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Imran Khan’s foreign policy fiasco

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy
Ambassador of India to Myanmar & GCTC Advisory Board Member

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was undoubtedly one of the best fast bowling all-rounders of his time. He, however, had a reputation of being rather intemperate in his references to India. This was an attribute of Pakistan’s present Prime Minister that this writer had personally noted when Indian cricket teams were playing in Pakistan in the 1980s.
Imran’s entry into politics, when the CIA and the ISI were busy training radical Islamic groups to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, inevitably led him into more closely embracing the tenets of “radical Islam” — propagated by Pakistan’s then fundamentalist dictator, General Zia ul Haq.
Imran’s mentor, a former ISI chief, Lt. General Hamid Gul, once told this writer that he was confident that the Muslims across India would join their brethren in Jammu and Kashmir to overthrow “Indian (Hindu) Occupation” of Kashmir! It is evident that this mindset still afflicts the thinking of Pakistan’s present Prime Minister, who recently described Osama bin Laden as a “martyr”. Not surprisingly, the Americans deal with Army Chief General Bajwa on their Afghanistan policies, and not Imran Khan, who was jokingly known as “Taliban Khan”!
Since Pakistan has good professional diplomats, there is little doubt that Imran Khan did not care to listen to their professional advice on issues pertaining to Jammu and Kashmir. He suddenly got the bright idea of joining efforts of the 93-year-old Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohammed, and the intensely disliked and arrogant Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, to set up a New Global Islamic Grouping. He was, however, forced to pull back from this proposal by Saudi Arabia’s expressions of strong displeasure.
Imran Khan seemed to have no clue of the historical animosities between Turkey and the Arabs when seeking to promote this grouping, till he was informed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, about Arab reservations. Salman also refused to accept Imran Khan’s proposal to convene an immediate meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) to take action against India for its alleged human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir.
Frustrated that he could not persuade the Arab world to back his ill-advised proposal, Imran Khan made his bombastic Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, proclaim: “If you cannot convene it, then I’ll be compelled to ask Prime Minister Imran Khan to call a meeting of the Islamic countries that are ready to stand with us on the issue of Kashmir, and support the oppressed Kashmiris.”
Imran Khan seemed to have forgotten that Pakistan’s economy survives on annual doles from Saudi Arabia and the Western world. The infuriated Saudis responded immediately, by freezing a $3.2-billion oil credit facility and demanded that Pakistan commence repaying a $3-billion loan. Imran Khan should have known better, especially after the UAE Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, had only the previous year issued a special invitation to India’s then External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, to participate in a meeting of OIC Foreign Ministers in the UAE.
An infuriated Imran Khan instructed Qureshi to boycott the meeting, earning the displeasure of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. More recently, the Saudis snubbed Islamabad, denying Pakistan’s all-powerful Army Chief General Bajwa a meeting with Crown Prince Salman. Bajwa was visiting Saudi Arabia in an effort to mend fences after the Qureshi fiasco.

Plagued with problems

Pakistan’s foreign policy has been plagued with problems since its inception because it has been based on the sole premise that it has to turn opinions of individual countries, regional groupings, and international financial and security organizations against India. Joining military alliances like SEATO and CENTO may have won Pakistan some temporary support from the US and other Western democracies.
That support was, however, neutralized because it was ruled by military dictators. Moreover, the only cause that had widespread support in Islamic countries was the Palestinian issue, where Pakistan lost support because it was seen as a partner of the US, which was opposed to Palestinian independence.
At the same time, Pakistan earned the wrath and suspicions of around half the membership of the UN, which did not take kindly to its support for global American policies. India, meanwhile, established full diplomatic relations with Israel, after some Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan had done so. Moreover, even today, India supports the Palestinian demand for a viable, separate state, living at peace with Israel.
The UAE recently joined Jordan and Egypt in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. It is now only a question of time before others follow suit. Pakistan, of course, pretends to be more loyal to the Palestinian cause than others, though it has done precious little in helping the cause of Palestinian Independence.
Ever since its birth, Pakistan has believed that the best way to obtain support from Islamic countries for its stand on Jammu and Kashmir is by pretending to be the champion of Islamic causes, worldwide. This is easier said than done, as individual Islamic countries have their own distinct ambitions. The bulk of the world’s Islamic population is located across West Asia, ranging from Pakistan, Central, and West Asia, to Turkey and parts of North Africa.
The reality is that the countries across this vast area have, for centuries, been diverse and divided in sectarian (Shia-Sunni), civilizational (Arab-Persian), linguistic, economic, and cultural terms. Pakistan’s foreign policy in the Islamic world has, therefore, inevitably failed. Islamabad unrealistically believed it could motivate these countries to come together against India. Sectarian Shia-Sunni differences between Iran and Saudi Arabia and civilizational rivalries between Turks, Arabs, and Persians cannot, however, be ignored or overlooked in the conduct of international relations even today.
Pakistan should ask itself some hard questions, particularly on why its majority population in Bangladesh fell apart if Islam alone was an unbreakable and unifying bond? Why is its majority Punjabi population, which dominates the army, perennially at loggerheads with the minority Sindhi, Baluch, Pashtun, and Muhajir populations?
India has learned to conduct its diplomacy across the vast Islamic world, by keeping away from the sectarian and civilizational differences and rivalries. India’s citizens have lived peacefully in these countries for decades, bringing peace, progress, and development. And, in more recent times, oil-rich Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE are finding that in the emerging global scenario, investing in and cooperating with India in energy and other sectors have their own distinct advantages.
The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

Pak can leverage India’s citizenship move

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy
Ambassador of India to Myanmar & GCTC Advisory Board Member

