The Asian Age – New Delhi tries to reset its ties with neighbours

K C Singh

The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry. He tweets at @ambkcsingh

Multiple events with geopolitical impact are compelling diplomats to scurry for meetings

New Delhi – India, 30 November 2020. The six months of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic followed by a gradual reopening of international travel has seen diplomacy transition from virtual meetings on e-platforms to calibrated in-person contacts.

Multiple events with geopolitical impact are compelling diplomats to scurry for meetings.

One, the new US President assumes office on 20 January 2021, despite the misleading fulminations of incumbent Donald Trump. Pending this, all major nations are reassessing their policy options.

Two, China is trying, after signing a confidence-boosting 15-nation trade agreement (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), to wean away or pressure America’s allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific and Europe before the Joe Biden administration fills the strategic vacuum.

For India, the first is a lesser hurdle than the second.

While continuity is expected in the positive trajectory of India-US relations under President Biden, a renewed emphasis on human rights and democracy may present the Indian government with a challenge as it maintains or even sharpens its majoritarian agenda in coming state elections.

But Chinese actions require close monitoring as the military standoff at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh persists into winter.

Senior Chinese diplomat and state councillor Yang Jiechi was in South Korea in August and then in Myanmar, Spain and Greece in September.

He arrived in Sri Lanka on 09 October, promising Chinese assistance for infrastructure, including building of the Colombo Port City and upgrading of Hambantota port.

Meanwhile, the Imran Khan government in Pakistan in September decided to elevate Gilgit-Baltistan to a full province, signalling to China that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) running through it had a more assured legal status.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi swung through Japan and South Korea on 24-25 November apparently to woo them before President Biden unveils his Indo-Pacific strategy.

South Block naturally also stepped up its diplomatic engagements to respond to these two and other developments.

While external affairs minister S Jaishankar was on a six-day tour of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Seychelles on 24-29 November, foreign secretary Harsh V Shringla was in Nepal on 26-27 November.

Separately, national security adviser Ajit Doval was in Sri Lanka on 27-28 November for the fourth Trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation meeting of India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Relations with Nepal have been testy since India inaugurated in May a new road in the Kalapani sector, providing easier access to Mansarovar in China.

Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, while beleaguered in an internal political battle with a rival Communist Party group, picked the territorial issue to rally his party and nation.

China was no doubt delighted by the friction as it ratcheted up its military posture in Ladakh.

Indian Army Chief General M M Naravane visited Nepal to maintain the old tradition of close relations between the two militaries.

In a peculiar follow-up, the head of the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s external intelligence agency, made a high-profile visit, including a call on the Nepalese PM and the Opposition leader.

The foreign secretary’s visit was thus well prepared and expected to further soften the Nepalese.

A border working group meeting, which the Nepalese sought as a condition precedent to resumed bonhomie, was conceded.

Mr Shringla also proposed an infrastructure and connectivity plan to counter the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative from the north.

Nepal is a vital buffer between India and China and geographically and culturally more integrated to the Indian south than the Chinese north.

In Colombo the NSA, Mr Doval, had the more complex task of balancing Chinese gains in Sri Lanka after the recent electoral triumph of the wily and nationalistic Rajapaksa clan, with the brothers occupying the top two posts.

Ironically, since the initiative’s creation, domestic politics in Sri Lanka and the Maldives has brought to power governments closer now to China and India respectively, the reverse of the earlier situation.

Thus, while in the Maldives the Solih government is more than thrilled to welcome Indian investment even in lieu of Chinese offers, in Sri Lanka the Rajapaksa clan is leaning towards the Chinese, opportunistically balancing Indian and American overtures as that allows it freedom to pursue its nationalistic and majoritarian agenda domestically.

It may find Mr Biden and his team is less tolerant of its domestic politics than the Trump administration.

The BJP’s desire to make a dent in Tamil electoral politics would also have to be balanced against majoritarianism at home and reticence over how minority Tamils are treated in Sri Lanka.

Before Mr Jaishankar arrived in the Gulf, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo was making his farewell visits to Israel, the United Arab Emirates and finally Saudi Arabia, where he arranged a meeting between Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Red Sea town of Neom on 22 November.

I had tweeted at the start of his visit that hopefully no adventurous move was being planned against Iran, to create a diversion, as a desperate President Donald Trump ran out of legal and populist tricks to overturn the US presidential election results.

