Monday, July 22, 2019

Many a hurdle in way to being world power

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made us a new promise. Speaking at a public rally in Ahmedabad on Sunday, he said that the coming five years were “the time to regain India’s lost position in the world order.” Ambitious words, since India’s share of the world product was 20 per cent in 1800 and is around eight per cent today. If he had said that this could happen over the next two decades, it would have been realistic. As such, it is yet another jumla. 
For Modi now, setting the domestic agenda will be a relatively straightforward affair as compared to foreign and security policy. Though, truth be told, the domestic economy itself is not in great shape. The decline in car and two-wheeler sales and the slowdown in air passenger traffic are signals that things are not good. If Modi can restore the economy to its growth path and push it up to a high-growth zone, his second term will be successful. This requires not just political capital, but executive skills, something that has been generally lacking in the Modi team. 
But to achieve all that at home, Modi needs a peaceful periphery and a stable world order. At home, Modi may be master of all he surveys, but abroad, there are other players, some positive, others inimical. There are issues, such as the building US-Iran tensions, the US-China trade spat, the rising climate of protectionism and developments like Brexit, that he cannot control. 
But what Modi does have are the investments he has already made in good and even close personal ties with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Donald Trump, Saudi and UAE Crown Princes and some other leaders. 
A self-identified ‘leading power’ like India should be able to shape the policies of its neighbours. But India lacks the material power to mould their behaviour and the inability to reform its military limits its role. Far from shaping events, we end up reacting to them. 
As Ashley Tellis has pointed out recently, in our very neighbourhood, our clout depends on whether or not the political forces in power are partial to India or inimical to it. So when a Khaleda Zia, or an Abdulla Yameen are around, there is trouble. But things change when a Sheikh Hasina or a Mohammed Solih are in power. And here we are not even counting our most troublesome neighbour, Pakistan. 
Dealing with Islamabad/Rawalpindi remains a Herculean task that even Modi finds daunting. What will be significant is the manner in which the two countries shape the post-Balakot narrative. If Pakistan is determined to continue the use of proxy warriors, Modi may be confronted with dangerous choices in view of the red lines drawn in the wake of the Pulwama blast.  
In the near abroad, Modi’s second term will have the advantage of building on the achievements of the first. India’s ties with the UAE and Saudi Arabia have blossomed and ties with the other Gulf monarchies are flourishing. This region is not just the source of the bulk of our oil and natural gas, but is also home to several million expatriate Indians whose earnings form a significant part of our annual foreign exchange earnings. 
The Saudis and UAE have begun working on plans to diversify their economies and investing in India figures significantly in their scheme of things. Already, in the last year, significant investment has come in from both countries, with promises of much more. 
India and the US have deepened their relationship in the last five years, with New Delhi signing on the foundational agreements relating to sharing bases and communications security. India is viewed by the US as the anchor of its Indo-Pacific strategy to balance the Chinese. In turn, India has sought the US as a balancer in the South Asia and Indian Ocean region against a rising China. 
But there are important divergences which are now coming to the fore. Primary among these are New Delhi’s ties with Iran and Russia. For a while, India was favoured by waivers on issues like trade with Iran or acquisition of Russian military equipment. But in the coming months and year, we could run smack into ‘America First’. 
An even bigger challenge is around the corner with China. After ups and downs, Modi's China policy moved towards an equilibrium of sorts after the Wuhan summit of April 2018. This policy has sought to balance cooperation, competition and conflict with China in a manner that ensures that there is no mutually debilitating breakdown. But with the growing China-US schism, India may once again find it difficult to maintain an even keel. The US, for example, is making the blacklisting of Huawei as the touchstone of its friendship. Can India afford to take up the US on this score? India’s ultra-cheap telecom networks depend vitally on their Chinese connection.  Following the US lead here could be a bridge too far. 
On the other hand, the Sino-US standoff provides opportunities for a new Modi policy. US companies are scrambling to rebuild their supply chains away from China. India could be the destination for relocation. 
But our capacity to absorb the opportunities depends on whether Modi is able to get the economy into top gear. This requires a great deal of hard work and hard choices, and the payoffs would be half a decade down the road, even if the reform process begins now. 
The Tribune May 28, 2019

