonomy and the pursuit of an independent foreign policy, territorial integrity and the criticality of South Asia and India’s neighborhood for India’s security interests, economic foreign policy, how India has perceived its role in the global arena and the changing perception of the Indian diaspora.

It also provides a detailed examination of the array of institutions that play a role in formulating and shaping India’s foreign policy — the primacy of the prime minister’s office, the role of ministry of external affairs, parliamentary oversight, the responsibility of the national security council, the role played by the media and new actors.

You talk about four strands that are often competing and complementing. Which strand does Prime Minister Modi represent?

My book lays out four major strands in India’s contemporary foreign policy: Imperial, Messianic Idealism, Realism and Isolationism.

The “Imperial” school of thought draws primarily from period of the British Raj. For this outlook, India is the center and Delhi knows best. India’s post-independence policy towards its immediate South Asian neighbors exemplifies this policy best. Delhi, whether under the British or after, has always believed that India’s central government is best suited to make security decisions.

“Messianic Idealism,” reflecting the mantra of global peace, justice and prosperity has served as the strong moral component of India’s foreign policy, inspired by the moral legacy of ancient Indian thought reiterated during national struggle under Mahatma Gandhi. Proponents of this perspective believe that India is an example for the world and that India has the duty to set an example for other nations.

And yet Indians have had no qualms in anchoring external relations in “realism.” Belief in moral principles did not turn Indian leaders into pacifists. Notwithstanding messianic idealism, New Delhi has always recognized the importance of hard power.

Finally, while desirous of playing a global role, India has also been reluctant to be drawn into global issues or ideologies. There is a strong streak of “isolationism” in India’s global outlook. It is one of India’s many paradoxes that it wants to be seen as a great power and is still often reluctant to do what is required of most great powers.

Of all India’s prime ministers, Mr Nehru best incorporated different strands of thought in defining India’s global outlook. For that reason, Indian foreign policy has sometimes been referred to as Nehruvian – a combination of Messianic Idealism with some parts of Imperial, Realist, and Isolationist elements.

Prime Minister Modi is combining different historical strands of foreign policy to create an Indian nationalist paradigm.

South Asia is still viewed as India’s sphere of interest and India under Modi believes Delhi knows best. However, Indian leaders are increasingly aware that managing a sphere of influence is not only a function of telling others what to do but being able to expend resources that deny space to competitors. Hence Mr Modi’s emphasis on regional connectivity – trade, tourism and travel – within the region as well as a desire to reassure the neighbors of Indian intentions and resolve issues like border disputes.

In the last decade India has built close relations with the United States, participated in a number of regional groupings with countries like Japan and deepened defense ties with countries in Asia and beyond. Yet, the Indian state still has a Hobbesian view of the world and believes India can only depend on itself and hence the focus on military and economic self-sufficiency (Make in India) and the desire to balance close relations with the United States along with continuing its ties to Russia.

Prime Minister Modi is not known for slogans globally and yet like his predecessors on his travels and visits around the world Mr Modi’s speeches reflect Indian exceptionalism (example: yoga) and the belief that India is an example for the world and that the rest of the world must accord India stature commensurate to its civilizational contribution.

While desirous of playing a global role, India has also been reluctant to be drawn into global issues or ideologies. There is a strong streak of ‘isolationism’ in India’s global outlook. While India wants to be considered a global power, not just a regional one, there are limits to which India will exercise power. India remains reluctant to send its troops abroad except for UN mandated peacekeeping missions. This was true under Mr Nehru and is true under Mr Modi today, notwithstanding Mr Modi’s apparent desire to align India more closely with the United States and to create a grouping of Pacific powers aimed at containing China.

Chanakya was a political philosopher and adviser, among other things. Modi is a practitioner of the political craft and he has often invoked Chanakya. Do you see any similarities between the two? How much has Modi been influenced by Chanakya?

The legacy of the Arthasastra lies not simply in what was written but how Indian leaders, strategists and the public perceive Chanakya.

While Mr Modi is not new in evoking Chanakya – Jawaharlal Nehru even wrote an article using the pseudonym Chanakya – it reflects an attempt to tie his foreign policy to India’s ancient past as well as a desire to demonstrate that as per Chanakya’s dictums India’s leaders will be willing to use diverse policies to secure India’s national interests.

If we examine Mr Modi’s policies towards Pakistan we see that they have run the entire gamut from courting friendly relations to offering trade incentives and finally even threatening retaliation.

Similarly, with China, the Modi government’s initial hopes for a bonhomie based on a personal rapport between the two leaders did not last long. India has deepened defense ties with the United States, preferred to turn to Japan for building its infrastructure, pushed back against every Chinese attempt at a border conflict and yet continued economic relations with China.

You have been closely watching India’s growth and changes. How do you foresee the US-India bilateral relations under Modi and Trump?

In the last two decades India and the United States have deepened economic relations and built a close defense partnership. Shared values, a large Indian-American diaspora and the rise of China, economically and militarily, have also brought the two countries closer together.

