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Pakistani diplomacy is limited now: The world is with India on Article 370

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

To my mind, there is nothing new in what Pakistan has done by sending our ambassador back to New Delhi. We had also asked their ambassador to leave after the Parliament attack. There is enough precedence for such events.
Pakistan calling back our ambassador is an attempt to internationalise the entire issue — and when have they not done this?
The present ambassador of India to Pakistan is a fine diplomat, he’s worked with me in Pakistan.
He knows how to handle them.
On the diplomatic front, following the Article 370 abrogation event, I don’t feel that India is going to take any decision in haste or shorten its staff in Islamabad. We may have our problems with the military and government but it is wrong to treat every Pakistani in any case with suspicion as being anti-Indian. That is not the case, especially in areas outside the capital.
We have to deal with human issues on human terms.
There are people in Pakistan who do believe that it’s only logical eventually to do business with India — we are a big country, how long will they fight with us. We need not go easy on their government but we may go easy on their people — there is a difference there.
Hostilities against diplomats in Islamabad have always been there. You have to live in Islamabad and have the ISI looking at your kids constantly to know what it is all about! Most of the civil population is rather scared about seeing the diplomats, their contact with you is very limited, but you have to manage your best to get to meet people. Officially, you can meet people depending on what their professional relations are — so, many politicians are easily available, depending on which party they belong to, the media comes across and chats, and that’s fine.
It is the level and type of surveillance on families that makes it quite difficult, including upon wives.
My wife was there first as the consulate general’s wife in Karachi and then as the high commissioner’s wife when we worked there. She felt stifled by the type of surveillance she underwent.
Pakistan saying that they will take up this matter with other countries in the world diplomatically is also nothing new. They did it when the Kargil War was fought and when our Parliament was attacked. It’s par for the course, as they would say in golf.
Realistically though, what use is Pakistan to any country right now?
Just look at how it is persuading the Chinese to get reasonable on their rate terms by letting out that it is unhappy with this. They went and met US President Donald Trump in Washington. The results are visible.
We need to remember though that their diplomats are also very professional people. It is important that you deal with these things realistically — but right now, with the Saudis, the UAE, everyone wanting to be on the good side of India, which they will be as long as you grow at 6% or 7% per annum, Pakistani diplomacy doesn’t have a lot of room to navigate within.
I have no doubt that Indian diplomats are trying to get the world on their side. The Foreign Secretary has met a number of ambassadors and instructions must have gone out to them on what they are required to do. This is very normal.
I do think that Pakistan has never been strict on Hafiz Saeed — he is their asset, and they will not tackle him now. I am very clear in my mind about the necessary steps we must take ahead — we should keep lobbying with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to see that all this behaviour does affect them.
I believe in strict reciprocity against Pakistan.
The most important next move by India should be managing the situation and loosening up the restrictions we now have in the Valley.
I sense from my friends in various parts of the government that there is a growing tiredness with violence in the Valley, a fatigue with insurgency — now, it depends on you as to how you utilise it.
In my days in the PMO, to my mind, I found the most corrupt government in Kashmir was of Farooq Abdullah’s. They apparently even ate up money we gave for flood relief.

Not a glowing record: Farooq Abdullah’s govt came under the graft scanner in Kashmir. (Photo: IANS)

There is a tangible governance vacuum there, so as long as you deliver good governance, everything will be fine. I am the Chancellor of the Jammu University today. I meet Kashmiri students daily, they are bright, forward-looking and energetic. Yes, they also sometimes have a chip on their shoulder but those issues are fully addressed when they get employment across the country.
The students in the university do speak openly enough about the grievances they have and the army presence in the Valley.
You have to deal with it and give them comfort.
It will be alright.

Deconstructing Chinese strategies along LAC


Krishan Varma
Advisor to Impulse NGO Network

Recent developments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Eastern Ladakh region and Sikkim are a cause of concern. Since April, China has made multi-pronged aggressive moves along the un-demarcated section of the Sino-Indian border. They have been comparatively larger in scale, deploying a significant number of troops with indicated intent. The transgressions in the Naku area of Sikkim were significant. In the Pangong Tso area, there was continued attempt to restrict Indian Army patrols from going up regularly to Indian claimed territory; and it was the Chinese PLA incursions in the Galway Valley, Hot Springs region, and Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) region that brought in a significant new element in the nature and depth of the transgressions. These aggressive moves exacerbated tension in the region and call for an in-depth analysis.
The use of words like “stable” and “controllable” to describe the current situation at the border by the Chinese in their official briefings suggest that a compromise is being offered to the Indian side. The intrusion in the Galway valley—the first since the 1962 conflict—is significant in both nature and scale. The use of air assets like helicopters flying close to the border albeit on their own side of the perceived LAC, and fighter activity further inland, although attributed to routine summer flying duties, manifest a diabolical intent.
Several rounds of bilateral talks have taken place at the levels of Colonel, Brigadier, and Major General. The level of rhetoric and jingoism on both sides is now subdued as both works furiously but quietly to defuse the tension. The Chinese posture is one of digging in at their present positions, some of which are in Indian territory. Meanwhile, the Indian side is pressing for a return to the status quo. With both sides signaling an unwillingness to escalate the situation, the level of talks to resolve the stand-off is being raised to the level of Corps Commander. It is rare if not for the first time that Lieutenant Generals from both sides will be meeting to find a solution to the imbroglio.
Meanwhile, there is much debate in the media and among China watchers here about the reasons for the premeditated and predetermined Chinese actions along the Sino-Indian border. They range from the leadership’s attempt to create a diversion from internal pressures building around the opposition to Xi Jinping. This is evident on social media platforms, where participants speak out boldly, unafraid of being identified. As the economy slows down leading to soaring unemployment, there is growing restiveness among the Chinese youth. Joblessness is estimated to have risen from about 30 million to almost 70-80 million; the GDP growth rate is expected to decline significantly—it is noteworthy that this year, the Chinese did not declare their estimated GDP growth at the recently held annual Two Sessions. To add to this, China is facing international opprobrium for being the source of the Covid-19 pandemic and there are calls to “punish” China by relocating businesses through new supply chains. All these factors pose new challenges to the Chinese export-led economic growth model, which is the mainstay of its phenomenal modernization and development story. Growing tensions in the South China Sea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong are stated to be other contributing factors.
But there is more to the aggressive Chinese moves on the Sino-Indian border. PLA’s recent incursions appear to be carefully coordinated attempts by troops belonging to two erstwhile military regions—the Lanzhou and Chengdu Mrs—under the Western Theatre Command. They are charged with the responsibility for military operations against Indian targets stretching opposite Xinjiang in the north to Sikkim in the south, and further east. Viewed from a strategic angle, the aim seems to be to cut off Indian Army access to the LAC leading up to the Karakoram Pass. It could also serve to obstruct the emerging network of feeder roads and infrastructure development by the Indian Army in the region. This could also be part of an attempt to isolate Sub Sector North of the Indian Army. This will allow the Chinese to protect the occupied Aksai Chin area and to outflank Indian troops based on the Siachen Glacier.
More importantly, this action could be a precursor to try and foreclose any future possibility of Indian troops effectively impeding the rapid development of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which runs through the Karakoram Pass, Gilgit-Baltistan, and the POK. Added to this is the timing of the moves. They are notably close to the Pak Supreme Court order for holding elections in Gilgit-Baltistan. This coincides with simultaneous moves by Pakistan for extending constitutional control in the Gilgit-Baltistan region and strengthening control over POK. The decision to go ahead with the Kohala hydropower project and construction of the Diamer-Basha Dam by a Chinese company in POK, the latter at a cost of $5.8 billion (which is an economically unviable project), will likely push Pakistan into a severe debt trap. And we are all too familiar with the template of how China settles debts with those who cannot repay!
At the same time, Pakistan is facilitating greater involvement of the Chinese in the region through the aegis of the CPEC. An estimated 10,000 PLA personnel and several thousand Chinese “advisers” are reported to be involved in Chinese aided projects in the POK, Gilgit-Baltistan region. In the foreseeable future, it is possible that the heavily indebted Pakistanis may eventually cede control of the whole or parts of the Gilgit-Baltistan region to the Chinese as compensation. For the Chinese, it will be a fulfillment of their not so hidden agenda to extend the territory of Xinjiang province southwards into Pak controlled territory, the underlying and unstated strategic raison d’être for the CPEC. Although currently, this assessment might seem to be only a remote possibility, it is an eventuality that should be seriously engaging the minds of Indian strategic thinkers and policymakers.
The timing of the heightened Sino-Pak collaborative moves and the basis of the above assessment can be traced to the August 2019 statements made by the Home Minister in Parliament when he declared the UT status for Ladakh and the J&K. Amidst thunderous applause, he stated that India would regain the Pak controlled areas of POK and the Chinese captured areas of the Aksai Chin, in time. Although there are confusing signals about the actual ground situation emanating from so-called reliable sources, with some claiming that the Chinese troops have withdrawn from areas from within acknowledged Indian territory, and be that as it may, the Chinese may have assessed correctly that this government has the grit and determination to defend its territorial sovereignty and “walk the talk”. This was seen in Doklam, and in the historic annulment of Article 370.
The question to consider is this: are the Chinese moves in Ladakh only part of continuing probing attempts to incrementally seize Indian territory and bolster their claims over tactically advantageous pockets of disputed or Indian territory? Or are they working in partnership with an indebted Pakistan to eventually annex chunks of Pakistani controlled Indian territory south of the present borders of Xinjiang? Are the current incursions a sinister move in a classic game of Weiqi?
The long-term Chinese aim to annex Pak controlled territory in the Gilgit-Baltistan area and POK under the garb of the CPEC, without having to fire a single bullet, must be factored into our security calculus.
Krishan Varma is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.