Developments pertaining to the issue of Indian citizenship for Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan have been the focus of both domestic and international attention in recent days. India has been admired across the world because of its ability to strengthen national unity while cherishing and retaining its rich ethnic, religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity.
The issue of Indian citizenship for immigrants from our Islamic neighbors — Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh — is complex, given the history of Partition, in 1947. The impact of these recent developments in our extended neighborhood, from Turkey to Indonesia, needs attention, study, and analysis. We would be doing ourselves a disservice if we failed to recognize the possible security and international dimensions of the challenges ahead.
Some hard facts need to be understood. The most important is that the highest concentration of Muslims in the world today is in our extended neighborhood from Turkey to Indonesia, where an estimated one billion Muslims live. The countries where the largest Muslim populations in the world reside as citizens are Indonesia (268 million), Pakistan (200 million), India (195 million), and Bangladesh (153.7 million). One-third of the world’s Muslims live in South Asia. Developments within India, especially those which have a bearing on its neighborhood, will inevitably have fallout on political developments in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and even Afghanistan.
We need to be clear that the Sheikh Hasina government in Bangladesh is already under pressure from radical Islamic elements, duly backed by Pakistan, for allegedly being too pro-Indian. She has skillfully fashioned Bangladesh’s relations with India and China while ensuring that it remains on good terms with both. But, there is little of friendship between Sheikh Hasina and Pakistan, which still strives for and yearns to see the emergence of an Islamist government in Dhaka.

The Dhaka factor

In the eyes of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, the emergence of an Islamist government in Dhaka will be ideal to tie up India significantly on its eastern borders. The most serious challenge we face is to ensure that Sheikh Hasina herself does not come under pressure from pro-Pakistani elements seeking to destabilize relations with India, by creating exaggerated fears of possible deportation of a large number of Muslims, whom India believes is from Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina has already sent us a strong signal of her distress and displeasure, by deferring a scheduled visit of her Foreign Minister to India.
With Pakistan already on the warpath over the alleged shutdown in the Kashmir Valley, one can be sure that it will also go on the overdrive, especially in Afghanistan, claiming that Indian policies are directed against Afghan Muslims also. There will also be a concerted effort by Pakistan in neighboring Islamic countries, across our Indian Ocean neighborhood, to run down India.
Pakistan has watched with alarm at the manner in which Narendra Modi has completely transformed India’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. He has focussed attention particularly on ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where over four million Indians reside and work.
Energy cooperation between India on the one hand and the UAE and Saudi Arabia, on the other, is set to expand significantly. Saudi Arabia is envisaging investments amounting to over $100 billion in India, in energy, refining, infrastructure, minerals, and mining. The investments will primarily be in India’s value chain, ranging from oil supply, marketing, and refining, to petrochemicals and lubricants.
They are closely linked to Saudi Aramco’s global downstream strategy. A major project will be a $44-billion investment in a refinery and petrochemical project, on India’s west coast. The UAE will also be investing and cooperating in these moves for investments in India’s petrochemical sector. The Saudi and UAE investments will give a boost to India’s exports of refined petroleum products, which now amount to $42 billion annually.
Pakistan now appears to be going on an overdrive to promote and exploit misunderstandings about India’s recent legislation on citizenship. Its primary interest will be on claiming the Act is inherently anti-Muslim, as Muslims alone are being denied Indian citizenship. It would be a serious mistake for us to underestimate Pakistan’s capacity to develop doubts in the minds of not just governments, but the public at large, in a chain of Islamic countries.

Correct perspectives

While pathologically anti-Indian leaders like Turkey’s Erdogan or Malaysia’s Mahathir can be managed, one should not underestimate the capacity of the Pakistani diaspora in the Gulf region, to create misperceptions about where India stands. Our diplomatic missions, diaspora, and public figures visiting the Arab Gulf countries will have to be sensitized on what needs to be done, to clear such misperceptions.
We need to acknowledge that we have rarely experienced such adverse criticism from the media, think tanks, and civil society organizations from across the world on developments in India, as we are now facing. It could well be argued that we are not bothered about the misguided media and public abroad. But the essence of good diplomacy lies in correcting misperceptions and ensuring that governments think tanks, media, and civil society organizations across the world are persuaded to change course and understand developments in a correct perspective. We should not take all criticism abroad as being deliberately, or maliciously, hostile.
We know how to deal with people abroad who are inherently hostile. But it would be a folly to brush aside or disregard criticism from people in foreign countries who are not given to being inherently or habitually critical of India and its policies. What is at stake is the security of our north-east.
Most separatists in our north-eastern States have sought refuge and safe haven in Myanmar and Bangladesh, in the past. Sheikh Hasina effectively ended that practice, ever since she prevailed electorally over Khaleda Zia. The Myanmar army, likewise, has even undertaken joint operations with Indian forces, to eliminate separatist safe havens on both sides of the border. But, most importantly, it is our responsibility to ensure that our population along our north-eastern borders are at peace with themselves and the rest of the country.
The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

How India can hurt China without going to war


Krishan Varma
Advisor to Impulse NGO Network


A little more than a week ago the India-China border talks hit a roadblock.

Despite several rounds of talks at different levels, nothing substantive was achieved, other than a partial disengagement at the three friction points at Galway valley, Gogra-Hot Springs, and Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh.
While diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis continued, once again in a pre-meditated and deliberate action, Chinese troops moved stealthily to occupy two strategically important hill features in the Pangong Tso area.
Indian troops reacted swiftly, reportedly halted ingress, and secured tactically advantageous positions in the south banks of the Pangong Tso and in features overlooking the vital road link to Spangur Tso.
Media statements by the Chinese foreign ministry and the Global Times on the incident continued with their refrain of projecting India as the aggressor and accused India of trying to unilaterally change the status quo.
It is more than apparent that in the Chinese view, disengagement and de-escalation will depend on India’s acquiescence of the status quo as the Chinese wish to define it.

Under the present circumstances, return to the status quo ante of April 2020 through diplomacy can realistically be written off.