The first meeting between President Donald J Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a success on many fronts. At their joint press conference President Trump referred to India as a true friend and a relationship based on shared values. Prime Minister Modi spoke of United States as a robust strategic partner and spoke of Indian interest in a strong, and prosperous, and successful America.

For the Trump administration, a strategic relationship is one in which economic ties are paramount. Thus going ahead, I foresee deeper interactions in the defense and economic arenas.

Both President Trump and Premier Modi came to power promising stronger economic growth, more manufacturing and job creation. Closer dealings between Indian and American companies, increasing investment and technology sharing and consistent economic reforms in India will enable both countries to achieve their goals.

In the defense arena, both countries have an interest in stability in Afghanistan, abiding interest in the Middle East, concerns about deepening Chinese presence in South and East China Sea, as well as collaboration to fight terrorism.

The Gulf Crisis: A Delicate Position for India

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arabs Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with their neighbour, Qatar, accusing Doha of sponsoring terrorism. These country members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) closed their borders and denied access to air and maritime space,  implementing a blockade on Qatar. What has been called the Gulf diplomatic crisis has been unfolding for more than a month now and has spread beyond the region. Located on the other side of the Arabian Sea, India has interests at stake in this conflict and must manage its position conscientiously to avoid its own national consequences.

The majority of the crisis stems from the Arab quartet blaming Qatar for supporting terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and Hamas. However, the feud also assumes other reasons as Doha endorses the Muslim Brotherhood, which the current government in Egypt ousted of power in 2013, and the Houthi rebels, fighting against Saudis forces in Yemen. Qatar is also an ally of Iran, a major rival to Saudi Arabia for regional hegemony. Saudi Arabia and its allies want Qatar to adhere to their foreign policies, and the blockade is a way to pressure Doha into doing so. Until Qatar complies, it is likely that the crisis continues.

From India’s perspective, the blockade could have both short and long-term impacts, putting a strain on its economic and political relations with Qatar.  

In the short run, the consequences for India are nuanced. Qatari officials have reassured their clients that the export of liquified natural gas (LNGs), on which India is reliant, would not be affected by the blockade. Additionally, India has become a new foodstuff exporter, as Qatar has diversified its import sources to prevent food shortages induced by the blockade.

Long term wise, if Qatar’s economy worsens, the situation could become increasingly difficult for the 650,000 Indian citizens living in Qatar and Indian companies established there. The price of plane tickets has already increased for many Indians using the Qatar airport hub to travel to and from India. The airspace ban limits flight routes which causes several diversions and the need to restructure the airport’s flight plans. Furthermore, even though Doha can rely on its major source of wealth, the export of LNGs, to subsidise the country for months, the country remains prey to price inflation. Moody’s, a credit rating agency, downgraded Qatar’s credit outlook to “negative” in the weeks that followed the blockade. As a result, Indian workers rightly fear for their jobs. A major source of employment for Indians comes from construction on the 2022 FIFA World Cup sites. However, delays in raw material imports could result in the termination of hundreds of jobs, impacting remittances sent to India. Although remittances from Qater amount to only 2.9 percent of India’s GDP, they account for 36.3 percent of Kerala’s revenues, a state from where many Qatar-established Indians are from. As unemployment increases, the number of remittances decreases, harming Kerala’s economy. The blockade may also limit Qatar’s capacity to contract with Indian companies involved in major infrastructure projects, weakening yet another source of revenue for India.

India would be wise at first sight to make efforts to end the blockade. Yet, the country does not have interests at stake solely in Qatar. The whole Gulf region, home to India’s energy resources, is strategically important as it is market and a home to a large Indian population. With several relations at stake, India has declined to take a position in the conflict, but data can help figure out which country, or countries, India is more likely to side with.

Apart from company and population ties, India and Qatar also have important trade relations, with bilateral trade amounting to US$15.6 billion in 2015. Their economic relations are mainly based on 7.5 million tonnes of LNG exports to India every year.

However, Qatar’s trade with India pales in comparison to trade with other Gulf nations. Trade with Egypt only amounts to US$3.5 billion, but Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner. In 2015, trade between Riyadh and New Delhi was US$39.3 billion. India mainly imports crude oil from Saudi Arabia, its second most important supplier. The UAE is even a bigger trading partner with bilateral trade amounting to US$50 billion in 2016. Aside from being an oil supplier to India, the UAE accounts for US$30 billion of India’s exports. Bahrain completes the picture with its crude oil exports to India and a bilateral trade figure of US$12 billion.

GCC countries are also important to India for welcoming large Indian populations. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain are home to 3 million, 2.6 million and 350,000 Indians respectively, who send back large numbers of remittances that contribute to India’s economy.

Beyond economic reasons, India aligns itself with GCC states for political reasons. New Delhi signed a defense cooperation deal with Riyadh in 2014 and a comprehensive agreement, including a  defense partnership, with Abu Dhabi. Traditionally, Saudi Arabia and the UAE remain allies to Pakistan. Therefore, by forging ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, India slowly loosens the two nations’ ties with Pakistan, increasing India’s leverage capacity by isolating its rival.