Technology partners: A case for India-Taiwan-US cooperation


Krishan Varma
Advisor to Impulse NGO Network

A strong case for self-reliance and greater use of made in India products were the focus of Prime Minister Modi’s recent nationwide address. However, for the cash strapped economy whose manufacturing base is currently low compared to its potential, this is a real challenge. We first have to increase demand for indigenous products to match the quality of world-class ones, which a large segment of the population has come to enjoy post-liberalization. We must also boost exports. Therefore, India needs to qualitatively scale up its manufacturing base and technological capacity to keep pace, if not become a leader in modern technologies. This will depend on building an efficient digital economy, improving digital connectivity, upgrading infrastructure, and creating cutting edge communication technologies.
In order to succeed in its new policy direction, India will have to seek new partnerships. This will allow it to gain access to high tech, advanced technologies, and sophisticated hardware to complement its indigenous capabilities. It will also have to attract substantial foreign direct investment from world leaders in advanced technologies and willing, non-traditional, and under-utilized relationships. The USA and Taiwan adequately fit the bill.
India–US relations have never been stronger and more stable than in the last six years. This began in the beginning of the century with the unfolding of the Next Stage of the Strategic Partnership, and the landmark India-US civil nuclear cooperation deal. Thereafter, the US has shared very sensitive technology in the defense and science and technology sectors. The security relationship has been strengthened with the signing of three crucial defense-related agreements on logistics, communication, and the interoperability of militaries, previously reserved only for the USA’s closest allies. Intelligence sharing in security-related matters have also evolved exponentially. The potential for transfer of state of the art technology in telecommunication, AI, robotics, and in the most critical areas of space and defense can be accessed with enhanced mutual understanding.  These can accommodate US interests without giving up the desired strategic autonomy that India has cherished and will continue to. COVID 19 has brought this complementarity relationship more into sharper focus. The vast reservoir of Indian American talent at the helm of leading technology companies is an added advantage.
Let’s now take a look at the other foreign alternatives.  India can gain access to world-class technology from the US, Russian Federation, Western Europe, Japan, S. Korea, or China. The US is India’s largest trading partner and practically all its major MNCs are here. Russia, although historically a very friendly country to India, is seen to be drifting closer to the Chinese, which has exploited its need for finance and intense rivalry from the US. On the other hand, Western Europe is turning inwards with fresh challenges posed by Brexit, and the crumbling economies of many EU countries. Advanced technology is available with France and Germany, but while they can supplement American technologies, they cannot replace them. With Japan, the pace of cooperation has been surprisingly slow, despite converging interests. South Korea has emerged as a stable technology partner but it has its own geo-strategic compulsions. China is a great source of technology and offers competitive pricing particularly in telecommunications, robotics, AI, quantum computing, IoT, cyberspace, but cooperation in these areas can only be expected to be a one-way street. China cannot conceivably be a partner to India’s growing strength and profile in these areas due to historical rivalry and competing interests.
The US is an obvious choice; the two countries are natural allies. As a superpower, it is expected to promote its own interests and that can make it intrusive, selfish, and self-serving. We are and must be aware of our security interests and be self-confident about imbibing the best in technology without compromising our national security. China exemplified this position through-the the 80s and 90s and still continues despite retaining an intensely competitive relationship. India can take a leaf out of the China rapid development story. The US needs India as much as India needs the US — to bring stability to a very economically vibrant, mineral and energy-rich, and vital Indo-Pacific region.
While the Quad can potentially provide a useful platform to manage or even resist the increasingly assertive moves by China, with India’s urgent need to gain access to technologies with minimum barriers of license and export restrictions, Taiwan becomes an invaluable resource. India needs a stable, strengthened and mutually beneficial long-term bilateral relationship with Taiwan to strengthen its trade, investment, scientific, and innovation technology fields.
In order to preserve and lend stability to such a relationship, an extended triangular relationship that includes the US should be considered. Such an informal arrangement can serve as a geostrategic and economic counterbalance to China. At the same time, and of equal importance, it will give more salience to a closer and long term stable relationship between India and Taiwan, which, unfortunately, has not been consistent over the years.  To this end, India must support the resumption of Taiwan’s Observer status at the World Health Organisation and its participation in the World Health Assembly meetings. A sustained, long term India-Taiwan partnership in trade, investment, and advanced technology, that aligns with the US, is imperative in the post COVID world.
The author is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India



Sushil Pandit
Kashmiri Hindu activist in exile & GCTC Advisory Board Member

Eminent Kashmiri activist Shri Sushil Pandit explains how the Instrument of Accession was signed by Maharaja Hari Singh in October 1947, acceding the state of Jammu & Kashmir into the Republic of India and how Article 370 came into being almost two years after.
He also explains the circumstances under which Article 370 was included in the Constitution of India and how it is nothing more than a ‘temporary’ and ‘transient’ provision, which can be revoked by a simple Presidential Proclamation, to fully integrate Jammu & Kashmir into the Union of India. Do watch the video given below to get a clear understanding regarding Article 370:

Questioner: Sir the Instrument of Accession sent by Maharaja Hari Singh was a conditional one. All the authority of state of Jammu & Kashmir was not handed over to Union of India. So revocation of Article 370 is not that easy. The people who were shouting for the removal of Article 370 since Independence, now today they are in power in Kashmir and in Centre. Leave apart removal of Article 370, they are not ready to talk about Article 370.
Sushil Pandit: I am happy you brought it up because I thought… I have been talking about it so often but I thought repeating it… but this is an extremely important question, and I’ll like some minutes here. First of all, I’ll give you some facts. The document of accession which brought Kashmir into Union of India was signed on 26th of October, 1947. This document of accession is exactly the same, not even a full stop or comma is different from what 562 other princely states signed in order to merge into India. Okay, Sir? In 1947, on 26th of October what Maharaja Hari Singh signed was exactly what other 562 princely states signed to merge into India. That document of accession is the same. Yes, all those documents of accession were conditional. There were four things that Government of India, Union of India had in their power. External affairs was one of them. Defence was another. Communication was third. And currency was fourth. So, it was same for the state of Jammu & Kashmir.
Then India got busy putting together its Constitution. You must remember, at that time in 1947 there was no Constitution. Constitution writing was concluded on 26th of November 1949. And ten days before that, the idea of Article 370 emerged. Not at the time of accession, Sir. And at that time, when Sheikh Abdullah, who was part of Constituent Assembly that wrote the Constitution of India, and his three other colleagues from Kashmir came to Nehru and said, ‘We are a Muslim majority state, what about a special status for us’? Nehru said, ‘Go to Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, he’s the Chairman of Drafting Committee, give him your proposal, he’ll do it’. When Sheikh Abdullah goes to Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar and Bhimrao Ambedkar read his proposal, Bhimrao Ambedkar’s response was, ‘Are you asking me to backstab this newly independent Republic by creating a provision… by creating a provision which discriminates against the citizens of India and gives the special privileges to just the citizens of Jammu & Kashmir? That citizens of Jammu & Kashmir can do whatever they feel like in rest of India but the rest of India cannot do anything in the state of Jammu & Kashmir? And I cannot commit this treachery,’ and he refused to incorporate it.
Because Congress had the majority in the Constituent Assembly, Nehru thought that the Working Committee of Congress, if adopts this, Constitution… Constituent Assembly will automatically have to adopt it. You’ll be pleased to know that Working Committee of Congress, in one voice, without exception rejected Article 370. Refused to take it. Then Nehru had to tell Sardar Patel and also, Gopalaswami Ayyangar, who was his Minister without Portfolio in the Cabinet, to make sure that this article is included in the Constitution of India while he was going on a visit abroad to London. Because it was an interim government, because Patel and Nehru had a very difficult relationship, and Patel did not want to be accused of plotting against his own Prime Minister, he had to comply. And what he did was, in order to create a safeguard, wrote two words preceding and defining this article saying it is a temporary and transient provision.
So, Article 370 as per its text is a temporary and transient provision in the Constitution of India. It is another matter that it has been temporary for the past 70 years. So, what happens when Constituent Assembly is adopting Article 370, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar boycotts that session and walks out. Please remember. Please read what he has to write about it.
So, this happened in November 1949. While the process of integration of states was on, and every other prince… and the prince and the principality and the… the… the rajwadas, the princely states got integrated into India, it came through a process. They created a Constituent Assembly in their respective places, and those Constituent Assemblies gave themselves a Constitution. In some cases they said, ‘we don’t want to give ourselves a Constitution, we adopt (the Constitution of) India as our own.’ And that is how, those four areas of exception got removed and a full integration took place. Jammu-Kashmir also gave itself a Constituent Assembly. They also created a Constitution of India… Article 3… Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir. Incidentally, Jammu-Kashmir has a Constitution different from Constitution of India. The only state. Article 370 provided for it. It says in that Constitution Article 3… that Jammu-Kashmir is an inalienable part of India. It says so. But it creates a lot of other travesties. What does it do? Now that Constitution was promulgated in 1957. It was finalized in 1956. Constitution of India was promulgated on 26th of January 1950. So, seven years later, if a new Constitution comes by a state of Indian Union, you can always expect it to be an improvement over an earlier Constitution. Whenever a new thing is brought about, you have other examples in front of you to improve upon, right? This is a regressive document.
Do you know Constitution of Kashmir has no fundamental rights? No mention of fundamental rights. Constitution of India has Minority Rights. Article 25 to Article 30 give such privileges to the minorities of India, that are not available to even majority community. The Constitution of Kashmir doesn’t utter the word ‘minority’ even once. Do you know the perversion because of this? We 3% Hindus in the Valley of Kashmir were the majority. And 97% Muslims of the Valley were the minority. And this is what 370 allows.
So, 370 was not a condition, basis which, accession happened. Accession happened more than two years before 370 was even thought of. Or incorporated. Number one. Number two, 370 is an article which is temporary and transient which has to go. Number three, it is part of Indian Constitution, not the Constitution of Jammu & Kashmir on which Jammu & Kashmir Assembly has any jurisdiction. Constitution of India’s jurisdiction is within Parliament. And even Parliament is not needed to repeal this because it is temporary and transient. After the Constituent Assembly was dissolved, the… the powers rest with the President.
Incidentally, there was another provision which was temporary and transient besides 370. That was taken off five years later with mere Presidential proclamation. Which means, even this needs only a Presidential proclamation and nothing else. If somebody tells you that you need majority in this session, in this house or in that house, please show the present Finance Minister and Defence Minister, his own speeches, on YouTube where he says that only a Presidential proclamation is needed. As a lawyer he said so. His own opinion. This speech was delivered in India International Centre in 2014 January. I was witness to that speech. So when he was in Opposition… and that speech is available on YouTube, please go and listen to him.
So, Article 370 has to go. It will not change anything on ground. Let me tell you. It will only create a constitutional mechanism for you. Eventually… eventually… it is your political will… it is the measure of your political will that will work. Removing Article 370 is like placing a piece of cake in front of you. I can do that. But to eat it, you will have to reach out and put it in your mouth. If you’re not willing to do that, if you don’t have the guts for it, sorry nothing can help you.

India has joined Afghan peace process at the right time, should engage Taliban directly: Hamid Karzai


Suhasini Haidar
National Editor

The former Afghanistan President says, “Ceasefire is a demand of an overwhelming majority of Afghan people, especially Afghan mothers. This goes to both sides of the talks to the government side and to the Taliban side.”

India should engage with the Taliban and fully support the peace process, says former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. In an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Karzai, who remains involved in the process, spoke of his hopes from the Intra Afghan negotiations that began in Doha this month, and the future of Afghanistan as the US plans to pull out troops.

All right. And yet, when the Leadership Council team overseeing negotiations was actually announced by President Ashraf Ghani, you yourself declined to be a part of it. Why was that?

I had 14 years in office, for me to continue to be or again be part of officialdom is not good. I don’t see it as appropriate. I believe I can play a much better role and much more positive role as a citizen to be in the service of the peace process, as I was in the past.

Given India’s participation in the process, do think the next step should be for India to directly engage with the Taliban, a group India has never recognised?

The Taliban are Afghans. They are part of the part of our country and Afghan people. They are fully members of our society and of our polity. India is a friend of Afghanistan and a historic friend of Afghanistan. It’s appropriate for a friend of Afghanistan, like India to be in contact and in touch and in engagement with the entire Afghan polity and all the political views and groups in the country. For that reason, yes, it is good for India to be in touch with the Taliban. And for that reason, also, it is extremely important for India to be fully on board and in support of the peace process. So, India’s presence is imperative, and we welcome it.