On 27 November, in an apparent Israeli operation, endorsed perhaps by the US and even the Saudi-UAE alliance, Dr Mohsen Fakrizadeh, a top Iranian nuclear scientist and high-level officer of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, was killed.

This was an attempt to limit the Biden administration’s options in dealing with Iran. Hopefully, the Iranians are smart enough not to be immediately provoked.

But their pent-up anger over the earlier killing of Geneneral Qasem Soleimani in a US drone attack and now this provocation can explode at some stage.

Mr Jaishankar’s visit to the Seychelles was important as the new LDS government of President Waud Ramkalawan, the priest-grandson of an immigrant from Bihar, has been opposed to Indian naval concessions.

However, it was surprising the external affairs minister chose to visit only nations aligned to the US in the Gulf and those with recently established relations with Israel.

In the case of Bahrain, there was some justification as the death of long-serving Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa needed condoling.

But overall, the optics seemed insensitive to the fissures in the Islamic world caused by Trumpian diplomacy. It would limit India’s options with Iran and other Islamic nations opposed to US-Saudi-Emirati actions.

It would perhaps have been better to wait till the Biden administration had begun fixing the Trumpian mess.

https://www.asianage.com/opinion/columnists/301120/k-c-singh-new-delhi-tries-to-reset-its-ties-with-neighbours.html

The News – India’s ‘strong man’ foreign policy

Waqar Ahmed

23 December 2019. As we can see that India’s foreign policy towards Pakistan is to show brawn or muscles over the years, especially under the BJP government. New Delhi has consistently refused to hold meaningful talks with Islamabad on any tangible issue. The only policy that South Block thinks would work on Pakistan is to blame Islamabad for all the faults in the world.

It thinks that Pakistan is responsible for secessionist movements in India, growing corruption, sinking economy, large number of rapes and also perhaps lack of toilets.

When Indian politicians talk about Pakistan creating smog in northern India, it shows their wretched mentality. BJP’s manifesto has stated that “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.”

The world is slowly but surely working out that BJP’s ideology is detrimental to India’s secular and democratic credentials. Traditionally, India has been a religiously diverse and democratic society with a constitution that according to its framers provided legal equality for all, but sadly no more.

The religion and caste-based discrimination is becoming functional every day and lynchings of Muslims more common.

What happened recently in Kashmir is an eye-opener for the world. While the international media is focused on India’s exacting steps in the held Valley, the Modi government is trying to take the global spotlight off the unwarranted situation in the disputed region.

But the Kashmir issue has been successfully internationalised by Pakistan. King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, on a visit to India, demanded the Indian authorities to lift curfew in occupied Kashmir and also offered mediation to resolve the matter.

He said his country had been acting as an observer in the occupied valley for the past several years and would continue to do so.

“We emphasise the importance of respect for human rights, that an escalation of the situation in Kashmir is avoided and that a long-term political solution to the situation must involve Kashmir’s inhabitants,” Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde told the Riksdag or the Swedish parliament recently.

Dialogue between India and Pakistan is crucial.

But there will be no dialogue on Kashmir or any other issue in foreseeable future. Ajit Doval, the Indian security czar, came from intelligence corps, not diplomatic corps. He has narrow focus on diplomatic issues and foreign policy.

Doval is fond of covert action, which he defined as “a low cost sustainable offensive with high deniability aimed to bleed the enemy to submission.”

This is how he has been playing with India’s foreign policy towards Pakistan. But has he been successful? The answer is no as Pakistan’s security forces have blunted the coordinated terrorism in the country and the likes if Kulbhushan Yadav are behind the bar. Similarly, India is not finding its way with Iran and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, ahead of his visit to New Delhi, said that he wanted to work very closely with both India and China. Gotabaya further said his government would not do anything that would threaten India’s security and that his country’s involvement with China was purely commercial.

But will Sri Lanka forget the malicious role played by India in the proxy war on its soil? The LTTE was fully funded and supported by India in an attempt to destabilize Sri Lanka and create a homeland for Tamils. Sri Lanka will only further its national interests and will not become an Indian proxy.