Chinese action comes in tandem with increased diplomatic and military pressure on India.
In furtherance of its ‘all-weather iron brother’ relationship with Pakistan, the Chinese have repeatedly raised Kashmir at the United Nations and in the joint statement in the recently held bilateral strategic dialogue.
China is raising its profile in the sub-continent through the aegis of Pakistan, by participating in a quadrangular meet with Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan and arrangements for a meeting with Mullah Baradar in Islamabad.

Meanwhile, the growing Chinese footprint in Nepal is altering the security dynamic for India.

It is bolstering infrastructure close to the Lipulekh pass, and the newly disputed areas near Kalapani.
China has made mischievous moves to instigate disaffection among the Gurkha community against India.

The Chinese have also taken advantage of recent irritants in India-Bangladesh relations and offered massive financial assistance to several infrastructure projects in Dhaka and Sylhet and 97 percent duty-free access for Bangladeshi goods, becoming its largest trading partner and investor.

It has also further upgraded the defense relationship, which includes constructing a modern submarine base in Cox’s Bazaar, a new naval base in Pathuakali, and ensuring delivery of a Chinese Corvette to strengthen its naval forces.

The Chinese continue to bolster their defense infrastructure and troop accretion in the Depsang Plains, and the recently occupied pockets of territory in eastern Ladakh.

Missile firing exercises and two new J-20 stealth aircraft were spotted in Hotan in an apparent advance planning for more such aircraft deployments in Xinjiang.
More fighter aircraft and bombers have been deployed at the Kashgar, Hotan, and Ngari Gunsa airbases.
These will add military muscle to protect Chinese gains in the eastern Ladakh region and also serve to safeguard further expansion into the South Xinjiang area and Gilgit-Baltistan region to protect rapidly growing investments there.
The heightened military posture in the region could also help to shore up Pakistan’s confidence against any sudden Indian military thrust to regain Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.
As tensions ratchet up, Chinese can be expected to foment disturbances in the valley.

Border incidents in disputed pockets in the northeast cannot be ruled out.

Covert efforts to complicate the ongoing peace process in Nagaland, Manipur, and Assam and fanning underlying disaffection among vulnerable groups can also be expected.
There is a slew of options for India to exert pressure on the Chinese to be reasonable.
These included steps to significantly ‘hurt’ the Chinese economy by banning more of their digital apps; imposing restrictions on Chinese companies from executing government contracts; invoking close scrutiny of Chinese imports; and tightening the visa regime for Chinese passport holders.
India should also exclude Huawei from participating in 5G trials and completely remove Chinese products and gear from the telecommunications sector.
However, it will take much more to coax Chinese to abide by existing treaties, agreements, and protocols.

On the political front, an urgent review of India’s policy on Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong is required.

The gradual up-gradation and strengthening of India-Taiwan relations are also needed.
Proposing the inclusion of Taiwan as an observer to the upcoming Quad foreign ministers meeting or a higher profile ‘Quad’ meeting proposed by United States President Donald Trump for the autumn, and the expansion of the Quad is an idea whose time has come.
Diplomatic parleys must continue bilaterally, as well as on international forums like the SCO, BRICS, and RIC trilateral.
Extensive discussions among Quad constituents followed by quick action to develop alternate global supply chains to exert more economic pressures on China are needed as was endorsed in the recent meeting of trade ministers of Japan, Australia, and India.

From a strategic perspective, making the Andaman and Nicobar islands a hub for intelligence and logistics sharing for the operational use of Quad member countries and France, raising India’s naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region and the South China Sea is imperative.

Urgent negotiations for a LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) type of agreement with Vietnam and the early conclusion of the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) with the US will also be critical to sync and coordinate kinetic or non-kinetic responses to China’s continued obduracy.

The time is ripe to extend the confrontation with the Chinese to the maritime domain.

In close concert with the Quad countries, choking the Malacca Strait in case of continued Chinese intransigence on the India-China border and belligerence in the South China Sea and the East China Sea is an effective deterrent.
Incidentally, this kind of action which has the potential to deal a telling blow to the Chinese economy, close to the US presidential elections, may not only bring about a rethink in China’s expansionism on its western periphery but could well turn out to be a game-changer for the waning support for President Trump.