Do you think it is too late that India took too long to perhaps join this process, it was the last outlier, in a sense.

Where India is welcome to be part of this significantly important national process for the Afghan people. It’s not too late. They’ve joined at the right time, at the launch of the peace process, and that’s welcomed.

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar said in his speech that the outcome of the talks cannot come at the cost of the progress made in Afghanistan on the Constitution, the democratic process in elections, role of women and rights of minorities….

The priority for the Afghan people is a peaceful sovereign Afghanistan that does not see interference from its neighbours or from abroad. Towards that the Taliban and us have similar views. We met last year in Moscow, and their desire for peace was as intense and as deep as ours and their desire for a sovereign Afghanistan equally strong and good and desire for Afghanistan that should be engaging properly with our friends and neighbours equally, as good as ours. Now for the life within Afghanistan, as to how we should live our life as Afghans, yes, there are differences in interpretations of things. But there are some fundamentals on which, as we found out in Moscow, there will not be serious disagreements. And if there are any disagreements, they will be resolvable, and I’m sure they will be resolved. The right of the Afghan woman to educate, the right of the Afghan society to be able to participate in politics, to vote, the right of the country to progress, education and the foundations of a stable democratic state. We don’t want Afghanistan to be taken backwards.

The purpose of the peace process is to make Afghanistan better, and you cannot be better if you go backwards. And I’m sure that on certain principles, the foundations on which the future of a better Afghanistan can be built would not be disputed by the Taliban. They belong to this country, they’ve suffered like we have suffered, seen their families get killed, experienced deprivation. I believe in spite of the difficulties that we may face during talks, we will eventually agree on a common vision for Afghanistan. And then, that common vision must be given the approval of the Afghan people through a Loya Jirga.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was at the Pakistan Army Headquarters last week to discuss this, and the message that seemed to go out is that the Pakistani military, which has funded and trained and given shelter to the Taliban still holds a real sway over this peace process…

Pakistan and the United States are the two countries who have immense role in determining peace in Afghanistan or in causing war and suffering to the Afghan people. I hope that our brothers in Pakistan will see their future in a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan. And time has proven, that if we are suffering, that suffering will also go to Pakistan and to our other neighbours. I hope this recognition has arrived there. And I hope, based on this recognition, Pakistan will now engage in a civilized tradition with the Afghan people, not one through the use of extremism or other warlike means.

If the US does pull out its troops, the concern is that we will see is Pakistan having a greater role in Kabul, just as it as it did in 1996. Do you think that the situation still remains?

Well, we hope the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan will be one that will bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, and not the opposite of it. One that’s responsible and done sensibly. And we also hope that Pakistan will recognize that no amount of pressure or interference or the use of extremist means or methods that are violent will bring Pakistan to the realization of its interest in Afghanistan. No, we will not allow Afghanistan to be influenced by any country. That’s not our nature. So, I hope, Pakistan, brother and neighbour recognizes that the US presence or the US absence from Afghanistan, will not mean an opportunity lost or gained for Pakistan. Afghanistan will remain and will keep struggling and sacrificing for its sovereignty and independence.

Do you think there will be a full troops withdrawal if the Intra Afghan negotiations are successful?

The United States has said that it will reduce its military presence in Afghanistan considerably and bring it down to more than just a couple of thousand troops. But the analysis has also said that that it intends to retain some form of presence in Afghanistan, which should mean intelligence and assistance to Afghan forces in training.

Do you think the US election results in November would change that policy towards Afghanistan in anyway?

No, I don’t think the elections in November will make any difference to the US policy towards Afghanistan. US has set its policy for Afghanistan, they’ve been following this path continuously, the same way for as long as I remember. So that will not bring about change.

Do you think that the regional powers, Russia, China, Iran, India, and Pakistan are going to play a larger role in Afghanistan, what is the kind of role you would like to see them play?

We are keenly observing what will happen, if the United States withdraws completely, if it doesn’t keep a positive interest in Afghanistan, and we are left alone in the region. The best for us is an Afghanistan where our neighbors and friends and allies are cooperating rather than competing with each other.

The best for us is to let our brothers and sisters in Pakistan know that Afghanistan cannot be interfered or taken over, no matter how much is done. Iran has been a good neighbour with us. Russia is a superpower and a great old ally and friend of Afghanistan and India is the same way. China is our neighbour and a great country, and has been friendly with Afghanistan, we will be seeking a cooperative environment among our neighbours and regional powers, and specially in relation to Afghanistan.

Is the question of foreign troops in Afghanistan a closed chapter now?

Preferably that should be a closed chapter, but you never know about the future. The Afghan people definitely don’t want foreign troops in our country, but Afghan people at the same time want to have a sovereign and stable Afghanistan and will do all they can to make that. happen.