These strengthening bonds are epitomized by the acceleration of the number of official visits: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Saudi Arabia in 2016, during which he was awarded the highest civilian decoration, and Saudi Arabia King Salman will visit India later on this year. Emiratis and Indian officials met three times in the scope of three years and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi was honoured as the chief guest of India’s 2017 Republic Day, in a highly symbolic gesture.  

Iran, Qatar’s alleged patron, needs to be considered in this equation. Bilateral trade between Tehran and New Delhi amounts only to US$9 billion, but Iran is India’s third largest supplier of crude oil. Relations between the two countries have long been held, with mutual strategic interests in balancing Pakistan, reassured with the construction of the port of Chabahar in Iran by Indian contractors.

In the end, political advantages presented from the two sides, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and from Qatar and Iran, as well figures would predict that New Delhi needs more to secure a commercial deal with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi than with Tehran and Doha. Although the blockade may harm India, New Delhi will not risk alienating the GCC states by coming to Qatar’s defence.

India has been dealing with these West Asian countries for a long time now and has succeeded in fostering ties with warring parties without jeopardizing its interests. India is likely to continue this delicate policy of engaging with every parties in the Gulf, crisis or not.


How the Malabar Exercises Balance a Rising China

This week, the navies of the United States, India, and Japan kicked off the Malabar naval exercise. The trilateral war games are one of the world’s largest gatherings of large combat vessels, and symbolize the evolving military cooperation between the U.S., India, and Japan. This year’s exercise sports each participating nation’s largest ships, and has been lauded as a sign of strong cooperation. This is significant, because the Malabar exercise has had a long and politically charged history. All three nations benefit immensely from security cooperation, and it is in their best interest to continue strengthening naval ties, while pushing back against Chinese expansionism.

The Malabar exercise started a ten-day series of events in the Bay of Bengal this Monday, and will include 16 ships and 95 aircraft participating in drills. The three navies are sending their most state-of-the-art vessels to the exercise, with the U.S. and India deploying aircraft carriers, and Japan committing several new battleships as well.

While the tactical benefits of naval cooperation and knowledge sharing are important, the Malabar games are more significant for their geopolitical-strategic role. Currently, the U.S., India and Japan are experiencing tense relations with China; the three Malabar participants have been wary of Beijing’s regional expansionism for years, and many experts view Malabar as a signal of strength directed at China to contain its aggression. Japan, the U.S. and China have faced off repeatedly over territorial disputes and other conflicts in the South China Sea. Likewise, tensions between India and China recently escalated in the Doklam border region in Bhutan. India has also become increasingly wary of growing Chinese ties with Pakistan, and has started looking for partners to counterbalance the rise of Beijing in South Asia.

The Malabar participants have good cause to be worried about China. India’s posture is guided by a fear of ‘encirclement’ by Chinese infrastructure projects in the region that can later be converted into military bases. China is expanding ports and naval projects in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Myanmar, and increasing its footprint in East Africa. This month, China opened its first overseas naval base in Djibouti, and continues aggressively provoking territorial disputes with its neighbors. In order to counterbalance Chinese expansionism, the Indian navy needs to work with regional partners to create a credible alternative to Chinese power.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is in the midst of a decades long modernization-expansion process, geared towards expanding Chinese control over the region. A recent report found that by 2020, China might field as many as 350 naval vessels in East Asia. In terms of the raw number of ships deployed, the Chinese fleet is larger than all of its East Asian peers combined. These claims make India and Japan understandably uneasy, and highlight the need for regional cooperation to ensure the maintenance of a stable status.

Formally, the member governments deny that the exercise is aimed at China, but privately military sources have claimed that the Malabar war games send an important message to an aggressive Beijing. The signaling is unmistakable, especially considering Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley’s recent statements supporting closer military cooperation with Tokyo. The deepening security cooperation between India and Japan provides both countries the ability to supplement their disadvantages against China and enhance regional stability.

Growing military cooperation between the US, India, and Japan has not fallen on deaf ears. Beijing has been consistently critical of the Malabar exercises, calling them aggressive and belligerent. China reacted harshly to the 2007 Malabar exercises – which included the US, India, Japan, Singapore, and Australia – and afterwards issued demarches to Japan, Singapore, and Australia, expressing its displeasure. Following China’s hostility, Malabar was reduced to a US-India bilateral exercise for the next seven years.

In 2015, Malabar took a major step forward, when Japan was offered full-time membership in the war games. Although initially limited to a small commitment of one destroyer in the 2015 exercise, since then Japan’s presence in Malabar has escalated dramatically. Tokyo now sends a strike force of its flagship vessels, and defense analysts report that the India-Japan strategic relationship has developed to span arms sales, transportation cooperation, and nuclear cooperation. Aside from Malabar, the Japanese and Indian navies have also conducted bilateral trainings, which signal  further commitment to their partnership. For Japan and India, the stakes of cooperation are high, as both countries benefit immensely from freely navigable waters and a stable East Asia.