Modi version 2.0 needed: He has been energetic on foreign policy, but global environment has turned adverse

A general election, even one in which an incumbent has won, marks a turning point. Personnel may not change, yet policies do. Sometimes because elections are a good time for stock taking. Sometimes because, especially in the case of foreign and security policy, external circumstances may have changed. Often, there is a push, too. When a PM like Narendra Modi is comfortably re-elected, he begins thinking about leaving his imprint on history by pursuing issues he feels strongly about. In the coming period all these factors will be prevalent, including the fact that the campaign moved away decisively from an emphasis on economic growth and acche din, to the importance of a decisive prime minister for preserving the country’s security. So, what can we expect of Modi version 2.0, as against that of v 1.0?
Modi put uncommon energy into foreign policy in his first term. But it was a scattershot approach with as many hits as misses. His focus on security was fitful, driven more by electoral considerations than anything else. But then, in his term, Indian security did not confront any challenge of the dimension of Kargil, or even Mumbai in November 2008. But both came together, aided – though not abetted – by Pakistan into the winning electoral strategy that built on the need for a strong and decisive PM. The response to the Pulwama attack by a strike on Balakot is portentous and has put Pakistan on the backfoot, uncertain as to how it should respond next. But the generals in Rawalpindi are unlikely to abandon their game easily. So now we need the electoral strategy to become effective policy. This requires far more resources and effort than what was visible in Modi v 1.0. The armed forces are in desperate need of money for modernisation, but more important, they require deep restructuring and reform which crucially depends on effective political guidance and leadership.
Over-the-top praise for the military, waving the tricolour declaring “my nation, right or wrong” can only take you so far. To press home the Balakot advantage, Modi and his team need to shape a well-resourced and modern military, one that can fight and win wars, not merely conduct highly publicised one-off strikes. Despite the great energy Modi has put into foreign policy, the payoff has been limited in the neighbourhood. In Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, minus exportable resources or military power, India’s clout depends on which government is in power, not on our intrinsic capacities. Modi’s efforts have made the situation in the near abroad better. The outreach to Saudi Arabia and the UAE has yielded significant returns in political and economic terms and India has managed to maintain strong ties to Israel and Iran as well.
But a new government confronts an American challenge in Iran. The loss of cheap oil is not the only issue here, the other is the American veto on India’s ability to shape a policy related to its own interests. It’s Iran today, it could be Russia, or some other region tomorrow. Modi successfully managed the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration. But the personal touch that characterised the Modi style is missing with Trump. The Indo-US-Japan trilateral, based on a mutuality of interests in the Indo-Pacific, is working well, but there’s always danger that at some time it will crash into Trump’s America First approach. After Doklam, the Sino-Indian relationship has been reset by the Wuhan summit. Its next iteration is expected in September this year and we could see some interesting developments, including a forward movement on the border and, agreement to push third country infrastructure projects.
Foreign and security policy are only a means to an end. To be truly transformative they must rest on the foundations of a vibrant economy which alone can provide the military and economic sinews to win friends and influence people. Modi v 1.0 is now outdated. Perhaps, learning from the past, v 2.0 will anchor itself on renewed economic growth and give us a foreign and security policy that is robust, sustainable and even historic.
Times of India May 25, 2019

Modi 2.0 Has An Opportunity To Transform His Foreign Policy Legacy

Every election shifts the paradigm that little bit, not only when the incumbent loses. Think of 2009, when a coherent UPA-1 became dysfunctional after an election where it had actually bettered its 2004 performance. Of course, the shifts are not necessarily negative and can go either way.
What could be the ones brought on by General Elections 2019 ? Will Prime Minister Modi double down on the acrimony and confrontation that marked the election campaign, or will he take a step back and get back to the high road that he had said he’d be on in 2014 ? He is a master of disguises, everything to everyone, and can play any role if he sets his mind to it—reformer, zealot, fakir, diplomat or statesman. Which one he will choose remains to be seen.