Technology Tie-Ups Dominate Italian Prime Minister Conte’s Visit To India

Anil Wadhwa
Indian Foreign Service & GCTC Executive Board Member


India Italy Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, shakes hands with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte after later’s speech at the India Italy Technology summit in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018
AP Photo
Given the preoccupation of Italy with its budgetary tussles with the European Union, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was in India on a short visit – effectively just 30th October; but his hours spent in New Delhi were full of substance.
Conte held a one to one meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi after a call on by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and addressed the valedictory Session of the 24th version of the Technology Summit, jointly organized by the Confederation of Indian Industries, the Department of Science and technology of India and the Italian Embassy in New Delhi since Italy was the partner country this year.
Prime Minister Conte was accompanied by a 60-member delegation. The technology Summit immensely benefits the Indian industry and academic and research institutions in entering into global partnerships, and facilitates private sector investment in research, and technology.
This edition of the Summit focused on 7 areas, viz ‘Cleantech’, renewables, ICT, healthcare, Aerospace, education and Cultural heritage. Several Italian and Indian experts addressed the Summit on varied topics including astrophysics, gravitational waves, mobile networks, IOT (Internet of Things), e-infrastructure and bio- robotics, among others.
The visit to India was PM Conte’s first to any Asian country. Since assuming office, Conte has travelled to Canada for the G7 Summit, to France and Germany to discuss the immigration crisis, to the United States at the invitation of President Trump, and to Austria for a meeting of the European Commission. He was also in Moscow on 24th October.
The visit of PM Conte came exactly a year after former Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni visited India on 30th October 2017. India and Italy celebrated 70 years of their diplomatic relations in 2018, and bilateral relations have maintained a steady momentum. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was in Italy in June 2018. She was the first non-European leader to call on Prime Minister Conte. She also met with Foreign Minister Moravero Milanesi and agreed to maintain the momentum generated by PM Gentiloni’s visit.
Lately, Italy has closely collaborated with India in the multilateral arena, and was fully behind India’s election to the International Court of Justice, and its admission to the Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia group – both important nonproliferation groups of likemindedcountries for preventing the proliferation small arms and chemical and biological weapons respectively.
2018 was a successful year for revival of mechanisms for defence cooperation: a high-level meeting of the Joint Defence Committee was held in May and the Military Cooperation Group met in October which resulted in the bilateral cooperation plan for the year 2019.  Italy organized a High-level design forum in India in April 2018. Italian ministers of Health and Agriculture also came calling in India, and signed MOUs in their respective sectors with their counterparts. Italy was a partner country at the ‘World Food India 2017’ and participated as a partner country in the first edition of ‘Videocitta’, an exhibition related to the audio – visual entertainment industry. A goodwill delegation of Indian parliamentarians led by Minister of State Arjun Ram Meghwal was in Italy from 15-17 October 2018.
India is Italy’s fifth largest trading partner in the EU while Italy is the fifth largest investor in India. The bilateral trade between the two countries reached $10.5 billion in 2017, up from $8.8 billion in the previous year. The presence of over 600 Italian companies in India is an important link and Indian companies are also investing in, and acquiring companies in Italy.
The joint statement issued during the visit was forward looking, and has provided a positive direction to bilateral ties. India and Italy agreed to expand cooperation in areas of defence, trade, energy and infrastructure and condemned those countries providing safe havens to terror groups and supporting cross border terrorism. In an oblique reference to China, it was underlined that connectivity projects should be based on internationally recognized standards and norms, rule of law, and inclusiveness. Italy reiterated its support to “India’s intensified engagement” with the Nuclear Suppliers group (NSG) which falls short of full support.
It is notable that in the wake of the crisis on the marines issue which lasted from 2012-16, and cast a shadow on burgeoning bilateral ties, Italy had also not initially supported India’s admission to the Missile Technology Control Regime, but changed its stance once there were signs of a thaw leading to the two sides agreeing to transfer the issue to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Both sides have also recognized the need for broad base defence ties and make them “enduring and mutually beneficial”, and India invited Italian defence equipment manufacturing firms to invest and to collaborate with Indian firms for construction of defence equipment. On his part, PM Conte pointed out in a written interview to India Today TV before the visit that Augusta Westland helicopter sales to India which had a fall out on defence ties between the two countries, had been already investigated in Italy and the former CEOs of Leonardo Defence (formerly Finmeccanica) had been acquitted by the judiciary in Italy.
Augusta Westland, which supplied the 12 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force in 2006, was a subsidiary of Finmeccanica and the company has since been reorganized several times. He also pointed out that the new company Leonardo has joined the United Nations Global Compact, which is the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. He went on to state that when it comes to “the defence industry and procurement, Italian companies have developed an outstanding expertise, which can contribute significantly to the ‘Make in India’ programme”.
Shipbuilding, underwater systems including torpedoes, helicopters, radars, communication systems, electronics and high-altitude equipment and gear are all areas of possible collaboration.
Prime Minister Modi praised Italy’s role in space technology. The Business and industries of both countries he said, were already cooperating in bringing cutting edge technologies to various sectors and could cooperate further in areas like renewable energy, neurosciences and Information Technology.
“Italy is self-sufficient when it comes to technology, which is what gives us the confidence that we can partner with Italy to face global challenges with the help of technology” PM Modi said while addressing the technology forum. He also pointed out that both sides agreed to boost ties in key sectors such as lifestyle accessories design, with special focus on the leather sector, and transportation and automobile design, energy, and life sciences. The two Prime Ministers explored the potential for a new partnership in the area of railways and re relaunched cooperation in development of renewable energy, which is an area of focus in India. PM Conte pointed out that Italy had the highest number of UNESCO sites, and has used innovation technology for conservation of monuments. Italy, he said, will be happy to share its experience with India in this area.
The two countries have set up a Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation under which a CEO forum will also be established. The joint Commission itself will be reconvened in India in 2019. They also agreed to establish a fast track mechanism to increase the two-way investments and remove hurdles in trade. The joint Statement recognized the vast business opportunities in the food processing sector in India and Italy was urged to look at investments in the entire food processing value chain particularly in food processing units, equipment manufacture, skill development, research and development and quality assurance.
A working group on food processing has been set up and will be convened soon. An Indo-Italian chamber of commerce has been set up under the aegis of the Italian embassy in new Delhi. One of the offshoots of this initiative is the setting up of an educational and vocational training hub in Mumbai called Minerva which will provide international standard education vocational training for Indian students for placement in higher education and vocational training courses in Italy and India and support Indianstudents to get internships and placements in Indian and Italian companies.
A new session of the working group on renewable energy will be convened in Rome in 2019. India has offered to host the joint working group on terrorism in new Delhi in 2019.
The joint statement acknowledges the immense potential for bilateral cooperation in the railway sector particularly in the areas of safety, diagnostics, technology certification and capacity building. Indian and Italian companies will explore infrastructure opportunities, particularly in the construction of roads, bridges, ports, subways etc. The leaders encouraged Indian and Italian companies to explore partnerships under the PPP mode. For this, it has been agreed to foster contacts between Italy’s Casa Depositi ePrestiti (CDP) and India’s national Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF) and to explore setting up of Indo Italian joint ventures.
There is along-standing collaboration in science and technology involving some of the best scientific and academic institutions from the two countries in areas like Micro Electro mechanical Systems (MEMS), Cognitive Neuroscience, Information and Communication technologies, Environmental Sciences, Materials Sciences, Renewable Energy and protection of cultural heritage. The Indo Italian joint Science and Technology Committee is facilitating the establishment of Indo Italian centres of Excellence in selected areas of mutual strength such as cultural heritage preservation, renewable energy, life sciences, and geohazards.
The next phase of the bilateralIndia Italy Industrial research and development Cooperation programe will enable industries, enterprises and research institutions of both countries to partner seamlessly in co-developing new products in areas covering advanced materials, smart manufacturing, clean and green technologies and technologies for cultural heritage. An important area of convergence was the G 20 agenda, where both countries are supposed to assume Presidencies in the near future and have agreed to coordinate their efforts to make their respective Presidencies “productive and enduring’. Transparency and integrity of public and private sector was sought to be promoted through practical international cooperation, and technical assistance, and the two sides agreed to continue to fully implement G20 anti-corruption mandates.
Prime Minister Conte’s right-wing populist government faces strong head winds. The Italian government is at loggerheads with the EU on a budget which is considered above limits on spending, and does not conform to EU norms. Italy wants more EU funds to be allocated to the issues of migration since it sees itself as a front-line state and target of organized immigrant flows. Italy faces a dwindling population and rising unemployment. The banking system is showing signs of weakness.
On the bilateral front, however, India and Italy share democratic values, historical links, preponderance of small and medium enterprises in their economies and their convergent thinking on global issues like terrorism, climate change and radicalism ensure a strong bond.
The Indian community which is nearly 190,000 strong and is deeply enmeshed in the cheese, dairy, floriculture and wine industry in Italy is an important link. Although Leonardo, the successor of Finmeccanica is no longer a company under trial in Italian courts, India has not closed these investigations, and its request for due cooperation from Italian authorities for evidence, and extradition of middlemen Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa for implementing charge sheets filed in India are still pending. Both sides still claim jurisdiction to try the Italian marines who had shot two fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012, but the issue is now in the realm of the Permanent court of Arbitration, in The Hague, and will come up for consideration in February 2019. Given the fact that this is no longer a bilateral issue will help both sides in keeping it away from bilateral ties which are once again on the cusp of a take off, if handled carefully.