Shatranj Versus Weiqi: Some Strategic Moves


Krishan Varma
Advisor to Impulse NGO Network

Chinese actions along with eastern Ladakh and the East and South China Seas continue to reflect moves played in the traditional game of ‘wiki:’, the 2,500-year-old abstract strategy board game, in which the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent, to eventually capture it all. This is evident in the lack of compliance with the agreed disengagement and de-escalation process along the LAC. China’s intention is to incrementally occupy territory and push the perceived Line of Actual Control (LAC) further west. A similar strategy is being played out in its usurpation of territory in the East and South China Seas.
In response to these aggressive moves on multiple fronts, it is a relief to see the Quad’s growing solidarity in reacting to China’s misplaced hubris. All the Quad’s constituent countries, along with the UK and France have acted with alacrity in a coordinated challenge to counter China’s expansionist moves in the military and economic field.
The US despatched the formidable Nimitz aircraft carrier fleet to the Indian Ocean through the strategic Malacca Strait to participate in a naval exercise with four Indian warships. I had the privilege to have landed and taken off from the Nimitz sailing for a sea drill off Hong Kong in the early 90s and have witnessed its prowess. The Andaman and Nicobar tri-services command jurisdiction has seen heightened activity.
India has evidently extended the operational front from the land border to the maritime domain where it enjoys an advantage. A gauntlet to the Chinese, this exemplifies a swift move in a game of shatranj (Indian chess), an effective counter gambit. Australian and Japanese warships along with Indonesian naval vessels have also increased activity near the Malacca Strait adding teeth to the build-up of a countervailing force in the area.
With USS Ronald Reagan in the East China Sea along with another battle group near the Taiwan Strait, these powerful forces can effectively respond to any further premature Chinese adventurism in the region.
On the economic front, in a move reminiscent of the Cold War when the Soviet economy was gradually squeezed over time, the US has ratcheted up powerful punitive actions against China. Sanctions against Chinese companies and nationals involved in repression in Xinjiang and Hong Kong continue. Recently, the US Commerce department added 11 companies to a trade blacklist, bringing nearly 50 Chinese entities on the list and restricting them further from access to US technology as well as other goods. The Japanese have moved 87 of their companies out of China. The consequent loss in revenue to Chinese companies can deal a telling blow to an economy already suffering from a downturn and burgeoning unemployment. More punitive action is in the pipeline. While such a complex strategy can take a long time to fructify, given the deep global integration and strength of the Chinese economy, it must nevertheless be recognized as an earnest beginning.
Meanwhile, India has displayed a firm resolve to curb the import of non-essential Chinese goods. It has blocked and restricted investments and predatory runs on vital entities in the financial and start-up ecosystem. Rapid indigenization of telecommunication infrastructure including home-grown 5G technology will prevent further loss of valuable data to the Chinese that has merrily exploited the huge flow of metadata from a single heterogeneous source that refines their AI and machine learning capabilities. If India can sustain the gradual decoupling from the Chinese digital inroads, with support from the Quad plus, the Chinese stand to lose billions of dollars in the long run. Similarly, a renewal of the pharmaceutical industry will cause substantial loss to Chinese exports.
The big question is: will China relent from its multi-front territorial aggression against its peaceful neighbors?
Given Xi’s apparent arrogance, any pullback from confrontation can potentially upset his China Dream and threaten his personal ambition to be a leader for life. Hence, a protracted challenge can be anticipated.
Consequently, Indian strategic decision-makers will have to factor in a few possibilities to devise a counterplan: it will have to be prepared to sustain military pressure all along the eastern Ladakhborder region through the winter. It will need to consider the Chinese opening up some pressure points in the central and eastern sectors. It has to be prepared to defend against increased cyberattacks against critical networks and sensitive installations. China could add more pinpricks in Nepal and Bhutan border areas, step up clandestine support to Indian insurgent groups in the northeast region, and attempt, through its surrogates, to foment disturbances on simmering internal political, social, and communal issues. It can move into overdrive to woo Bangladesh through major economic inducements. It could collude with Pakistan to foment trouble in J&K, and coordinate defense of its assets and investment in the Gilgit-Baltistan and POK regions.
India’s defense planners should seriously consider counter moves into vulnerable non-delineated areas in the Ladakh region and then negotiate return from a position of strength, launch deniable covert operations against transgressing Chinese troops and infrastructure in its claimed territory and threaten to interdict their stretched supply lines.
Till India develops effective and demonstrable comprehensive national strength, India must also seek to drop outdated principles of non-alignment and strategic autonomy (refer to my article in the Sunday Guardian dated June 27, 2020) and selectively multi-align itself with like-minded democracies like the emerging D-10 and Vietnam. Agreeably this is not easy to achieve, but it is essential to accomplish.
The key message is this: we have to counter the Chinese strategies embodied in weiqi i.e. and play the more popular, and widely played game of chess (shatranj). It is the time to resolutely proceed to checkmate the opposing King.
(The author of this Opinion article is Krishan Varma, former Special Secretary to the Government of India, Cabinet Secretariat.) (ANI)

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

From non alignment to strategic alignment: India’s way forward


Krishan Varma
Advisor to Impulse NGO Network

The barbaric premeditated attacks perpetrated by Chinese troops on Indian Army personnel in the Galway river valley area has nullified the painstakingly negotiated confidence-building measures for peace along the LAC. Although there is a welcome consensus between the two countries for disengaging troops in Eastern Ladakh, withdrawal from the seized territory (that was not under Chinese occupation earlier) to the April 2020 status quo ante is a long way off given the scant regard China has for protocols and agreements. Already, the Chinese side has begun to lay claims to new tracts of land. Clearly, relations between the two countries are now at an inflection point.
In response, first of all, India must exercise restraint and not react emotionally or impulsively. It must pause and rethink its policies on China at the bilateral, regional, and global levels. It is not the time to fall prey to knee-jerk and jingoistic calls to “settle the score”.
The only feasible option is to radically change the domestic paradigm. It is time for Indian diplomacy, military, commerce and industry, telecommunications, and IT to re-evaluate their strategies vis-à-vis China. It is the time to proceed firmly, and pragmatically and “selfishly” pursue our national interests in all fields. Following the examples of many Asian tigers, India needs to be pragmatic and adopt flexible policies.
The key to this is emancipating ourselves from the shackles of outdated foreign policy formulations that may have served us well in the past 70 years. To this end, there is a serious need to jettison the term “strategic autonomy” and “nonalignment” from our diplomatic lexicon and evolve a new concept of “strategic alignment”, which embodies the spirit of both terms. India’s future should be premised on a coalition of like-minded democratic countries that need to counter a brazenly aggressive China.
As I argued in an earlier article, Chinese aggressive action, well beyond being only assertive, is planned to achieve its oft-stated objective: to regain every inch of Chinese territory and preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty. The plan coincides with the nation’s two upcoming hundred-year anniversaries (the first of which comes up next year). The repetitive aggressive posturing against Taiwan intruding into their Air Defence Identification Zone, ongoing maritime threats to Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and the renewed threats to Japan over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea are indicative of a serious shift in Chinese behavior. China has embarked on a dangerous venture to press its claims on all territories that it believes historically belong to it. It has clearly put to rest Deng’s 24-character strategy, “observe calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile, and never claim leadership”. While the world is reeling from the COVID pandemic, for Xi Jinping, this is the time to launch an unprecedented all-around offensive to achieve his China Dream.
To check China’s untrammeled belligerence and ruthless quest for global domination, India should, in alignment with powerful international strategic partners, redevelop the “Tibet Card,” be assertive in exposing and opposing Chinese repression in Xinjiang, support the preservation of democratic values and autonomy in Hong Kong, and work in concert with other maritime powers to ensure freedom of navigation in the open seas and skies in the Indo Pacific and East Asian regions. Joining the newly conceptualized Pacific Defence Initiative (PDI) is also critical. This itself will bring access to foreign funds, thus freeing our own resources for economic development. In the changed global circumstances when virtually the entire world’s sentiments are stoically against the Chinese, the benefit derived from a little “give” by the Indians can be negotiated to outweigh the exponentially high “take” for it. These windows of opportunity do not come often!