Livelihood Concerns, And Not Security Challenges, Are Existential Issues For India

The election campaign did point to a shift of priorities. In 2014, Modi campaigned on economic development, showcasing his alleged prowess in Gujarat, he promised “achhe din” for all. Five years down the line, promises on the job creation and investment front were not met, “Make in India” remained a slogan. So, it was not surprising that the entire election campaign was shifted onto the track of national security.
But this is likely to have been a tactical move, not a strategic one.
The reality is, and Modi knows it, that while India faces a number of security challenges, none of them can be called serious, leave alone existential.
On the other hand, the livelihood issues of hundreds of millions would certainly fall in that last-named category. For them, this campaign offered little or nothing.  The PM seemed to have simply shrugged off any responsibility on this score skirting around the bad news by playing around with statistics and actually claiming that its economic performance had been stellar.
So the agenda for the future is large:
1. Making up for the disaster of demonetisation and its consequences for the economy.
2. Setting right the governance structures that have come apart at various points in time, most spectacularly with the civil war in the CBI spilling out into the open.
3. Boldly confronting issues of economic performance and not taking recourse to muzzling institutions like the Central Information Commission and the National Statistics Commission.
4. Throwing out party shibboleths that prevent the addressing of the deteriorated Jammu & Kashmir situation.
5. Finding ways of checking Pakistani mischief in ways other than those that threaten war.

Rough Edges to Be Smoothed in the Second Term

A second term offers the opportunity to round off the rough edges of policies introduced in the first. The bankruptcy law and the GST are cases in point. Likewise an effort has been made to deal with rural distress through the PM-Kisan scheme of direct transfers and public health issues through Ayushman Bharat. These need to be built upon to make a significant impact on the problem.
The obvious challenge of the future, and the one that the government has studiously avoided looking at, or simply fudged the figures it was looking at, relate to the economy. Economic growth hit a five-quarter low of 6.6 per cent in October-December and is slowing down further. Perhaps the best indicator of the situation is the precipitous crash of car and motor bike sales and more recently, airline passenger traffic.
The government failed on the employment front to start with and now the crisis is deepening. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) the unemployment rate in the country averaged 8.1 per cent in April, compared to 6.7 in March.
The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the government body that conducts household surveys, was not allowed to release its figures, but sources said that their data showed that the unemployment rate was at a 45-year high of 6.1 per cent in 2017-18.
To overcome these challenges, there is need to  clean up the economic mess of the past, in particular the banking and non-banking financial sector. Thereafter there is need for deep reform in the economy to promote manufacturing based on the revival of the private sector investment which, in turn, requires reform of the land and the labour sector. Associated with this is the need for pushing on-the-job skilling, promoting health and education. A beginning has been made by the government in all these areas, but what is needed is deepening and strengthening the process.

Foreign Policy To Be Defined By India’s Internal Compulsions

Compounding the government’s problems are global headwinds  brought on by the China-US stand off and the withdrawal of the Iran oil waivers. There is certainly danger from the volatile situation in the Gulf, the source of 60 per cent of our oil. The big challenge now is to deal with the current US demarche in relation to Iran. Maybe now that the election is over, there is time for an Indian initiative in the region.
In foreign policy, the PM’s energetic travels may not have yielded much. But there has been signal successes in the region most important for us—West Asia.
Befriending Saudi Arabia and UAE and maintaining an even keel in our good ties with Israel and Iran have provided significant payoffs. At the same time, after a period of heightened tensions, ties with China have been brought to well-balanced point. As for the US, the good relations are a signal achievement in the era of Trump.
Modi will certainly seek to further consolidate ties with Saudi Arabia and UAE which have already yielded significant benefits for the country. This could have a domino effect in relations with the other rich Sheikhdoms of the region.