India And Russia Need To Diversify Their Economic Relationship But Structural Constraints Remain

Anil Wadhwa
Indian Foreign Service & GCTC Executive Board Member


Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin after delivering a joint press statement, at Hyderabad House in New Delhi.
PTI Photo

President Putin has just concluded another successful Summit meeting with PM Narendra Modi from 4-5 October in New Delhi. Despite the threat of CAATSA sanctions by the USA, the two sides went ahead and inked the agreement for the purchase of 5 sets of batteries of S-400 missile defence systems.
As a matter of fact, Indo Russian relations are nowadays seen mainly from the prism of a buyer seller relationship in the defence field. The fact that the two sides have also made all round progress in other areas over the years is normally forgotten or overlooked, due to the military and defence relationship which overshadows all other exchanges. This Summit also saw 8 non-defence agreements being signed. These include an MOU between ISRO and ROSCOSMOS for joint activities in the field of human spaceflight programme being under taken by India, an MOU between the railways for collaboration, and yet another one by the Indian Railways with the Russian ministry of economy for transport education, an MOU between small scale industries, cooperation in fertilizers, cooperation between NITI Ayog and Ministry of Economic Development of Russia and a Protocol for Consultations between he two foreign ministries between 2019 and 2023. India’s trade with Russia crossed $10.7 billion last year, witnessing a 21.5% growth, but there is room for much more. The leaders have set a target of US$30  billion in bilateral trade by 2025. A target of US30 billion had been set for bilateral investments by 2025, but has been achieved already. The two sides have now set a new target of US$ 50 billion in bilateral investments by the same date. Russian companies have invested US$ 12.5 in the oil sector in Gujarat itself. To further facilitate India Russia relations, the “Russia Plus” initiative — a one stop solution for Russian business in India–has been started, and a joint working group has been set up.
At the Indo Russian business meet attended by the two leaders on 5 October, where 100 business persons were present, Prime Minister Modi pointed out that Russian businesses could take part in the Sagarmala project, metro projects, and new and renewable energy and nuclear energy, infrastructure and pharmaceuticals. President Putin highlighted opportunities for trade in energy, digital economy, infrastructure and startups. PM Modi has been invited as the Chief Guest for the 2019 Eastern economic Forum. Indian firms have already invested US$ 10 billion in Russian oil fields out of an overall investment of US$ 13 billion. Several Indian oil companieshave acquired stakes in Rosneft’s oilfields. In October 2016, ONGC Videsh limited (OVL) completed the acquisition of an additional 11 percent stake in the Vankor oilfield for US$930 million, in addition to the previously acquired 15 percent stake for $1.26 billion. This development has given a big push to Indian investments in Russia.
Indian energy firms are eyeing a stake in Okhotsk seas as well as developing the LNG Project in Russia, andthe two sides are also looking at the possibility of building a gas pipeline from Russia to India to supply energy.  The Russian Direct Investment Fund, Indian Potash and producers of phosphate containing fertilizers Phos Agro announced joint investments in mineral fertilizer production in Russia and India.
Other areas of collaboration, which figured prominently in the joint statement between the two sides, are nuclear reactors, investments by Indian diamond companies in Russian Far East, and “joint collaboration in precious metals, minerals, natural resources and forest produce, including timber, through joint investments, production processing and skilled labor’. The review of priority investment projects in the spheres of mining, metallurgy, power, oil, and gas, railways, pharmaceuticals, information technology, chemicals, infrastructure, automobiles, space, shipbuilding and manufacturing of different equipment reflects a focus on the desire for diversification. PM Modi has invited Russian companies to set up industrial parks in India for defence manufacturing.
Russia is already supplying liquified natural gas to the LNG terminal in Dahej, and the Rosneft company (as part of an international consortium) has acquired Essar Oil last year for US$12.9 billion. Reliance and its Russian partner Sibur are building a butyl rubber plant in Gujarat, which will start production by 2019. Russian railways is already studying the feasibility of the Nagpur-Securderabad high speed rail project. The Green Corridor, North South transport corridor and the India Eurasia Economic Union FTA could also add to trade and investments. There are thus, many far reaching initiatives aimed at expanding economic cooperation between the two countries.
Overall, Indo Russian trade and investment ties outside the defence realm have been below potential as it has primarily been a buyer seller relationship and not one based on collaborative  investments. Defence, hydrocarbons and nuclear power are areas where Russia will be the net beneficiary in the long term, and to ensure balance, sectors such as IT, pharmaceuticals and healthcare should also be encouraged.
Russia can also contribute to the “Make in India” programme, to infrastructure,  space technologies, as well as to the Smart Cities and Digital India initiatives. Expediting pipelines for direct gas delivery from Russia to India, as well as early operationalization of the proposed $1 billion fund through India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund and the Russian Direct Investment Fund for investment in infrastructure and technology projects will be helpful. Indian businessmen need to look beyond Moscow and St Petersburg and the larger cities, and explore Russian regions which are rich in natural resources, have a well-developed infrastructure and are keen to establish business relations with India.
The Russian ban on import of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, milk and dairy products from the US, EU Australia and Canada has provided an opportunity for Indian companies over the last few years. Russia now also imports buffalo meat from India. Russia needs to consider specific manufacturing projects in India. India has invited Russian participation in the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, and the dedicated freight corridor along with the Bangalore-Mumbai Economic Corridor and the Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridor. Russian companies must seriously look at these possibilities.
The visa regime is still not satisfactory and a visa facilitation agreement between the leading chambers of commerce of the two countries can solve this issue.  The international North-South corridor via Iran is not a new idea– it has been discussed at least for the past fifteen years– but the two sides still talk about how it could be implemented effectively. This requires a special joint working group which will monitor the implementation of the corridor.
Russia is an attractive destination for India for high end software development and energy investment mainly due to low cost structure and high literacy rates. Indian interests in Russia have been mostly limited to defence, nuclear and heavy industry which needs diversification. The leading sectors attracting investments from Russia are chemicals, telecommunications and trading and consultancy services. This neds to be expanded and diversified.
India also offers Russia enormous potential in infrastructure, metallurgy, real estate, pharmaceuticals and other sectors.It would also help if trade could partially take place in local currencies. This needs to be looked at seriously, given the past successful record of Rupee Rouble trade, and the current issues facing Russian entities due to US and Western sanctions, especially in the defence field. There is little doubt however, that if the Indo–Russian relationship is to be sustained and taken to new highs , trade and investments in the non- defence sectors needs to be diversified and strengthened, and the barriers removed as quickly as possible.

Italian Prime Minister Gentiloni’s Visit To India Has Restored Mutually Beneficial Ties

Anil Wadhwa
Indian Foreign Service & GCTC Executive Board Member

The visit by Paolo Gentiloni, Prime Minister of Italy to India on 30th October may seem like any other in a busy diplomatic season in Delhi but was significant in many respects. The visit has opened up a new engagement in the economic and trade cooperation between the countries, which remains their strongest link, but few except those following this engagement realise that it has been a decade since an Italian Prime Minister visited India – the last such visit was by Romano Prodi in 2007.
Expectedly, the Italian Prime Minister arrived with a 15-member CEOs delegation. India pulled out all stops to make him feel at home – he was accorded a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourts and interacted with the Indian President, Prime Minister, Vice President and the External Affairs Minister. His CEOs joined 19 Indian captains of industry for a productive session with the two Prime Ministers. He also spoke at an event organised by the Observer Research Foundation on the European Union. Although this visit was stitched together at short notice- the two Prime Ministers had met at Hamburg for the G20 Summit recently – a slew of MOUs signed in the fields of railway safety, celebration of 70 years of diplomatic relations, promoting mutual investments, cooperation in energy, and a protocol on cultural cooperation, reflect the interest of both sides to open up the relationship and take it back to the years before February 2012, when an unfortunate incident in which two Italian marines shot dead two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala derailed the burgeoning relationship between the two countries. Both sides claimed jurisdiction to try the marines. Authorities in both countries could not control the snowballing of this issue politically and entering the complicated legal arena.

