Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The JAI logic: For India this trilateral grouping is more consequential than RIC

Nehru jackets have given way to Modi vests, so it is not surprising that “non-alignment” today is “multi-alignment” and, sometimes, “strategic autonomy”. The recent G-20 summit gave us a snapshot of the geopolitical currents swirling around us.
The summit itself was unexceptional, such collective meetings have lost their relevance these days. What was important were the several trilateral and bilateral meetings of the kind undertaken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He met the heads of several governments, but among the more significant was the meeting, the fourth this year, with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Another important bilateral was with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. Modi adopted a realist approach and ignored the outcry over the Khashoggi murder.
A country like India cannot afford to get on a moral high horse given its dependence on Saudi oil and the need for the security of four million Indians who work there and send back huge remittances. Equally important is the potential for Saudi investments in India.
And then there were the two trilateral summits – that of Modi with Russia and China, and with the new JAI grouping of Japan, America and India. A country’s foreign policy depends a great deal on where it is located – this is the essence of geopolitics.
As a continental and a maritime power, India has interests in Eurasia and in what is now called the Indo-Pacific. This is the essence of India’s participation in the RIC/SCO grouping as well as that of the JAI/Quad. Neither of them are military alliances, at best they are prototype relationships, yet to be fleshed out.
For India at present JAI is perhaps the more significant and consequential grouping. Its rationale is rooted in the need to maintain an effective balance of power against a China that is now surging all over in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. The way the US sees it, this balance relates to Southeast Asia and the western Pacific Ocean.
For India, JAI offers a way to deal with both issues. Tokyo has been a major investor in India’s infrastructure schemes and it is ready to partner New Delhi in projects in other parts of South Asia. But though Japan is already a major aid provider to Southeast Asia, New Delhi will have to work hard to associate in schemes in South Asia. As it is, the ambitious Indo-Japanese Asia Africa Growth Corridor to promote connectivity projects in Southeast Asia with India and East Africa seems to be in the doldrums.
Significant Chinese military challenge in the Indian Ocean is still a decade away. Ambitious Indian naval plans are constrained by a shortage of resources which will not ease until India is on the track of high economic growth. Since the US will be the dominant military power in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean in the foreseeable future, partnering with Uncle Sam is a useful option, provided we do not end up getting used to pull his irons out of the fire. Drawing a line in the sand on CAATSA and the Iran sanctions, therefore, is a sound idea.
There is a lot of commentary about how the Quad and other groupings are aimed at stopping the rise of China. The reality is that nothing can stop that rise, short of a war, and that would be a catastrophe for everybody. The aim of groupings like JAI or the Quad is to block Beijing’s worst impulses and nudge it towards accepting that a rule-based international order will serve its interests, just as it has done so in the past 30 years. This is not a futile project, provided the groupings confronting China are credible. But in fairness, all these efforts are still at a very nascent stage, our ties with both the US and Japan are a mile wide and an inch deep. But, for reasons of their own, Japan, the US and India are all interested in it.
Times of India December 8, 2018

Japan-America-India: No Reason to Say ‘JAI’ Unless Beijing Listens

The meeting between US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, was the first iteration of Japan-India-US (JAI) grouping at the summit level. In the words of Abe, the three countries share “fundamental values and strategic interests”.
Modi reportedly outlined five areas that the grouping could work on—connectivity, sustainable development, maritime security, disaster relief and freedom of navigation.

Tri-Lateralism: The Flavour of the Season

Tri-lateralism was clearly the flavour of the season. In addition to JAI, Modi also met with China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at the same venue. This took place after a gap of more than a decade. The three, who called for reform and strengthening of multilateral institutions like the UN and the WTO, have agreed to strengthen what is known as the Russia-India-China grouping. Modi also had a bilateral meeting, his fourth this year with Xi.
Diplomacy and security groupings in the vast Asia Pacific, or Indo-Pacific region, remain a work in progress, and tri-lateralism seems to be a special feature at this stage. Japan-India-US (JAI) is just one  of several such networks that join the US with its allies and friends in the region.
Japan, Taiwan and the US are linked through a track 1.5 security dialogue, currently in its eighth iteration. While the US-Japan-South Korea security dialogue didn’t quite take off, the one between US, Australia  and Japan has been working  since 2006.
The US maintained a hub-and-spoke system for its security alliances with South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines, which are all bilateral. It has been seeking to link them, not through the architecture of a formal alliance like NATO, but through what former US Secretary of Defense termed  “principled security networks.”
New Delhi’s Cautious Posturing
The way the strategic networks are shaping up can be seen, for example, in the case of the trilateral ‘Exercise Malabar’ that links Japan, US and India. (Australia has been knocking at the door but has not yet gained entrance). Another manifestation of this is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue involving US, Australia, Japan and India.
They are all supposed to be united in their support for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” , but countries like India deny that the FOIP is a strategic concept, even though Modi insisted in his speech at the Shangrila Dialogue earlier this year, that India also supports “freedom of navigation, peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with  international law” as well with “a democratic and rules based international order”.
While New Delhi’s cautious posturing does not really go beyond words, the US and Japan, who are also security treaty allies, have been fleshing out what they call the “Indo-Pacific” agenda. The US has stepped up its Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) and military over-flights in the South China Sea while Japan carried out its first submarine exercise in the region in September and made a port call to Vietnam. Around the same time, its biggest ship, the helicopter carried Kaga carried out drills in the Indian Ocean with a British warship headed towards the South China Sea.