Improved Relations With China But Pakistan Remains a Challenge

As for China, it presents both danger and opportunity. If India plays its cards well, it can be the beneficiary of the American desire to re-locate supply chains away from China. But for that it requires a manufacturing sector that is healthy and vibrant and capable of meeting the quality and capacity requirements of companies seeking relocation.
Modi is more than likely to maintain an even keel in India’s relationship with China. He is scheduled to hold the second informal summit with President Xi Jinping in September.
If the Wuhan spirit and the Masood Azhar designation mean anything, we may see some more thaw in the Sino-Indian relations, including an Indian participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, maybe though, not in name.
Pakistan remains the biggest challenge since it is linked to Kashmir, and Balakot alone cannot resolve it. Having responded the way we did, the threshold has been simultaneously raised and lowered. By striking Pakistani territory, it makes nuclear confrontation more likely. On the other hand, Islamabad will have to think hard before it authorises another Pulwama-type action. This could well mean bigger problems, in the one place where the Modi government must accept full responsibility for creating a mess—Jammu & Kashmir.

Opportunity For Modi To Emerge As a Transformational Figure

At some point Modi must confront the fact that the policies of his first administration have been dividing the country. He must, therefore decide whether he wants to persist with any government-led effort to make a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, or for that matter take up the issue of ending the special status of Jammu & Kashmir.
More than that he needs to reflect on whether it is a good idea to marginalise the Muslim community. No country can do well if it has two classes of citizens.
Wherever the country may be, Modi himself stands on the cusp of history. A second term offers him the opportunity to emerge as a transformational figure in the international arena, something he has deeply desired.
But nothing is foreordained. He has many things going for him: indicators that growth will again pick up after the current slowdown; undisputed leadership of his party; a reputation untouched by a scandal and good relations with the powers, big and small (barring Pakistan). But he must heal the divisions in society created by his own rise. In history, there is always the human agency needed to make things work. And often that’s where things come unstuck.
The Quint May 24, 2019

Breakdown of US-China Relations Will Leave the World Scrambling to Cope

The US and China are at the cusp of a major transformation of their relationship. While the US has signaled since 2017 that it sees Beijing as a strategic competitor, the moves that have unfolded in the past week could lead to a complete breakdown, with the rest of the world scrambling to cope with what could be fairly drastic consequences.
First, the trade talks broke down. Both sides put out their respective positions and there seems to be no meeting ground. Hopes are now being placed on the Xi-Trump meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Japan at the end of June. But in the meantime, the US has moved to sanction Huawei, the world’s leading telecom company, an action that could be a prelude to a wider fracture between two of the world’s largest economies.
On May 5, on the eve of what was being billed as the final round of US-China trade negotiations, President Trump  announced  10-25% tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods because, he claimed, China had reneged on previous commitments. These tariffs had been in suspension in the wake of the Trump-Xi meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 in Argentina last year.
But when the talks took place on May 10, instead of declaring an end to the trade quarrel, the US said that the tariffs imposed on the eve of the negotiations would remain in place. Further, Trump ordered his officials to begin the process of raising the tariffs on everything else that had not been hit by previous levies, which could amount to some $300 billion worth of goods.
While departing, Chinese special envoy Liu He invited his American counterparts Lighthizer and treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin for another round of talks in Beijing, but White House economics adviser Larry Kudlow has said that, as of now, there were no plans for further discussions.
Subsequently on May 13, China too announced a hike in the tariffs on a revised list of $60 billion worth of US imports, with additional rates for products like LNG, soy oil, peanut oil, petrochemicals, frozen vegetables and cosmetics.
Dramatic escalation
This set the stage for a dramatic escalation in the standoff when, earlier this week, the Trump administration cracked down on Huawei. In an executive order on May 15, Trump said that in order to safeguard the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) supply chain and prevent “foreign adversaries” from exploiting American weaknesses or using US equipment to create such vulnerabilities, he was declaring a “national emergency.” As part of this, heads of various departments of the government were being empowered to determine who these foreign adversaries were and deal with the situation.
Promptly after this order, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced that Huawei and its affiliates were being added to the Bureau’s Entities List. The sale or transfer of US technology to a company on this list requires a license, which could be denied if it were determined that it could “harm US national security or foreign policy interests”.
A similar ban, later revoked, on another Chinese company ZTE, brought it on the verge of collapse. Huawei is much bigger, is a technology leader in its field and is better prepared for the situation.
According to Reuters, a ban will also hit US suppliers. Out of the $70 billion the company spent on procurement in 2018, some $ 11 billion went to US firms like Qualcomm, Intel, Micron Technology. US companies were second only to Huawei’s domestic Chinese suppliers. The company has identified  92 core suppliers, 33 from the US, 25 from China itself, 11 from Japan and 10 from Taiwan, the others from countries like Germany, South Korea and Hong Kong.