Meanwhile, at the bilateral level, those who raise concerns about Chinese prowess vis-à-vis India in terms of scale and economy should remember how a much smaller Vietnam taught China a lesson in 1979. We should also be reminded that our armed forces are battle-tested in high altitude warfare, and can thwart the Chinese from creating further trouble on the border. The time has come to occupy some tactically advantageous disputed pockets in the region and then negotiate withdrawals from a position of strength. If this can be realized, it must be followed by a time-bound demarcation and delineation of the LAC: an unfinished task at the time of signing the peace and tranquility agreement. This can be one major step to pave the way towards an overall negotiated settlement of the boundary question, however intractable it is, and however long that may take.
On the economic front, bilateral commerce and trade relations are inextricably linked with the livelihoods of many. Calls for boycott of Chinese products, ban on import of all items having Chinese components, stopping direct investment, restricting the inflow of finance and other jingoistic reactions are impractical and un-implementable in the short term. However, immediate restrictions can be put on investments in security-sensitive and critical areas of our economy. Telecommunications is one such sector.
For the medium term, trade arrangements with South Asian countries under SAPTA, the ASEAN group, and bilateral pacts with Singapore, Japan, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Vietnam must be reviewed with a focus to plug gaps that aid imports from China. Violations of rules of origin must also be closely examined.
For India, becoming self-reliant and an alternative base for sustainable supply to a global value chain is a long-term strategy. This is due to the gestation period involved in developing infrastructure, specialized skills, reform of labor, land laws, and the judicial system, financial reforms, and work ethos and culture. Therefore, the imperative is to radically reform the economy and concomitant supporting structures and value chains. In the interim, it must significantly strengthen economic trade and technological cooperation with the advanced countries of the West, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.
Towards this end, India can benefit hugely with a reconfigured foreign, internal, and security policy based on a new, pragmatic concept of “strategic alignment.”
Krishan Verma is a former Special Secretary to the Government of India, Cabinet Secretariat.


Modi’s speech has shown how India should deal with Pakistan

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy
Ambassador of India to Myanmar & GCTC Advisory Board Member

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address in Kozhikode spelt out the broad parameters of what India’s response would be in the aftermath of the Uri attack.
He revealed that there had been a series of such attacks in Jammu and Kashmir this year, in which India’s armed forces eliminated more than 100 terrorists.
He drew attention to the fact that Pakistan is now internationally regarded as the epicentre of global terrorism. It is a country that welcomes and provides haven to terrorists like Osama bin Laden.
Modi used the occasion to directly address the people of Pakistan. He referred to the shared yearning of the people of both countries, for progress and economic development.
He pointedly noted that it was not just India, but even other South Asian countries like Bangladesh and Afghanistan that were raising their voices against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
He sarcastically noted that while India was recognised worldwide for its exports of software, Pakistan had acquired a reputation of being an exporter of terrorism.

PM Narendra Modi. (Photo credit: PTI)

Most significantly, he went beyond his Independence Day speech by alluding not just to the persecution and sufferings of the people of Balochistan, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, but also pointedly alluded to the plight of thousands of Pashtuns, who have been driven from their homes by the Pakistan army’s operations in their homeland.
The contours of Modi’s policies to deal with a recalcitrant Pakistan are now emerging. While he has not ruled out military options at a time and place of India’s choosing, he is also not going to be pressurised into taking any precipitate military action.
In the meantime, he is going to build up an environment internationally, to turn the heat on Pakistan for its sponsorship of terrorism.
Following the Uri attack, India has received statements of understanding and support from four permanent members of the Security Council – Russia, USA, France and UK.
Interestingly, similar statements of sympathy and support have come for the first time from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Bahrain, where millions of Indians and Pakistanis reside.
China’s reaction to the Uri attack has been relatively muted, clearly indicating unease with the attack.
Unsurprisingly, Turkey is the only country voicing understanding of Pakistan’s position. Japan’s statement has been the most forthright from east Asia.
This intense diplomatic effort is set continue, following UN address of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to the UN General Assembly.
The action will then shift to the BRICS Summit in Goa, where Pakistan has been pointedly excluded from participating, while India’s eastern neighbours Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand will be present, as members of the BIMSTEC grouping.
In the meantime, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan appear likely to lead an effort to boycott the SAARC summit in Islamabad on November 20.
Pakistan has, after all, adopted a negative attitude and stonewalled attempts for greater economic cooperation and integration in South Asia.
It is averse to meaningful counterterror cooperation. It has a one-point agenda of seeking to get China, which is not a South Asian country, admitted to SAARC as a full member, just to embarrass India. It remains to be seen how this effort to review the working of SAARC, will be executed.
It would be necessary to complement these efforts with moves to place reciprocal restraints on Pakistan’s exports to India and also encourage and facilitate our textile and cotton industries to undercut Pakistan’s exports in these crucial sectors.
There has been some irresponsible talk of annulling the Indus Waters Treaty and denying Pakistan waters it is entitled to receive.
PM Modi on Monday chaired a meeting to review this treaty where the government explored ways to use its share of water of rivers flowing into Pakistan, rather than outrightly scrapping the deal. This treaty, after all, is not bilateral and has provisions for third-party involvement.
Actions seeking to annul the treaty will, therefore, be challenged internationally. There are, however, provisions in the treaty, which permit us to significantly reduce present levels of water flowing into Pakistan, which can and should be invoked by us.
Prime Minister Modi’s reference to “Pashtuns” was extremely significant, as the Pashtuns have never recognised the Durand Line, the present border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as a legal border.
They consider it as a line imposed on them by British imperialism. We should consult Afghanistan and depict the entire region between the Durand Line and the Indus river at Attock, as disputed.
Just as the Balochs across the world have appreciated and welcomed the prime minister’s speech on Independence Day, millions of Pashtuns, on both sides of the Durand Line in Afghanistan and Pakistan, will appreciate such an action by India.
Most importantly, however, in dealing with Pakistan, we would hopefully, as the prime minister has enunciated, make a clear distinction between our approach to Pakistan’s ordinary people and professionals on the one hand, and its rogue army establishment and those associated with it, on the other.