The Malabar exercises are part of a bigger picture of the convergence of interests for India, Japan, and the United States. The three powers should thicken cooperation in an effort to reap mutual economic rewards and balance the rise of China. In September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit India to break ground on a joint venture between the two countries regarding high-speed railways. Such efforts are important, because they establish norms of cooperation and trust between partners, and signal unity between the democracies of the Indo-Pacific.

Private firms miss out on Rs 2,400 crore armoured vehicle upgrade deal

Originally Published at:

On Saturday, the defence ministry ignored its own acquisition rules and policies by awarding the public sector Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) a contract for upgrading 693 BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) on a “single-vendor basis”, casting aside competitive tendering.

“The ministry approved the upgrade and modernization of armoured fighting vehicles in the “Buy Indian (Indian designed, developed and manufactured)” category, at a cost of Rs 2,400 crore”, said authoritative defence ministry sources after a meeting of the apex Defence Acquisition Council. He confirmed the upgrade would be carried out in Ordnance Factory, Medak, in Telangana.

In awarding the contract to the OFB-BEL combine, the ministry ignored multiple private sector requests for competitive tendering, which would allow private firms to continue their work in developing thermal imagers and integrated fire control systems for the army’s BMP-2 s.

Further violating procurement rules, the OFB-BEL fire control system has been accepted based only on a “performance demonstration” of the BMP-2’s gun. No user trials have been carried out by the army; nor has the BMP-2’s missile firing been demonstrated. No “quality assurance” trials, maintainability trials, electro-magnetic interference trials – all essential under procurement rules – have been conducted.

Ironically, the private sector has developed sophisticated capabilities in these systems. Bengaluru-based, Alpha Design Technologies, has upgraded the night fighting capabilities of 969 BMP-2s, fitting them with a “thermal imaging stand-alone kit”. Alpha is currently discharging another contract to fit integrated “thermal imaging fire control systems” in 1,000 of the army’s T-72 tanks.

Business Standard understands that Alpha has charged about Rs 2 crore to upgrade each armoured vehicle. Now, without competitive bidding for price discovery, OFB-BEL will be paid almost Rs 3 crore per BMP-2.“While discharging these orders, Alpha Design Technologies developed sophisticated capabilities in night vision and integrated fire control systems, absorbing technology from Israeli electronics firm, Elbit and spending money to set up high-end “Make in India” manufacturing facilities in Bangalore”, says Colonel (Retired) HS Shankar, who heads Alpha.

Yet, in upgrading the current batch of 693 BMP-2s (the army has a total of 2,750 BMP-2s), the ministry has chosen to ignore Alpha, and with it the entire private sector. In violation of the military’s rulebook for capital acquisitions – the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) – the ministry decided that, instead of time-consuming tendering involving multiple vendors, they would make a quick, “single-vendor” procurement from the public sector.

On June 12, Ficci wrote personally to Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, pointing out the private sector had made a presentation to the ministry on May 29, highlighting their capabilities and asking for 3-6 months to present their solutions for trials. They also requested for operational BMPs on which they could develop their integrated fire control systems.

“For reasons unknown to industry, the user expressed reservations to provide operational BMPs… citing that there are no policy enablers to loan a BMP…”, the Ficci letter notes.

The letter says the army cited “urgency of upgrade” to argue that “evaluation of industry solution would not be possible within required timelines”, and that “nomination of the OFB is the only way the upgrade can be recommended”. Yet, since 2006, the ministry had issued ten enquiries and two tenders for BMP-2 upgrades, all of them citing “Urgent Operational Requirements”, but none were converted into an opportunity for industry.

Ficci’s letter suggests the ministry could shortlist 3-4 major private industries with good track records, which could be loaned a BMP-2 each, on which they could develop their solutions in 3-6 months. Meanwhile, to avoid delay, the ministry could process the time-consuming paperwork connected with the procurement.

The Union cabinet is required to endorse the DAC decision. That will be the last opportunity for the private sector to continue its work in this technology realm.


Pakistan’s long history of duplicity

Originally published at the Washington Times:

The United States has many complex foreign relationships. Being the world’s only superpower requires dealing with the good, the bad and the ugly of nation-states. The good are obvious. They are America’s allies and partners who we share common interests and values. The bad are America’s adversaries, who often sponsor terrorism, undermine our goals, and flaunt their disdain for the United States. Then there are the ugly. The Benedict Arnold of states that say they are our friends, take billions in U.S. aid, then back the very terrorists that are killing Americans. The ugliest of the bunch is Pakistan.

Pakistan has a long duplicitous relationship with the U.S. Throughout most of the Cold War, America and Pakistan worked closely to contain Soviet advances in South Asia. This working relationship peaked in the 1980s when the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, partnered to bleed the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by providing covert assistance to the Afghan anti-communist rebels. But even as the U.S. bolstered Pakistan’s own defenses, Islamabad was covertly developing a nuclear weapons program that it would later use to proliferate nuclear technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran — the who’s who of bad actors.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan continued to back militants in the country, giving rise to the Taliban. By 1996, after receiving extensive support from the ISI, the Taliban managed to seize much of the country and institute a strict and repressive form of Islamic law. In this jihadi paradise cultivated by Pakistan, al Qaeda was able to take shape and plan its war on the United States. Pakistan didn’t just turn a blind eye to al Qaeda’s ambitions — it assisted by providing ISI advisers. Some of these ISI agents were killed in 1998 when American cruise missiles struck an al Qaeda training camp in response to the terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa. Yet, Pakistan condemned the strikes and may have even tipped off Osama bin Laden beforehand, allowing his escape. If Pakistan was a true ally, it would have assisted the U.S. to kill bin Laden after the embassy attacks and Sept. 11 may have never had happened. Instead, Islamabad sided with the terrorists.