As of now, we are not sure whether Huawei will be banned completely. The outcome of the trade negotiations and action against Huawei are interlinked. Moves against the company had actually been delayed as talks progressed through this year, but now, with the talks stalled, they were unrolled.
Reports say that Huawei has stockpiled enough chips and components to last out a year comfortably. This could presumably be seen as the time-frame for de-escalating the conflict. Should that not happen, the Chinese could act against US tech giants like Apple, Qualcomm and Broadcom who are vulnerable because of their dependence on the Chinese market. Greater China contributes 20% of Apple’s revenue and accounted for over 60% of Qualcomm’s sales last year and 17% for Broadcom. As in the case of the US, retaliation would also end up hurting the Chinese because its prominent smartphone makers like Xiaomi and Oppo depend on US chips.
Huawei logo at a bus stop in Mexico City, Mexico February 22, 2019. Credit: REUTERS/Daniel Becerril
Setting the stage for 2020 elections
The Trump administration’s actions are obviously popular in the US and could well be setting the stage for the 2020 elections. They are being followed by Bills being proposed by individual legislators promising even more drastic action. Trump ally and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsay Graham wants more stringent action to address the 5G threat, including the stoppage of business with countries which use Chinese technology. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo) is proposing an Act to bar large categories of technology to China, including AI, robotics, semiconductors and advanced construction equipment. Another Bill proposed by him and some other Republicans will bar visas for Chinese students from science or engineering schools linked to the PLA
At first sight, a breakdown in relations between China and the US could be advantageous for India. It would strengthen the political alignment that is already shaping up between Washington and New Delhi. But whether a longer term disruption in the global economy would benefit India is questionable.
Trade experts say that there are opportunities for export for India in sectors like garments, agriculture, automobile, information and communications technology (ICT) and machinery. But barring garments, India lacks the scale to replace China in the global supply chains. Equally, India has opportunities in the Chinese market. Beijing has been slowly opening up its market to India as its troubles with the US have intensified.
Actually, in the longer run, everyone will be a loser. ASEAN countries which are touted as the best alternatives to some parts of the Chinese supply chain are also vulnerable to the fall in demand for parts and components that China imports for assembly into final products that are exported to the US.  Disrupted supply chains, greater protectionism, a decline in exports can all lead to a global economic slowdown which is obviously not good for anyone.
The Wire May 19, 2019