Main achievements of India at BRICS

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy
Ambassador of India to Myanmar & GCTC Advisory Board Member

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a triumphant President George W Bush Sr proudly proclaimed the birth of a “New World Order”.
This “New Order” was to be dominated by the US and its Western allies. This grouping would be free to invade those countries whose leaders they found distasteful.
India, which cherished its strategic autonomy, was at the receiving end of coercive moves to “curb, roll back and eliminate” its nuclear programme through economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation. India broke free of these shackles only after it conducted nuclear tests and overcame American sanctions.
Global perceptions of India changed significantly after Goldman Sachs came out with a startling report in 2003.
The report averred that over the next 50 years, Brazil, Russia, India and China (earlier BRIC) could become a much larger force in the world economy than the G6, comprising the US, Canada, UK, Germany, France and Italy.
If things went right, the BRIC economies together could be larger than the combined economies of the G6 in less than 40 years.
By 2025, it could account for over half the economic power of the G6. Of the current members of G6, only the US and Japan may be among the six largest economies in 2050.
India, the report averred, has the potential to show the largest growth rates for the next 30 years. India’s GDP will outstrip that of Japan by 2032.
The four “emerging” countries, thereafter, got together to fashion a new grouping (BRICS), which sought to influence global policies. South Africa joined in 2011. Did the BRICS live up to the expectations of India in 2003?
The answer is a categorical “no”. Russia’s energy-dependent economy, its falling birth rates and growing criminalisation have seriously eroded its potential and influence.
With falling oil and gas prices and deteriorating relations with the US, Russia is increasingly echoing Chinese policies in our Western neighbourhood, and particularly in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It appears to have become a junior partner of China on this score. But, it would be a folly to think that the current Russian slide is permanent.
Likewise, Brazil and South Africa are both afflicted with internal political uncertainties and falling growth rates.
The main achievement for India in Goa was the announcement of measures to give new momentum to our relations with Russia.
These included Russian agreement to invest a record $11 billion, which will lead to a Russian takeover and restructuring of the ailing, debt-ridden Essar Petrochemicals refinery and of the Vadinar port in Gujarat.
This has been accompanied by agreement for investment of a further $5.5 billion by India in Siberian oilfields.

PM Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Photo credit: Reuters) 

Russian grievances about India lowering emphasis on bilateral defence cooperation have been addressed by decisions to buy S-400 air defence missile systems, establish a joint venture to manufacture 200 twin propeller transport helicopters for armed forces and pact on measures for timely acquisition of spares for defence equipment.
One expects that, in turn, Russia will be more circumspect on its defence ties with Pakistan. The Goa BRICS summit has mercifully and hopefully ended misconceived and unrealistic perspectives in India about China’s intentions.
China is more determined than ever to encircle and contain India, by stepping up defence cooperation with Pakistan and proceeding with its “One Belt One Road” project from Xinjiang to the strategic port of Gwadar, through Gilgit-Baltistan in POK.
President Xi Jinping’s visit to Bangladesh and China’s assiduous courting of Bhutan and Nepal are pointers we cannot ignore.
Do we have a comprehensive strategy to deal with this threat? One sadly doubts this, given the widespread illusions in New Delhi about Beijing’s “good intentions”.
Despite such reservations, one cannot but compliment South Block’s smart move in deciding well before the Uri tensions that we would invite the members of BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal), and not SAARC, for the Goa Summit.
We have served ourselves well, realising, albeit belatedly, that given Pakistan’s obstructionism, SAARC really has no future as a grouping to promote regional economic cooperation.
Every SAARC summit has turned out to be yet another soap opera, revolving around whether Indian and Pakistani leaders would meet for yet another round of fruitless talks.
The time has come for us to progressively disengage from SAARC, while placing much greater emphasis on a quadrilateral India-Sri Lanka-Maldives-Seychelles corridor and BIMSTEC.
We can, in course of time, evolve new institutions for trilateral cooperation with Afghanistan and Iran, while extending our reach across our western shores in the Indian Ocean. Regional cooperation with Pakistan should be dealt with by a policy of “benign neglect”.

Lessons for India from recently concluded Heart of Asia conference

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy
Ambassador of India to Myanmar & GCTC Advisory Board Member