In September 2014, one of the marines- Massimiliano Latorre was allowed to return to Italy on health grounds. The case was referred by Italy to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in 2016, and following an Indian Supreme Court order, the second marine, Salvatore Girone, was also allowed to return to Italy while the Indian Supreme Court retained its jurisdiction. The fallout had unforeseen political consequences- the Italian government was forced to block progress in the EU India Free Trade Agreement and its Membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime, and raised questions vis a vis the Indian membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Since May 2016, however, the situation has eased. As Foreign Minister, Gentiloni was keen to visit India to open up sectors of cooperation but this could not happen due to scheduling issues.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit and her meeting with Gentiloni in his previous capacity in Rome, on the sidelines of the Canonisation Ceremony of Mother Teresa in 2016 was an important visit for both sides. Since then, more such visits have followed, especially in the economic and cultural fields, but much more is in the pipeline. of particular note have been the visits of the Indian Minister of food processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal, and the former Minister of Commerce and Industry and now the Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and from the Italian side, one by the Vice Minister of Commerce of Italy, Ivan Scalfarotto, who led a business delegation, and lately, as a follow up to the Gentiloni visit, a food processing delegation to India.

The India-Italy bilateral trade today is at $8.79 billion according to the 2016-17 figures, and India enjoys a trade surplus. Bilateral trade has reached $3.22 billion in the first four months of 2017-18.
With close to $2.5 billion, Italy is the 13th largest investor in India and is strong in the automotive, industry, trading, services, industrial machinery, defence and food processing sectors. 600 Italian companies are active in India in wide-ranging sectors such as fashion and luxury, textiles and textile machinery, the automotive industry, infrastructure, chemicals, energy, confectionary and insurance.
Shared democratic values and historical connections make India and Italy natural partners. The structure of their economies, dominated by Small and Medium Enterprises, a shared complex and rich political system, proximity of views on global issues like terrorism, radicalism, and climate change reinforces their complementarity. Italy can be an influential voice in support of India in the EU, in the EU-India FTA negotiations, and in the NSG, as can be seen from their support resulting in India’s membership of the MTCR once the relationship thawed. New fields of convergence have emerged as India embarks on a modernisation drive with emphasis on “make in India”, new and renewable energy, design, robotics, artificial intelligence, clean technologies, and packaging. Cybersecurity and counterterrorism have emerged as interesting fields of collaboration.
Alitalia started direct flights to Delhi from Rome on the day Prime Minister Gentiloni was in India, adding to the existing Air India flights on the Delhi Rome and Delhi Milan sectors, providing a boost to tourism which is going up substantially every year. Scientific institutions in the two countries collaborate in the fields of bioinformatics, neuroinformatics, space science technology and emerging web applications. Italy ranks 5th in the number of approved technical collaborations in India, and there is a strong Indology and Yoga tradition in Italy.

Contemporary India is studied and analysed in many universities, and the Indian community which is now 190,000 strong is playing a significant role in floriculture, dairy, wine and cheese industries in Italy. Bilateral defence cooperation continues a little under the radar.
With new developments in shipbuilding, underwater systems like torpedoes, aircrafts, helicopters, radars, system integration, communications, defence electronics and high altitude equipment and clothing, Italy is a frontline state for defence collaborations with India, which is now ripe for a shift to joint production, transfer of technology, and enhanced cooperation between the services, especially the navies. Italy, however, has been slow in cooperation in this sector due to the shadow of the marines issue, and perhaps, a perceived political fall out. The need of the hour is continuous engagement with India in the defence field through high-level visits and moving quickly on the resumption of the meetings of an array of joint working groups set up between the two sides. It has not gone unnoticed in India that Italy has, over the same period, exchanged a number of high-level visits in this field with Pakistan.
The Marines issue will come up for a final hearing before the Arbitration Tribunal in The Hague after February 2018, unless both sides can reach a mutual understanding on a solution outside the legal process. The Augusta Westland Court hearings in Milan are also an issue of great interest in India. Although Finmeccanica, accused of unfair practices in selling 12 Augusta Westland helicopters to India has seen a reorganisation many times over since 2006, when the process started, and its personnel accused in the case are no longer involved in decision making of any sort, the process of retrial in the case has deterred cooperation with the company. India has also requested the cooperation of Italian authorities for evidence, and extradition of middlemen Guido Hascke and Carlo Gerosa for implementing charge sheets filed in India. The fact that the two sides managed to put these issues on the back burner and move on with substantive collaboration and progress in relations during the visit is itself significant, and indicative of interest in each other. Italy and India can look forward to a progressive future with confidence.

It is futile to argue that Sidhu has made a fool of himself


Sushil Pandit
Kashmiri Hindu activist in exile & GCTC Advisory Board Member
Navjot Singh Sidhu has done it again.
Two decades ago, in 1996, he left the tour of England half way and came back home. It was akin to showing the middle finger to then captain of the team, Mohammad Azharuddin. Apparently, Sidhu wasn’t willing to take any insults, perceived or real, from his captain.
This was, perhaps, the most audacious value ever put by an Indian cricketer to his self-esteem. A place in the Indian cricket team was no less coveted then.
But Sidhu was, and obviously continues to be, made of a different mettle.
This time, he threw away his Rajya Sabha membership that many a wannabe live for. The reason why he did that was somewhat similar to what happened in 1996.
A man who won three consecutive elections to the Lok Sabha from Amritsar was no stranger to Parliament or to popular adulation. In the 2009 election, he bucked the trend and thanks to him, Amritsar turned out to be the only Lok Sabha seat in Punjab that the Congress lost, to the BJP.
Adored as an aggressive opener batsman, he was not only a winner in every election he fought for the BJP, but also a much sought after campaigner for the party, across the country.
In Punjab, particularly, he was like a steroid-shot for the BJP. The founding leaders of the party, like Yagyadutt Sharma and Balramjidas Tandon, were ageing and fading away. The party was not only faced with a huge leadership deficit, it was also struggling to emerge from the narrow confines of its urban Hindu identity.
Meanwhile, an aggressive Akali Dal had cut the BJP down to size by confining it to only 23 Assembly seats, instead of the 35 that the BJP would earlier fight in the alliance. In addition, the Akalis had raised their own cadres and leaders among the urban Hindus to minimise their dependence on the BJP.
Some leaders in the BJP were, often, too willing to help the Akalis by cutting their personal deals with them as “prabharis”, obviously at the cost of their own party. Even as the Akalis were nibbling away at BJP’s base, they themselves were changing, rather rapidly, from a multi-leader Akali Dal to a family-controlled “Badal” Dal.
Suffering such incessant and all around corrosion, in Sidhu, the BJP found a youthful and popular icon whose appeal cut across traditional identities. Being a Jat Sikh, he could take the battle for popularity deep into the Akali domain of Sikh peasantry with as much ease as he connected with the urban youth, across the, somewhat overemphasised, Hindu-Sikh divide.
It was Sidhu’s unmatched electoral appeal that made the Akalis in general and the NextGen Badals in particular, jittery. The younger Badals, having sorted out the more competent and equally eager cousins much before the previous Assembly polls, had now BJP’s Sidhu in their sight.
The much unexpected and adroitly “engineered” win for the Akalis in the 2012 Assembly polls, gaining more seats despite polling fewer votes than the previous polls, came in handy. As the popular MP from Amritsar began to be thwarted by the state government run by the allies themselves, it grew progressively painful for him.
Several complaints to the “leader”, who also happened to have ushered Sidhu into politics, were glossed over by the “leader”. The humiliation grew. So did his leader’s complete and absolute indifference towards him.
“Statecraft” dictated that the “leader” value his privileged relationship with the Badals, irrespective of the Badals’ treatment of the local BJP in Punjab. A point came when Sidhu was threatened and told that he will no longer represent Amritsar. The humiliation was complete when the threat was made good in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Siddhu still campaigned hard for the Modi Sarkar. He addressed several rallies in Gujarat. But despite desperate pleas, he doggedly avoided campaigning in Punjab in general and Amritsar in particular. Punjab defied the nationwide trend and delivered suboptimal results for the BJP and its allies.
Worse still, Punjab turned out to be the only state where AAP won Lok Sabha seats, and that too, as many as four. The Congress, humiliated across the country and in almost all major cities, salvaged some honour as it swept the top three cities in Punjab.
Punjab also delivered the most painful of the results for the BJP, in Amritsar. To the average Punjabi, Sidhu was the only one in the BJP who was seen to be standing up to the overbearing Akalis. Through the results, it was as if his humiliation and tribulations were, finally, avenged by his own constituents.
The BJP still wasn’t willing to acknowledge any lessons. Instead, it chose to steadily walk into the swamp of irrelevance and electoral rout. The past two years have been spent by the party defying all calls for any review or course correction.
It took the party almost 20 months to throw a crumb at Sidhu, without a semblance of any meaningful role for him. A serious caveat was indeed put in place though. The caveat that Sidhu would stay away from Punjab.
For a self-respecting “No if no but, Sidhu the Jutt”, this was perhaps adding insult to injury. And, he responded with what he knows best and has done always when cornered – reached out for his proverbial middle finger.
It is futile to argue that Sidhu has made a fool of himself by taking all those decisions that cannot be described as anything but rash. He may, indeed, have lost some fine opportunities to navigate himself higher and farther in politics. He may even have dented his own credibility in the process.
But just imagine.
After ensuring three consecutive wins in the Lok Sabha, after honing him for 12 years in relentless campaigns across the country, after deploying huge amount of time, effort and resources in creating a political icon out of a cricketer, after forging an enviable electoral weapon that is dreaded by your opponents, if you gift-wrap it all and offer it on a platter to the same Congress who you wanted to rid India of, whose loss is it, in all honesty, Mr Statecraft?