With the world now closely watching the Kashmir situation and India coming under intense pressure, Modi’s tough policy with Pakistan has certainly backfired. With regard to Pakistan, and on the Kashmir issue, it had unintended consequences and internationalized the capture of held Valley by New Delhi through revoking Article 370.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/587315-india-s-strong-man-foreign-policy

Scroll.in – The Daily Fix: Why India will find it tough to ensure that Sri Lanka keeps its promises to Tamils

Gotabaya Rajapaksa has made it clear political rights of minority Tamils will not be his focus.

Sruthisagar Yamunan

New Delhi – India, 04 December 2019. Last month, Sri Lanka witnessed a regime change as the Rajapaksa brothers came back to power. While Gotabaya Rajapaksa became the president, his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa has been appointed the prime minister.

Both have faced allegations of ordering war crimes during the last stint in power, when thousands of Tamil civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan military in the final stages of the civil war in 2009.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first visit abroad was to India last week. He met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar went to Colombo to personally deliver the invitation.

However, the Sri Lankan president’s comments after his meeting with Modi have raised concerns about how the new regime will handle the question of the country’s Tamil minority. Rajapaksa made it clear in an interview to The Hindu that devolving political rights to the Tamil-dominated areas will not be his priority. Rather, he will focus on the regions’ economic development.

The majoritarian language he deployed to make this point was startling. Full devolution of powers as per the Indo-Sri Lankan accord of 1987 will not be implemented “against the wishes and feeling of the majority [Sinhala] community”, he said.

The comment invited sharp criticism from politicians in Tamil Nadu, who urged the Modi government to ensure the safety and dignity of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Many in the southern Indian state feel that economic development without consummate political rights will lead to a demographic alteration of the Tamil regions, given the difference in prosperity between Tamils and majority Sinhala population.

However, as The Indian Express argued, Modi is in no position to push Sri Lanka on the question of rights for Tamils after what his own government has done in Kashmir.

The Centre removed the special status given to Kashmiris under the Indian Constitution in August and enforced a complete lock down of the region to stop people from protesting. Some of the restrictions on communications continue to date.

In a way, what India has done in Kashmir is to reverse the devolution of some rights agreed to around the time of Independence, when the region acceded to India. Having acted in this manner at home, it will be impossible for the Modi government to demand a higher degree of rights and autonomy for a minority population in another country.

This is possibly what emboldened Rajapaksa to make the statements that he did right after a meeting with Modi. During the meeting, the Indian prime minister said he was confident that the Sri Lankan government would pursue a process of reconciliation to meet the “aspirations of equality, justice, peace and respect of Tamils”.

Persuading Sri Lanka to devolve rights to the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka is a commitment that successive Indian governments had made. This culminated in the Indo-Sri Lankan accord of 1987. While parties in power may change in India, this should not affect the policy of the government. In its eagerness to keep the Chinese away from Sri Lanka, the Indian government should not ignore its promises to Tamils across the Palk Straits.

https://scroll.in/article/945733/the-daily-fix-why-india-will-find-it-tough-to-ensure-that-sri-lanka-keeps-its-promises-to-tamils

538. Man in Blue – If Narendra Modi becomes the Prime Minister of India International Relations

Before tackling the subject I want to introduce two assumptions.

Assumption 1: The BJP after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections will either have a majority of the seats in the Lok Sabha or will be near to having such a majority.

If the BJP is the biggest single party but depends on the support of a number of smaller parties to form a government, it will not be able to implement its nationalistic and Hindu supremacist programme.

Supposition 2: Narendra Modi as PM will be like Narendra Modi the Gujarat CM, and will follow a nationalistic and Hindu supremacist programme.

His record in Gujarat worries us greatly, and many of his statements and posturing in the campaign confirm our worries.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and international relations

India has problematic relations with Pakistan, China, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Deterioration of the already problematic relations with Pakistan will have a negative effect on India’s relation with many other countries in the world.

I will tackle India’s relations with Pakistan first.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s civilian governments were never in control of the security forces, and its various security forces do not always sing from the same hymn sheet either.

In India the government has more control over the security forces, but border incidents along the international border or along the ‘Line of Control’ between the Pakistan and Indian controlled parts of Jammu and Kashmir are not necessarily always reported correctly to Delhi.

Jammu and Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority and is adjacent to other Muslim majority parts of pre-partition India, should have been part of Pakistan from 1947 going by the partition agreement. What the majority of the population of Jammu & Kashmir want is another matter. For many ‘Azad Kashmir’ should be an independent state and not a part of Pakistan.