The Sixth “Heart of Asia” Conference in Amritsar brought together 14 Eurasian countries, including India, China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan, and representatives of 17 supporting nations led by the US and the European Union. It reviewed their efforts to deal with the threats posed to regional peace and security by developments in Afghanistan.
Both India and Afghanistan openly asserted that these threats arose and emanated from Pakistani soil, with support from Pakistan’s state machinery.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani alluded to the enhanced security challenges Kabul was facing this year, with the Taliban stepping up their armed attacks across the country. He did not mince his words by publicly holding Pakistan primarily responsible for terrorism across his country.
He alleged that “some states still provide sanctuary and support” for terrorist networks operating in Afghanistan.
President Ghani pointedly referred to a statement by Taliban leader Mullah Rahamatullah Kakazada who had acknowledged that if the Taliban left their safe havens in Pakistan, they would not last even a month in Afghanistan.While noting that Pakistan had pledged $500 million for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, he rejected Pakistan’s offer of assistance.
He asserted that the money pledged by Pakistan could “very well be used by it for combating extremism” directed at Afghanistan.
The conference, for the first time, designated several organisations from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Xinjiang and Central Asia, apart from the ISIS operating in Afghanistan, as posing terrorist threats in the region.
India can draw satisfaction from the fact that for the first time Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed were designated by such a conference as terrorist outfits.
President Ghani generously praised India for its economic assistance, describing it as “impressive both it its scale and its system of delivery”.
There was also reference to the importance of the tripartite India-Iran-Afghanistan agreement on developing the Chabahar Port to promote regional connectivity to and through Afghanistan.
Despite these developments, India should not ignore the challenges that President Ghani’s government faces both internally and externally.
It is no secret that governance in Afghanistan has been affected by differences within the Afghan government. While the US has stepped up military supplies including the augmentation of Afghan air-power, there are logistical problems in routing American military supplies through Pakistan.
Afghanistan has been appealing to India for over three years for urgent supply of military hardware. New Delhi is yet to firm up arrangements for this. We should, if necessary, immediately conclude a tripartite agreement with Iran and Afghanistan to facilitate transit of arms supplies.
It is equally important that we fulfil our commitment on developing the Chabahar Port in Iran expeditiously. India also has to recognise the reality that we are seeing the emergence of a Russia-China-Pakistan axis, when it comes to developments in Afghanistan.
We should make it clear that the tone and tenor of remarks made by Russian Special Envoy Rehman Kabulov in Amritsar on a number of issues, including our bilateral ties, are not in keeping with the spirit of our long-term friendly relationship.
The process of reconciliation within Afghanistan has achieved a small success, with the former pro-Pakistani mujahideen leader of Hizb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, signing a peace agreement with the Afghan government. But the prospects for a restoration of peace and a peace agreement with the Taliban are virtually non-existent at present.
While the talks between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government are meant to be exclusively “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”, there are many others hovering around with a finger in the Afghan pie.
The initial “facilitators” of these talks were the US, China and Pakistan. After that dialogue process broke down, largely because of what the Afghans saw as Pakistani duplicity, we are now witnessing the emergence of a new grouping of Russia, China and Pakistan, set to promote what is called an internal Afghan Peace Process.
The Russians now make out, with little evidence to substantiate what they are saying, that the real threat to regional peace emerging from Afghanistan comes from Daesh (ISIS) and not the Taliban. This is obviously a line Pakistanis are pushing, recognising that Russia’s primary concern is the ISIS.
One would not be surprised if the Afghans, said to be representing the ISIS, were really a front set up by the ISI.
In any case, we should not allow attention to be diverted from the fact that it is the Taliban, together with their affiliates in the Haqqani network – armed, trained and operating from safe havens in Pakistan – that constitute the main threat to the security of Afghanistan and indeed the region as a whole.
In the midst of a transition of government in the US, Washington can offer little to deal with these developments, especially as no one can predict what “deals” the mercurial President-elect Donald Trump will hit upon, to address developments in Afghanistan.

Modi and Trump’s chemistry has brought hope to India-US relationship

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy
Ambassador of India to Myanmar & GCTC Advisory Board Member

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Washington for his first meeting with President Donald Trump, when his host was enmeshed in a series of foreign policy and domestic controversies. Trump’s handling of relations with NATO allies and his partisan approach to rivalries between Saudi Arabia and Qatar had evoked widespread domestic criticism. His unrestrained and unwarranted criticism of India on climate change raised misgivings in Indian minds.
Contrary to expectations, the visit turned out to be a huge success, thanks to some deft handling by both sides. Foreign secretary S Jaishankar, who arrived earlier, had detailed discussions with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and precisely spelt out India’s position on a wide range of issues, including Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.
But, ultimately it was the candour and readiness of PM Modi to address American misgivings and perceptively understand Trump’s thinking, that led to India proving those sceptical of new and increased Indo-American understanding wrong. There were clear misgivings in Indian minds, as the Prime Minister prepared to leave for Washington. His visits to European capitals indicated his determination to widen options in a rapidly changing world order.
The Trump dispensation had treated NATO allies peremptorily. American policies in East Asia changed significantly. Its approach to countries in the Islamic world was strongly polarising. China was being treated by Trump almost differentially and controversy surrounded relations with Russia.
There were misgivings in India about how the Trump Administration, obsessed with challenges posed by ISIS, would deal with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India and Afghanistan. India was also mulling over how to reconcile Modi’s “Make in India” with Trump’s “America First”.
It was wise that before meeting President Trump, Modi met with his two key advisers on foreign and security policies – Secretary of State Tillerson and defence secretary Mattis. While the vexed issue of H1B Visas was discussed in his meetings with the top honchos of American business, it is clear that the new visa regime will ultimately be crafted in the US Congress. It was evident that a large cross-section of American business realises the importance of the present H1B visa regime.
India will, therefore, have to avail of all resources, particularly from American and Indian business, for effective lobbying in the US Congress, where New Delhi enjoys a measure of bipartisan understanding on a wide range of issues.
This will, however, remain an issue requiring sustained attention. It was also made clear to the Trump Administration and US businesses that there is a huge market in India for lucrative business in a vast number of areas, including defence equipment and passenger aircraft, which Trump personally alluded to.
Energy will remain a key area of cooperation, with India ready to import large amounts of natural (shale) gas, along with nuclear energy and multilateral financing of clean coal projects. “Make in India” and “America First” could become mutually reinforcing.
There is little doubt that New Delhi’s greatest success in the Washington discussions emerged from the readiness of President Trump and his aides to not have any illusions or doubts about the pernicious impact of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism on Afghanistan and India.
Going beyond just alluding to the role of known villains like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Trump administration readily imposed sanctions and declared Syed Salahuddin, the Pakistan-based leader of the Kashmiri Hizbul Mujahideen, as an international terrorist. This is a path-breaking event.
It is a signal to stone-pelters and those who back Pakistan-trained terrorists, whether Kashmiri or Pakistani, that they can expect no international understanding. It is also time for New Delhi to respond to Pakistani references to a so-called Kashmiri “freedom struggle” by expressions of support for the oppressed people of Balochistan and the Pashtuns in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
The Trump Administration has strongly backed Indian economic assistance and military training to Afghanistan. This should continue, especially at a time when China is seeking to mediate between Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort which will involve “understanding” of the Taliban. It is important to ensure that this Chinese effort, clearly directed against India, does not succeed.
Modi has also succeeded in obtaining continued American commitment for tripartite — India, Japan and US — naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. Moreover, a message has been sent to China by India and the US, calling on all nations “to resolve territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law”.
Clearly alluding to the China-Pakistan economic corridor, the Modi-Trump Joint Statement refers to the need for projects for regional economic connectivity ensuring “respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity”, thereby questioning the rationale of the CPEC being routed through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
A word of caution is needed here: All this does not mean that Trump will necessarily avoid backing Chinese moves on Afghanistan, even while escalating drone attacks on Taliban and Haqqani network targets across the Durand Line. India and Afghanistan will have to closely coordinate their policies on dealing with such Chinese duplicity. After a series of diplomatic gaffes, Trump was clearly pleased with the personal chemistry that he had established with Modi.
This was reflected in the remarks he made about his shared fondness with the Indian PM, for Twitter messaging. It was not just the US President who was pleased with the meeting. I arrived in California’s Silicon Valley the day before the summit meeting. The Indian community was depressed with our defeat in the Champion’s Trophy final.
There were smiles on the faces of most of them when I met them after the summit!