Why BJP is fighting a lost election in Uttar Pradesh


Sushil Pandit
Kashmiri Hindu activist in exile & GCTC Advisory Board Member


The BJP seems to have given up on winning in the UP Assembly polls. Two months ago it had, at least, the pretensions of a winner. Now, it has dropped even those. The reasons are not only apparent, most of them are endemic too. These can be divided into two parts: one part is about the choices that the party made, and the other part is what is happening on the ground, irrespective of what the BJP may or may not want.
First, the big picture. This election to the Assembly is no longer a UP election. It has fragmented down to regions, districts and even constituencies. Did I miss the word castes? Such a scenario has seldom worked for the BJP. This party thrives when there is an evocative enough issue, or leader, that unifies, to rally people around, across districts, regions and castes.
In 2014, it was the idea of Modi as PM that delivered UP to the BJP. If the Lok Sabha elections are a benchmark, the BJP should be coasting to a sweeping victory. With a 43 per cent vote-share in May 2014, Modi literally routed all the rivals by picking 328 out 403 Assembly segments. To attribute this to a four-cornered contest, leading to a division of anti-BJP votes, is to distort the truth.
2012 Assembly polls were also a four-corner contest. Then, the BJP couldn’t go beyond 47 seats and a mere 15 per cent vote-share. In 2014, an almost three fold increase in the vote-share of the BJP must be attributed to only one factor – Modi.
And, this factor wasn’t something abstract and amorphous that can’t be delineated. Modi represented the anti-thesis of a traditional politician. He was perceived to be squeaky clean.
A rotten-to-the-core corrupt UPA regime helped accentuate the contrast and made this factor hugely valuable. Modi also came with a reputation of an uncompromising and hard working doer, with a no nonsense approach. A floundering economy and growing impatience for jobs among the youth turned Modi into just the man they were looking for. Many also saw in him an unapologetic Hindu who was not afflicted by the slime of political correctness.
The voters of UP should be pardoned for thinking that they have already done their job by giving to Modi, in 2014, more than he may ever had expected.
In 2017, UP knows that Modi is not going to be their CM. Though an encore from UP may be an indisputable prerequisite for Modi to be effective as a PM, the state doesn’t seem to be bothered enough this time around. And, UP has its reasons.
After May 2014, the BJP had 32 months to prepare for UP. Along the way, Bihar and Delhi had delivered unmistakable warnings too. But, the BJP chose to stay in its default mode. The foremost feature of the BJP’s default mode is that “Modi is the only leader”.
The party coasted on this plank in the Assembly elections to Maharashtra, Haryana, Jammu and Jharkhand. This gave BJP added reasons to carry on riding the Modi name.
Two big reasons that sustained this Modi factor had to run out. First was the sheer momentum of the 2014 polls and the second was a completely fragmented opposition. And when they did run out, in the Delhi polls of 2015, BJP realised very late. The disaster, called Kejriwal, was already looming. The party scurried for a Kiran Bedi kind-of shortcut and created history.
It took the BJP another severe drubbing, in Bihar, before it realized and picked a local leader, in Sarbananda Sonowal, to project, and to lead, the campaign in Assam. In UP, the BJP has slipped back into its default mode on the crucial issue of leadership.
Another, almost equally important feature of the BJP’s default mode, is to import candidates. Often, the BJP looks for its candidates in almost every party except the BJP itself. This, even when it is riding a wave like it did in 2014. The BJP isn’t easily deterred even if such a candidate happens to be a spent discard in his own party.
Or, even if he has had bitter feuds with the local BJP units in the constituency and is notorious for using all his might, and the might of the state apparatus available to him, to harass, humiliate and hound the loyal BJP cadre. In the search of a “winning candidate”, the BJP is often willing to trade its future for the immediate.
What it does to the cadre, the integrity of the party and the credibility of its promises is anybody’s guess. This time the BJP has over 70 such candidates in UP itself.
The third feature of the BJP’s default mode is being ambivalent about who they are and what they stand for. Having shed their core issues such as Akhand Bharat, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code, besides, of course, the Ram temple at Ayodhya, there is little left, as it is, to distinguish BJP from the rest. On caste politics, what the other parties practise blatantly is practised hypocritically in the BJP.
That is all there is left in terms of the difference. On the issues of Hindus’ interests, it is the collective shunning of the BJP by the Muslims that makes the Hindus mistake BJP for a friend. Otherwise, there is nothing that it does, or doesn’t do, to justify the benefits of reverse polarisation that always accrue to the BJP.
What is astounding is that the party, all said and “not” done, still, once in a while takes its chances by casually mentioning the Ram temple. Therefore, this time again it looks like it is going to be just wages for a party that can’t decide for itself, like a rabbit caught in front of a truck blinded by its headlights.
We can stop here for the first part, which is about the choices made by the BJP. Now, let us factor in the second part, the ground situation, to find out, how far up will the BJP rise from its low of the 15 percent vote share and 47 seats it got in 2012.
Or, conversely, how low will it slide from the 43 per cent vote share of 2014 that delivered to the BJP a windfall of 328 of the 403 seats.
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