Reflections from the Ramparts

Domestic policies took precedence over new initiatives in Narendra Modi’s 3rd annual Independence Day speech. On August 15th, 2016, “from the ramparts of the Red Fort” Mr. Modi celebrated India’s 70th Independence Day, and the progress it has made thus far. He spent his hour-long speech outlining his administration’s performance in healthcare, education, fiscal policies, and energy.  

Under healthcare, a major initiative that Mr. Modi announced was a program where one lakh INR is to be set-aside for families living in poverty that cannot afford healthcare. He also mentioned a reduction in wait time at hospitals that was brought about by introducing technology to the healthcare sector. Increasing efficiency and transparency through technology was a major theme that Mr. Modi touched upon. He cited a wide range of examples from the increase in number of railway tickets issued per minute, to the ease with which tax refunds can be collected, and passport applications can be submitted. One of the Modi administration’s major domestic goals is to not only increase bureaucratic efficiency, but also make similar changes across all sectors. This theme of efficiency has been a major propeller in his economic policies as well.

A week before his speech, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill was passed. “The GST regime is to become a powerful tool to strengthen the economy”, claimed Mr. Modi. The passing of this bill is a major accomplishment for the NDA government and is a step towards achieving some of Mr. Modi’s economic goals. He went on to discuss that ease of doing business has significantly improved as technical issues such as registration of a company have been worked on to increase overall efficiency. He claimed that registration time has decreased from 6 months to 24 hours – a change which apparently has been brought about by “good governance” over the “same employees”.

In addition to improving ease of doing business, Modi also claimed to have made great strides in the Energy sector. Under renewable energy sources, wind and solar energy in particular have been worked on by his administration. Energy security has been a key area in the foreign economic policy of the Modi administration. In his August 15th speech, Mr. Modi spoke about India and Qatar’s gas agreement. He also mentioned the Chabahar Port project, which India and Iran are currently collaborating on.

This year was the first time that an Indian prime minister referenced Balochistan (along with Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) in an Independence Day speech. The August 15th speech as well as his August 12th speech at the All Party Kashmir Meet blamed Pakistan for “reward[ing] terrorism”. However, simply blaming external actors for the unrest in Kashmir will not resolve the deep-rooted issues that plague the region.  

26 months after taking over as India’s PM, the Independence Day speech referenced a number of issues that are critical to India’s economic growth, development and future security, however much progress is left to be made. 

Pakistan Civilian and Military establishment together condemn Pathankot Attack

After the NSA level talks between India and Pakistan were called off earlier in 2015, India-Pakistan relations have been on a roller coaster ride. Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, and Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, have met twice since that cancellation. They met at the sidelines of COP21 in Paris and shook hands on what was a closed and “casual” meeting. The NSAs of India and Pakistan, Mr. Ajit Doval and Gen. Naseer Janjua respectively, met in Bangkok early in December of 2015, to discuss issues of terrorism and ceasefire violations, which was followed by the surprise visit by Mr. Modi to Pakistan on Mr. Sharif’s birthday later that same month. However, the terror attack on the Pathankot Air Force Base in India “threatened to destabilize” the follow-up talks. Mr. Sharif immediately called his Indian counterpart and shared his grief and condemned the Pathankot attacks. All these developments, over the course of a month-and-a-half, are not unprecedented. However, what is new and changed is the rhetoric that the Pakistani military establishment is pursuing this time around.

Since their inception, India and Pakistan have sought to resolve issues between them. Indian and Pakistani leaders have met multiple times on sidelines of UN meetings, SAARC summits and even funerals of world leaders. Dr. Aparna Pande, Research fellow at the Hudson Institute, in an interview on CNN, mentioned that Mr. Modi’s impromptu visit was a continuation of an old policy. “Every Indian Prime Minister, for the past six decaded has sought to make peace with Pakistan their legacy,” she said. Even in 2008, the Mumbai attacks became the reason why “the progress of the Composite Dialogue was derailed.” Owing to the “oscillatory nature of the India-Pakistan relationship,” even Mr. Sharif’s statement of his phone call with Mr. Modi post the Pathankot attack read-

“The Prime Minister also stated that the Pakistani government would investigate this matter. Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif pointed out to the Indian Prime Minister that whenever a serious effort for bringing peace between the two countries was underway, terrorists try to derail the process.”

So not much seems to have changed in the layout of the talks and reconciliation process between India and Pakistan. Although, the new development is that the Pakistani military may have a vested interest in improved relations with India. It is improbable that the Pakistani military was not involved in the visit orchestrated by Mr. Modi given its power and influence in the affairs of the country. Secondly, Times of India reported that “Pakistan PM, Army & ISI chief all condemn Pathankot terror attack.” In an effort to continue the dialogue between the two countries, the military and intelligence establishment in Pakistan have taken this new measure to condemn the attacks on the Indian air base. This is a first, for Pakistan and India. Pakistan’s security establishment seems to be upholding the legitimacy of the Sharif-led civilian government by simply aligning itself with it and not acting separately. The civilian government had also condemned the 2008 Mumbai attacks but the military leaders had fluctuated between being on the defensive and offensive but never condemning the attacks. General Pasha, former ISI Chief, was disappointed that India had not shared enough evidence for Pakistan to do anything about investigating the 2008 attacks and in the same statement said “the Indians, after the attacks, were deeply offended and furious, but they are also clever. We may be crazy in Pakistan, but not completely out of our minds. We know fully well that terror is our enemy, not India." But, that trend seems to be altering, while most things have remained unchanged. This time over, the security establishment has promised “full cooperation with New Delhi in eradicating the menace of terrorism from the region.” This change to a common rhetoric from the civilian and military leaders is good news. This interesting turn to collaboration between these two institutions, could be attributed to the recent appointment of General Janjua as Pakistan’s National Security Adviser. Looking at the future, Michael Kugelman, Senior Associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center, mentioned to Ankit Panda from The Diplomat that it may be advisable for NSAs to meet again, instead of the anticipated Foreign Secretary meeting scheduled for mid-January. As a former Lt. General, Janjua might be able to better share the interests of the army as his appointment itself came with consultations between Mr. Sharif, and current Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif.

For India, this is completely new diplomatic territory as well, and while only time will tell how these recent development will affect the talks and relations between the two countries, this change is welcome and quite optimistic.