After the September 111 attacks, as the U.S. rained justice on bin Laden, his al Qaeda thugs and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan provided the escape route. Despite pledges of support, Islamabad opened the door to thousands of terrorists fleeing American forces, including bin Laden himself. According to former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, the ISI’s support was critical to the survival and revival of the Taliban after 2001. Sixteen years later, the Taliban along with its al Qaeda allies are retaking parts of Afghanistan as the Pentagon prepares to send thousands of U.S. troops to beat them back. Pakistan is at fault.

The U.S. has been reluctant to cut ties or meaningfully confront Pakistan over its treachery because the supply line that keeps the coalition fed and equipped in Afghanistan runs through Pakistan. However, this key link does not come free and has even been severed by Pakistan on multiple occasions after violent incidents between their forces and our own. The Government Accountability Office found in 2008 that of the $2 billion the U.S. had given Pakistan to run that key supply line, more than a third could not be accounted for, possibly because of fraud. Moreover, the Pentagon decided last August it would not pay Pakistan $300 million in reimbursement because it could not verify Islamabad was taking steps to combat the Haqqani network — another terrorist organization with ongoing ties to the ISI that is actively targeting Americans in Afghanistan.

When the U.S. finally tracked Osama bin Laden to Abbottabad in May 2011, it was clear Pakistan had been playing us for fools. For a decade, Pakistani officials denied his presence in their country, while the al Qaeda leader lived comfortably directing his network of terror. By this point, however, the U.S. military and intelligence community knew Pakistan could not be trusted. To prevent bin Laden from being tipped off by his hosts, the U.S. excluded the Pakistanis from the raid and ordered the use of secret stealth helicopters to evade Pakistani radars. It worked, and the world’s most wanted terrorist finally met American justice. When Pakistan learned what was happening, it immediately dispatched F-16 fighters we had generously given them to shoot down our Navy SEALs as they flew back to Afghanistan. Fortunately, they were too late.

In the aftermath of the raid, Pakistan struck back. They invited their Chinese allies to collect samples of our crashed stealth helicopter, poisoned the CIA station chief in-country, and jailed the Pakistani doctor who assisted U.S. efforts to locate bin Laden.

Despite all these cases of bad behavior, we still give Pakistan hundreds of millions of dollars every year in aid. We don’t need to pay Pakistan to betray us — they will do it for free. That is why I have introduced two bills that would put pressure on Pakistan. H.R. 1499, the Pakistan State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act, would require the State Department to assess Islamabad’s long history of cooperating with terrorists and determine whether or not Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism. H.R. 3000 would revoke Pakistan’s Major Non-NATO Ally status, an exclusive and preferential designation that Pakistan definitively does not deserve. We must hold Pakistan accountable for the American blood on its hands.

Time for a Change? Looking Forward at the Armed Forces Special Protections Act

Earlier this week, amid much controversy, the Indian government renewed the Armed Forces Special Protections Act (AFSPA) in Nagaland for the next six months. The controversial act allows the Indian military to search, raid, and arrest without the authorization of the local civilian government or fear of prosecution. While proponents of renewal cite a history of violence and an ongoing illicit economy, the act has been subject to criticism from human rights groups and representatives of the Naga people. The controversy surrounding the AFSPA only continues to grow as India reaches its twentieth year of ceasefire with the region’s largest separatist group.

The AFSPA originated in British India, as a means to suppress Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ movement in 1942. The act gave the military special powers to suppress dissent and act with impunity by shooting to kill, arresting without pretext, and conducting warrantless searches. Years later in 1958, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru brought back the AFSPA to fight the Naga Insurgency in the northeast. Although the peak of fighting has long since passed, and prominent Naga rebels have committed to ceasefire agreements, the government continues to label Nagaland a ‘disturbed’ area and renew the AFSPA.

Over the years, India has expanded the AFSPA to combat a variety of insurgencies. In the Northeast, the act which originally pertained to the states of Assam and Manipur was expanded to the states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. In 1983 the central government passed an AFSPA for Punjab and Chandigarh, in order to address the Khalistan movement that fought for Sikh independence. In 1997, the AFSPA was lifted from Punjab and Chandigarh. Lastly, in 1990 the government passed the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act to deal with increasing militancy in the region.

The government’s position is justified by a need to contain the simmering insurgent groups that have occupied the region for decades. Naga separatists have been accused by the center of continued “extortion, area domination, [and] recruitment”. In 2015, a faction of the area’s largest armed group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (IM), separated from its parent group to form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (K). The NSCN (K) breached the longstanding ceasefire with the government by killing 17 soldiers in an ambush. The military’s position is that counterinsurgency without the AFSPA would be akin to operating with “a hand tied behind the back”, and put the Indian military at a significant operational disadvantage.