The parting of ways

As of this month, India has completely stopped the import of oil from Iran to comply with a US order reimposing sanctions on the country. India was Teheran’s second largest buyer last year and it was the third largest supplier to India. These sanctions had been lifted or waived following the agreement between Iran and five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to curb Iran’s nuclear programme. But with the Trump administration arbitrarily walking out of the JCPOA, they have been reimposed.
The action poses significant problems for India. Iranian oil is both cheaper and more proximate than that from any alternative sources. But India is not overdependent on it. The issue is more about New Delhi’s larger relationships in the region and its ability to conduct an independent foreign policy. The US action arm-twists India to take a position that serves America’s national interest at the cost of India’s. It is accompanied by other moves by the US which could lead to war in the region, an event with only the most disastrous consequences for us as well.
The sanctions cover the Iranian banking sector, shipping lines, aviation and, of course, its atomic energy organisation. They direct everyone — Americans or foreigners — to uphold the US law and stop doing business with the sanctioned entities on the pain of facing sanctions themselves.
Given the domination of the US dollar in the world financial system, it would require uncommon courage to oppose the US. Leave alone India, both China and Europe are finding it tough to contest the US decision. As of now, 62.7 per cent of the world’s foreign currency reserves are held in dollars, with just 20.1 in euros and 4.9 in yen and 1.2 in yuan. European financial institutions and companies do business in the US and have made it clear that they are not going to forgo that lucrative market.  
Another major factor is the US domination of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), the messaging system that connects over 11,000 banks and handles virtually all major cross-border money transfers. Though it is based in Belgium, it has usually bowed to US demands, and SWIFT has now cut off all targeted Iranian banks, given the threat of sanctions hanging over its directors.
There have been calls to establish alternative messaging systems that can bypass the US. Because when it comes to international payment transactions the situation is more equal with 39.9 per cent being done in USD and 35.7 in euros. The idea of a parallel European system is not all that far-fetched, provided the Europeans can summon the nerves to take on the US.
China does have an independent system, but the question is whether it would seek to use it because of its already strained ties with the US. Actually, what the US is taking advantage of is the preeminence of the dollar in the interdependent world’s  trade and financial flows, and the losses that would accrue if they were to be rewired in a hurry.
Europe has pledged to keep its efforts to maintain the JCPOA and trade with Iran, though its companies and banks have cut off ties with their Iranian interlocutors.
Germany, France and the UK have created INSTEX mechanism to get around the sanctions. The idea is to use it as a clearing house in Europe where buyers and sellers in Iran and Europe can get their money without any cross-border money flow. So far INSTEX is only dealing with humanitarian essentials, medicine and food. But the EU wants to expand its scope by combining it with regulations that make it an offense for EU businesses to comply with US extraterritorial sanctions. However, INSTEX remains a work in progress and it will be some time before it can effectively address the Iranian issue.
This brings us to the question of India. The Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act (CISADA) does provide for waiver of sanctions, if it is in the national interest of the US. But there is no indication that Indian diplomats have sought to press Washington on this issue. 
Have we meekly accepted the US directive merely because we are in the midst of elections? Unlikely. The Indian response, or non-response probably represents a significant shift in India’s foreign policy posture. For 70 years, New Delhi has desired to achieve preeminence in our part of Eurasia and the Indian Ocean. In line with this, we did not hesitate to challenge the US, whether it was on account of the military alliances it created, or when it sought to browbeat India on account of Vietnam or Bangladesh, or its very presence in the Indian Ocean.
Our policy towards Iran reflected this position. Teheran offers us a means of bypassing the Pakistani blockade and developing overland linkages to Central Asia and Europe. In addition, the exportable oil and gas resources ties with Iran itself are intrinsically important.
What New Delhi is signalling now is that it is willing to forgo the Iranian advantage in exchange for closer alignment with the US, whose payoff also comes through good relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and in our ability to balance China’s growing power.
These are uncharted waters ahead of us. Hopefully, someone has thought through the implications of this changed course. Else we may find ourselves adrift in the rough seas that can be seen ahead.
The Tribune May 14, 2019

Modi’s Masood Azhar ‘Coup’ With China’s Help: A Political Bargain?

The most important question that comes to mind after China has lifted its hold on Masood Azhar’s designation as a terrorist under UN rules is: Why now? Why plumb in the middle of the general elections? The simple answer would be: to oblige Narendra Modi, whose government has assiduously campaigned to have this done.
But that would be too simplistic. We have already had four phases of our seven phase elections. So, it can’t really be about helping Modi. Can it?
Maybe, the Chinese are playing it both ways. If Modi wins, they can always say that they came through. If he loses, they will deny that their decision had anything to do with elections. The second question that follows is: what has India conceded to the Chinese in exchange? If you believe that the Chinese did it because they were convinced of our case, you probably also believe that pigs can fly.