Even ‘moderate’ Indian and Pakistani governments have taken positions on Jammu and Kashmir that make compromise near impossible. Just to maintain ‘status quo’ needs governments that practice a lot of self-restraint and are willing not to get provoked by incidents between the security forces of both countries or between Indian forces and ‘militants’.

With Narendra Modi at the helm an already fraught situation is bound to get worse. Going by newspaper reports the BJP has always been more stridently anti-Pakistan than the Congress led UPA government.

Politically aware people on both sides of the border are worried about another India – Pakistan war fought in the planes of Punjab, this time between two nuclear armed opponents.

There are two areas where the India – Pakistan border or the Line of Control has not been clearly defined.

Sir Creek is a 60 mile strip of water disputed between India and Pakistan in the Rann of Kutch marshlands on the border between Sindh and Gujarat. Pakistan claims that the line follows the eastern shore of the estuary while India claims a centre line.

In the Karakoram Mountains in the Himalayas are located the Siachen Glacier and the Saltoro Mountains, where there is disagreement over the location of the LoC.

These disputed territories are of no great economic value, but in spite of that it is very difficult to get both parties around the table and agree on a compromise.

China

There are areas of Pakistan controlled Jammu and Kashmir which have been ceded to China, causing unhappiness in India. The border between India and China in Ladakh (Jammu & Kashmir) is disputed and there are Chinese claims on parts of or all of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

The Chinese government is aggressively nationalistic and claims territories all around it, including large parts of the surrounding seas and islands therein.

PM Manmohan Singh and External Affairs minister Salman Khurshid have been handling recent incidents in Ladakh and visa problems for people from Arunachal Pradesh diplomatically, firmly insisting on India’s version of the border without indulging in non-diplomatic shouting matches.

There has only been one India – Chinese war so far, and both parties would be mad to indulge in another, but if either party feels that its honour requires military action, even if it is meant to be a limited one, things could easily get out of hand.

And Mr Modi and organisations like the RSS and the Bajrang Dal are not known for subtle approaches and self-restraint.

Bangladesh

There are border issues between the two countries, but I feel that the complicated relation between the two countries is mostly based on the Indian intervention in the East – West Pakistan conflict. Without the help of India the struggle for independence would have lasted much longer, but it is not easy to accept big brothers help.

There are additional problems about river waters, about the treatment of Hindus in Bangladesh and about illegal immigrants from Bangladesh settling in neighbouring India states like Assam.

The Shiv Sena, a Maharashtra party to the right of the BJP, claims that all Bengali speakers in Mumbai are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and wants to return them to that country.

There are serious issues between the two countries and the chances are that a Modi government, encouraged by the Trinamol Congress in West Bengal, will not improve matters.

But it seems unlikely that the existing tensions will erupt into an armed conflict.

Sri Lanka

What we are facing here is an equation between the Delhi government, the Tamils from Tamil Nadu, the Tamils from Sri Lanka, specifically those from the north-east of the island and the Colombo government.

The central governments in Delhi and Colombo have both a record of centralising tendencies, and opposition to movements that emphasise local cultures and local autonomy.

Since Congress lost its overall majority in the Lok Sabha India has been governed by coalitions that usually include parties from Tamil Nadu. These parties have supported the efforts of Sri Lanka Tamils to have more political and cultural autonomy.

Tamils speak a Dravidian language and are mostly Hindus. The majority of the Sri Lankans speak Sinhalese (an Indo-Germanic language like Hindi, Punjabi or Urdu) and are Buddhists, while the majority of the Indians speak Indo-Germanic languages and are Hindus.

Rajiv Gandhi sent an Indian Peace Keeping Force into Sri Lanka and changed from peacekeeping to fighting the Tamil Tigers, which led to his assassination in 1991.

At the moment the UPA government is forced by the Tamil Nadu political parties to be highly critical of the treatment of Tamils after Sri Lanka won the civil war against the Tamil Tigers.

What Narendra Modi and the BJP will make out of this is hard to predict. Will they go with the fellow Indo-Germanics who are mostly Buddhists, or with the mostly Hindu Dravidians? And how will these choices work out domestically? As we have also said about the other issues discussed above, strident nationalism and Hindu supremacist attitudes will certainly not be helpful.