Supporters of the AFSPA claim that repealing the act would empower militants by undermining the government’s commitment to the region. The Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, a Delhi-based think tank, writes that in many areas, the civilian administration might be biased in favor of the militants and act as a roadblock to military progress. Former Lt General Mukesh Sabharwal and other military officials have consistently claimed that allegations of abuses under the AFSPA are exaggerated or fabricated, and that the military has an incentive to self-regulate in order to not fuel the insurgency. Courts have largely upheld the AFSPA, but added provisions that the military “use minimal force required for effective action.”

Critics oppose the AFSPA on the grounds that it enables the military to violate human rights and civil liberties. According to a highly critical Amnesty International report, thousands of innocents have died at the hands of military personnel during the implementation of the AFSPA in Manipur and surrounding Northeastern States. The report continues that the act has allowed for a consistent pattern of human rights abuses by the military, which is not held in check by any civilian authority. The military has also been consistently accused of torture and ill treatment of citizens in India’s Northeast. Human rights groups cite that fact that in the 54 years of AFSPA implementation not a single military official has been disciplined as proof that the army is functionally immune to accountability.

The Naga State Assembly and many major Naga civil society groups have asked the government to withdraw the AFSPA. They cite the aforementioned human rights abuses, but also claim that it is time for Nagaland to fully return to civilian rule. Between 2002 and 2010, the total number of military personnel killed was less than 20, and even with the recent uptick in violence it seems as though the situation is stable enough for civilian self-governance. Decades of the government’s failure to grant the Naga people with the same constitutional rights and due processes as the rest of India has created a climate where the Naga people feel like second-class citizens.

In Kashmir, much like in the Northeast, there have been renewed calls to end the AFSPA. Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah has called repeatedly for repealing the AFSPA on the grounds that it is no longer needed to provide security. Advocates for repeal cite the precipitous decline of conflict casualties from over 800 in 2001 to under 100 in 2016. Despite declining violence, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International continue to cite ongoing violations of civil liberties, due process, and killings by the Indian military in Jammu and Kashmir under the AFSPA.

Although progress has been slow, the movement to repeal the AFSPA is gaining traction. Last year, in a landmark case, the Supreme Court ruled that the AFSPA could not justify “excessive and retaliatory force” unless in direct contact with a terrorist. The supreme court is also currently reviewing over 1,500 alleged extrajudicial killings which occurred in Manipur. Advocates for repeal were heartened by the court’s edict that ‘every case must be investigated’, apparently demonstrating a commitment to the due process of the Manipuri people. The court is waiting on human right groups to sort through poorly kept records in order to organize and determine the number and nature of killings that occurred. The AFSPA was also repealed in Tripura state, where the national government acknowledged local leaders’ claims that a waning insurgency no longer justified military immunity.

The AFSPA has also been accused of being counterproductive and inflaming the local population. Illiberal, suppressive policies encourage insurgency by making civilians distrust the government and become less likely to pursue political solutions to their problems. For rebels, the constant human rights abuses and culture of military rule that has persisted for decades justifies their violence against the government. In Manipur state, which is also subject to the AFSPA, local leaders claim that there were “only four insurgent groups when the draconian AFSPA was introduced … and the number has gone up to 32 since.” It is very possible that the AFSPA has outlived its usefulness, and should be repealed before it creates more distrust and ill will towards the central government.

The only way to test the strength of either side’s claims is to experiment with a rollback of the AFSPA. A rollback would allow the government to weigh the harms to human rights, violations of civil liberties, and strains to local relations with the military’s supposed need for security. If, unlikely as it seems, conflict begins to reignite and Nagaland threatens to devolve into fighting, the central government’s case for strong military action may be justified and rollback can be stopped. On the other hand, like if in Tripura the region remains stable, then it will validate the claims of local leaders and human rights groups. After evaluating the impact of rollback not seeing a substantial escalation in violence, military leaders should have no issue with giving up their immunity, because it will not jeopardize the lives of Indian soldiers. For both the government and the local population, rolling back the AFSPA provides an opportunity to test the strength of the peace and return the region to normalcy.

Bhutanese Territorial Dispute Highlights Underlying Tensions Between India and China

While India and China have consistently fought for regional supremacy in Asia after emerging as international powers, the latest territorial dispute over the Doklam region in Bhutan highlights a dangerous escalation of tensions. In mid-June, the Chinese military moved construction crews and road-building equipment into Doklam, which Bhutan considers to be within its borders. India became involved after its Bhutanese allies requested assistance, and there are currently approximately 3,000 troops from the three nations currently stationed in the area.