How India Managed to Get China On Board

The actual story is that the Modi government did put in a great deal of effort to have this done as part of its electoral strategy. Given their full-spectrum approach where they have punched every conceivable button to win the elections — from the orthodox approach of getting the right caste combination and outspending adversaries, the Enforcement Directorate to hound rivals, biopics, TV shows and endorsements from film stars — the hard-sell diplomacy should not be a surprise.
According to knowledgeable sources, the push to have Masood Azhar designated as a terrorist by the UN was a major part of Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s two-day visit to Beijing  on 21-22 April. 
Officially he was there for “routine consultations” but circles in Beijing said that he wanted China to make a commitment on the issue immediately.
Busy with the 2nd Belt and Road Forum – a massive jamboree that saw some 37 foreign heads of state and government, including President Vladimir Putin, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, the UN Secretary General António Guterres and the IMF chief Christine Lagarde in Beijing last week – the Chinese had deferred the decision till now.

Our Trysts With Jaish

Let’s not get too carried away by the claim that Beijing was convinced by the new evidence that Gokhale took with him. This is a political bargain, plain and simple. The UN notice adding Azhar to the list simply speaks of his being the founder of the Jaish-e-Mohammed and former leader of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, both organisations already proscribed by the same committee for some time now. There is no reference to Pulwama, Pathankot or any other action of the Jaish in recent years.
The Jaish has a long history with India. Masood Azhar, an ideologue for the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, reincarnated as the head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed shortly after the BJP-led government released him in 2000 in exchange for a plane load of passengers who had been hijacked to Kandahar.
The very next year, his new outfit carried out an attack on Parliament House,, bringing India and Pakistan to the brink of war. In recent years, it has overtaken the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba in its ability to mount attacks in India which it has done in Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota in 2016, Sunjuwan in 2018 and Pulwama in 2019.

Will Masood Azhar’s Listing Impact Indian Elections?

China has been blocking the designation of Azhar under what is called the 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee. India had first moved to have him designated on the list in 2009. Then again after the Pathankot attack it sought to do so with the help of the US, UK and France. But it was foiled by China. In 2017, again, an effort was made to put Masood Azhar on the list, and again it failed.
Following the Pulwama attack that led to the killing of 40 CRPF personnel, UK and France had moved a proposal yet again, to designate Azhar in the Committee list. Despite the fact that the Jaish-e-Mohammed had acknowledged its role in the attack, China again stalled it, saying that there was need for consensus, before the issue could be taken up
Will it make a difference in the elections?  That’s not easy to say. Modi is skilled in seizing the narrative, and he and his supporters are presenting this as a great victory for his government.
But is it that great a victory ?

How We Should Have Really Dealt With Masood Azhar

Actually, to use the English phrase, it is the equivalent of bashing  a straw man. Masood Azhar is a terrorist, and has been responsible for some terrible acts of terrorism against India. But getting him onto a UN list is not going to make much of a difference. Ask Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, who was put on the same list in 2009, but continues to flourish in Pakistan. Being listed will merely result in his assets being frozen and a travel ban. Something of a slap on the wrist.
For three years, as the Jaish stepped up its attacks on India, killing scores of Army and paramilitary personnel, all that the Modi government did was to push files in the UN to have him on a paper list at the UN Headquarters in New York.
The reality is that the only good way of dealing with a terrorist like Azhar is to arrest him and put him on trial and lock him away, or, better, put him on death row. But those were not the options that the Modi government pursued, even as the Jaish rampaged across India. For it to claim any kind of victory, then, does sound a bit hollow.
That reminds us that during the last general election, Modi promised to bring back that other person—Dawood Ibrahim. Whatever happened to him?
The Quint May 2, 2019