How the tragedy of Pakistan began with Jinnah’s flaws

Gopalaswami Parthasarathy
Ambassador of India to Myanmar & GCTC Advisory Board Member

The book, Re imagining Pakistan, by Hussain Haqqani, makes for an interesting read about the circumstances, twists and turns that have led to Pakistan being widely described as the “epicentre of global terrorism”. It is an important read for those in India who simplistically believe that Pakistan and Pakistanis are no different from “us”, as “we share a common history and heritage”.

Haqqani dwells at length on the contradictions and confusion surrounding the birth of Pakistan led by Jinnah. Photo: Reuters

Haqqani’s own career and life symbolize the travails of ambitious young Pakistanis, afflicted with disillusionment. Haqqani had just started his career in 1983, as a journalist of the Far Eastern Economic Review, when I met him in Islamabad. He was then an ardent supporter of military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq and his policies of promoting Wahhabi-oriented “radical Islam”.
He, thereafter, served rivals Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, as Pakistan’s envoy to Colombo and Washington. Targeted by Pakistan’s military, he now acknowledges the flaws in Pakistan’s body politic and the pernicious role of Pakistan’s all-powerful army. The book dwells on the fallacies and flaws behind the very creation of Pakistan, whose founding father, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was an ostensibly liberal, cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking, pork-eating, British-educated lawyer.
Jinnah combined his “liberalism” with an insatiable appetite for territory well within India, like Hyderabad, Junagadh and even Jodhpur. There was no dearth of people then who considered themselves the true heirs of Muslim rulers who had ruled across India for centuries. There is no dearth of elitist Pakistanis even today who continue to believe that as they are fair-skinned, their forefathers were not from the subcontinent but from across the Muslim world.
It was primarily this sense of racial bigotry that led to their contempt and disregard for their darker-skinned Bengali-speaking brethren in the East and the eventual emergence of Bangladesh after a bloody armed struggle.
Haqqani dwells at length on the contradictions and confusion surrounding the birth of Pakistan led by Jinnah who, despite his professions of being modern-minded, gave Muslim clerics a free hand in political mobilization.
Discontent in East Pakistan commenced with Jinnah’s authoritarian rejection of a legitimate role for the Bengali language. Not only were Pakistan’s first rulers not sons of the soil, they were insistent on enforcing the use of Urdu, which was not the mother tongue of any of Pakistan’s people, apart from those who migrated from India. This was merely because Urdu was popular in the court of alien Muslim rulers.
While the ostensibly modern-minded Jinnah co-opted religious extremists, Islamic fundamentalism spread rapidly during the decade long rule of General Zia. Haqqani provides a detailed description of the pernicious role of the army and its preferred jihadi groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Haqqani also describes how Pakistan’s army undermined the authority of successive civilian governments and led the country to disaster, by being drawn into America’s “war on terror” post-9/11.
There are also details of the army arranging the “disappearances” of inconvenient journalists and other civilians, who were seen as being inimical. Unlike his predecessors, President Donald Trump has bluntly exposed Pakistan army’s activities in fomenting terrorism across India and its support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, while swearing loyalty to the American “war on terror”. Pakistan army’s policy of hunting with the American hound while running with the Taliban hare lies internationally exposed.
The final chapters of the book are unquestionably the most interesting and relevant ones for contemporary reading. The chapter on Pakistan’s economic follies spells out how “weak civilian governments, vying for popularity and military governments without political support seeking legitimacy”, have led the country to economic disaster, making it a perpetual economic basket case.
Haqqani also alludes to the views of eminent economists like IMF president Christine Lagarde, on the reasons for Pakistan’s dismal economic performance. The last chapter makes sombre reading of the follies that have led Pakistan to religious extremism and near bankruptcy.
Haqqani advises, “Instead of a narrow definition of patriotism that excludes all serious deliberation about alternative paths for the country, Pakistan’s military could begin reflecting on why alternative paths may actually lead to a better future. There is, however, no sign that such rethinking is underway.”
This is a reality check for all Indians to ponder over, while looking at options available to deal with a dysfunctional and difficult neighbour. There are sadly no “easy options” on this score!

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