India’s involvement is unsurprising, considering the Ministry of External Affairs’ unofficial policy that, “any attack on Bhutanese sovereignty will be considered as an attack on India.” However, the situation is complex, because the two sides have varying interpretations on where the three-way border lies. The Chinese foreign ministry argued that Doklam was indisputably Chinese, and that “the area where the construction activities are underway is totally under the jurisdiction of China because it is completely located on the Chinese side of the China-Bhutan traditional customary line.” However, both the Bhutanese and Indian governments released official statements claiming that the territory unquestionably belonged to Bhutan, and that China was aggressively attempting to change the status quo of the borders between the countries.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that Doklam is a highly important strategic area for both China and India. As Ajai Shukla noted, potential Chinese control of Doklam might leave the Siliguri corridor – the narrow “chicken neck” of land connecting India’s seven northeastern states to the rest of the country – highly vulnerable to potential attack. Such a situation is unacceptable for the Indian government, as it could not risk being cut off from Sikkim and other valuable states. Similarly, China believes its Chumbi Valley territory is vulnerable to a hypothetical attack by India, and that by advancing further south toward Mount Gipmochi, it could augment its defensive position. Therefore, the Bhutan issue is a proxy dispute for both India and China to enhance their own security.

Interestingly, both India and China make reasonable arguments regarding where they believe Doklam belongs to justify their strategic interests in the area. In 2012, Chinese and Indian officials reached an agreement that meetings over any tri-junction border dispute between them and a third party must include representatives from all three states. Under this interpretation, China’s incursion into Doklam is invalid, because it was a unilateral action that did not take India or Bhutan into account.

The Chinese argument takes on a more historic tone, claiming that Doklam is a Chinese pastoral homeland, and belongs to China based on the borders drawn by the 1890 Anglo-Chinese Convention Relating to Sikkim and Tibet. In fact, in a 1959 letter to Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, Indian national hero Jawaharlal Nehru seemingly agreed with Chinese claims, and referenced the 1890 agreement as the rightful border between the three countries. In the past, China implemented similar historically based arguments when justifying its claims on the Tawang region in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, stating the area had unbreakable bonds with Tibet. While China’s argument is weaker due to arcane nature of the century-old agreement, dubiousness of its historic claims, and 2012 reaffirmation of the existing borders, the plausibility of both arguments has stoked tensions on both sides.

Rhetoric from both Chinese and Indian officials has been divisive, as both sides appear unwilling to concede any ground on the issue. Indian army chief Bipin Rawat stated that, “the Indian Army is completely read for a two-and-a-half front war” – all but saying India was prepared for war with China. On the other side, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang not so subtly called out India, saying, “any third party must not and does not have the right to interfere [in Doklam].” In fact, Chinese officials responded directly to Rawat’s aggressive comment, taunting Indian officials to remember the “lessons of history,” referring to the 1962 border war in which China occupied significant swathes of Indian land before retreating. While the odds of direct conflict in Doklam are low, such charged rhetoric from both sides is clearly very concerning.

As stated earlier, the Bhutanese border conflict is emblematic of a larger Chinese pattern of provoking territorial and regional disputes on its path to become a hegemonic power in Asia. Indian officials have been skeptical of Chinese regional connectivity initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), believing they are geopolitical moves designed to constrict India. Such opposition was evident this May, when India boycotted the Belt and Road Forum on the grounds that CPEC’s path through Kashmir threatened Indian sovereignty. Additionally, international observers have expressed concern regarding Chinese provocations in the South China Sea, which have sought to assert Chinese sovereignty over the area and its 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Faced with so many examples of aggressive Chinese foreign policy, India must act decisively in assuring that the Bhutanese regional dispute is solved quickly and peacefully. Indian officials are well aware of the fact that conceding Doklam would be viewed as a sign of weakness, and further encourage China to provoke more territorial disputes in the region. While it is unlikely that the dispute in Doklam will escalate into violent conflict, demonstrating resolve is instrumental in signaling to China that India cannot be pushed around in the region. Therefore, India must remain steadfast in its support of its Bhutanese neighbors, and do everything in its power to make sure that the Doklam situation is settled swiftly in favor of Bhutan.

Modi's Visit to Israel- A Projection of Pragmatic Policy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel on July 4 is historic for a variety of reasons, the most significant one being that in 25 years of established diplomatic ties, he will be the first Indian prime minister to visit the country. Israel is reportedly according him the same welcome that is typically reserved for the Pope and the President of the United States, thus underscoring the significance of the Indian-Israeli relationship. While the visit is laden with symbolic and ideological implications relevant to bilateral ties between the two nations, it also highlights the realistic and strategic progress they have made in the last two decades to strengthen cooperation.

Multiple accounts of the bilateral relationship convey this basic outline of the relationship – India was initially wary of establishing close ties with Israel for several reasons; Cold War politics; a legacy of Nehruvian foreign policy that focused on alliances with anti-imperialist and decolonized states – of which Israel was neither; and a lack of market power that compelled India to be dependent on the Arab states for energy needs. Even though India and Israel did not establish diplomatic ties until 1992, Israel, as President Pranab Mukherjee pointed out in his media interaction after returning from Tel Aviv in 2015, “has provided defence equipment, platforms and systems at a time when India needed them the most.” Apart from the aid provided during the Kargil War in 1999, Israel also secretly helped India during the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan. This highlights the most significant aspect of India and Israel’s relationship; it has gone beyond ideological considerations and party politics, and been forged based on a realist view of mutual interests and benefit. Additionally, it is important to note that India’s relationship with Israel was spurred by foreign direct investment in the agricultural sector, which began in Congress-ruled ruled states like Haryana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, and Punjab.

From 1992 onwards, successive Congress, BJP, UPA, and NDA governments have built a strong strategic partnership with Israel based on cooperation in the spheres of defence, intelligence, counter-terrorism, agriculture, cybersecurity, telecommunications, space, pharmaceuticals, IT etc. However, in contrast to the previous government’s more discreet approach towards Israel, and due to its preference for a more realistic and strategic vis a vis an ideological foreign policy, the Modi regime has acknowledged its relationship with Israel more publicly. In fact, one expert described the relationship as coming out from “under the carpet.”  Israel also warmly welcomes this approach, as it strengthens the nation strategically and economically, and fundamentally affirms its right to exist. The personal relationship between Prime Ministers Modi and Netanyahu is also strong.

Another topic of discussion is the ‘de-hyphenation’ of India’s approach towards Israel and Palestine; since PM Modi is not visiting Ramallah, and an unnamed Indian foreign ministry official made a comment stating that a visit to Israel did not necessitate an official visit to Palestine. There have been noticeable changes in India’s rhetoric, and a departure from long standing trends on multilateral forums, including India’s abstention on the 2015 UNHRC resolution condemning Israel’s human rights violations, which caused anxiety in Palestine. This, however, does not signal an abandonment of India’s support towards Palestine; India still recognises Palestine, and refers to Mahmoud Abbas as the President of the State of Palestine. Abbas visited India earlier in May, and the Modi government has repeatedly reiterated its support towards Palestine.

Despite these changes, India is unlikely to scale back ties with Palestine any time soon, especially since its relationship with Palestine is crucial to maintain its relationship with the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). It is also important to note that India has so far been fairly adept at balancing its relationships with Israel and Palestine, despite certain instances that have demonstrated that it is not always possible to keep its relationships completely conflict free. Thus, while ‘de-hyphenation’ gives India more room to advance it’s relationship with Israel, it also necessitates a more careful balancing act to assuage Palestine and its Arab partners.

Though India’s diplomatic overtures have certainly made a positive impact on Indo-Israeli ties, the strongest and most visible driver of the relationship between India and Israel is and has always been defence. India is one of Israel’s largest weapons buyers, and this deepening engagement in the defence sector has only progressed, despite concerns surrounding alleged corruption by Israeli weapons manufacturers. Under the Modi government, this cooperation has increased, with $2.6 billion worth of missile deals inked since April 2017 alone. Despite claims by both Israeli and Indian officials that this visit by Modi will not focus on defence cooperation, one can safely expect that along with the announced deals on space, development, water, and innovation, more arms and weapons technology agreements will be signed soon after this visit.

Proponents of  the strengthened alliance between India and Israel – mainly the right wing – welcome Modi’s move towards deepening strategic and economic ties. Both the fringe elements and the more moderate right-wingers have lauded the move as one that demonstrates the BJP government’s and Modi’s image as a path breaker. This is probably because unlike previous administrations, PM Modi has been more open about India’s dealings with Israel, and has better projected the mutual strategic concerns the nations share. They especially welcome the proposed cooperation on counter-terrorism, as India is expressing a growing frustration towards internal and cross-border terrorist acts, by which it has been frequently targeted.

Opponents of the relationship – mostly members of the left wing – argue that this deepening engagement has the potential to further alienate Indian Muslims from the current government, and draw similarities between attitudes towards Muslims in Israel and the Hindu right’s derision towards Muslims. They caution against supporting a regime that is perpetrating the “oppression, colonisation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people,” and draw parallels between Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the Indian State’s oppression in Kashmir. More moderate voices assert that India’s cooperation with Israel makes the Indian taxpayer a subsidiser of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, and that a closer association with Israel undermines India’s credibility as a humane democracy,  which could potentially compromise its interests.

While some of the support stems from certain misguided perceptions, and some of the critiques are extreme, it is important to acknowledge the potential pitfalls of a burgeoning relationship with Israel. The Modi government must not upset the balance it has struck, and must be careful of the way it expresses support for Israel and Palestine in multilateral forums. While Israel might try to gain further support from India in places like the UN, PM Modi should not let the lure of further defence cooperation preclude the sound foreign policy precedent his government has set thus far. At the same time, India cannot criticise Israel on international forums for its human rights violations, since that would invite criticism on its own activity in Kashmir. 

Even so, overall India’s growing relationship with Israel has strengthened the Modi government’s standing both domestically and internationally. While some may argue that PM Modi’s policies aren’t purely strategically motivated and exhibit the ideological leanings of the Hindu right, so far, his strategy with Israel has been well executed and based on realistic perceptions of national interest. As long as the Modi government maintains this relatively balanced approach and does not move to a further extreme, it can expect further beneficial strategic and economic cooperation in the Middle East.