India Needs All the Infrastructure Investment It Can Get

Japan is a major investor in infrastructure across the region through its Official Development Assistance (ODA) programmes, as well as through the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The US has finally put up serious money by the October 2018 passage of the BUILD Act that provides for some USD 60 billion worth of development finance.
In July, the US, Japan and Australia formed  a trilateral partnership between the Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade (DFAT), the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation(OPIC) and the Japanese Bank of International Cooperation(JICA)promote investment in projects in the Indo-Pacific region.
India needs all the infrastructure investment it can get, so it is the obvious odd man out here. But it has a bilateral partnership with Japan called the ‘Asian African Growth Corridor’ to promote connectivity between South East Asia, an area of significant Japanese investment, with India and East Africa.

Japan, US, India Troika Have Varying Views on China

Japan and India have advanced their bilateral partnership. Though the AAGC is yet to take off, Tokyo has emerged as a major investor in India’s infrastructure and the two countries are now working on developing joint ventures in third countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.
Truth be told, neither Japan nor US, or even India is exactly on the same page when it comes to the elephant in the Indo-Pacific room — China. Both India and the US somewhat tartly say that the FOIP is not exclusive — it is open to all those who uphold sovereign equality, respect freedom of navigation, and follow the international rules and order.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping and reset the ties of the two countries, following an informal summit in Wuhan. Later this year, Prime Minister Abe has done the same. While India agreed to join China in a third-country project in Afghanistan, Japan will partner Beijing in 50 chosen infrastructural development schemes across the Indo-Pacific region.
The national perspective of the three vary, depending on where they are located. Distant and powerful US cannot be harmed by a belligerent China, but India and Japan can. So, some caution is in order.

India, a ‘Swing State’

All said, India is what is called a “swing state”,  a country that is strategically placed in such a way that their choices have a disproportionate impact on the regional balances of power. Established powers like China, Russia and the US are locked in a competitive and conflictual relations that will not change in a short order. However, a swing state like India may have issues with these great powers, but it also has several points of cooperation. Yet the way it swings, be it on trade, non-proliferation, human rights, finance or maritime security issues, affects the international order.
New Delhi’s current posturing is aimed at maximising its position as a swing state. In the old days it was called “non-alignment”, nowadays there are other words for it—multi-alignment and strategic autonomy.
All three — Japan, India and the US — know that they cannot really stifle China’s growth as a world power, short of a conflict. Given the way the economies of the US and Japan are enmeshed with China, that would hardly be a welcome development. What the three need, and are probably seeking, is a viable strategy that will address their legitimate grievances, and persuade Beijing that it is in its best interests to address them.
The Quint December 4, 2018

Kartarpur corridor, talks with Taliban, Norwegian ex-PM in Kashmir: What explains Modi’s U-turns?

India’s Pakistan policy has zig-zagged wildly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He first wooed his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, descending on his home in Lahore on Christmas Day in 2015, to wish him on his birthday. But Modi lacked the stamina and the gumption to take on the Pakistani deep state, which responded with the Pathankot attack barely a week later, in January 2016.
After nearly two years of hurling fire and brimstone at Pakistan, and visiting world capitals to demand that Islamabad be proscribed for its support to terrorism, Modi seems to suddenly believe that Islamabad’s offer of permitting a corridor from Gurdaspur in India to Kartarpur in Pakistan offers the prospect of acting as a bridge to the neighbouring country.
Kartarpur, in Narowal district of Pakistan’s Punjab province, is the place where Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, spent the last 18 years of his life till his death in 1539. The gurdwara built here is one of the holiest shrines in Sikhism. The Pakistan government has approved the development of a corridor from Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur to the international border. On November 22, the Modi Cabinet approved the development of a corridor on the Indian side –from Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district to the international border. This strip will allow pilgrims from India to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib without a visa throughout the year. On November 24, Modi likened the proposed corridor to the breaching of the Berlin Wall that led to the end of the Cold War. On Monday, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu laid the foundation stone for the project at Mann village in Gurdaspur district.
All this happened after three months of unrelenting attacks by the BJP and its National Democratic Alliance partner, the Shiromani Akali Dal, on Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu for announcing that Pakistan had decided to allow Sikh pilgrims direct access to the Kartarpur gurdwara. Sidhu had been informed of this by the Pakistan government during his visit to Islamabad to participate in the swearing-in of Imran Khan as prime minister in August. It was on this visit that Sidhu had hugged Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, for which he was attacked by the BJP.
On his return to India, Sidhu had written to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj urging her to take up the Kartarpur Corridor issue at an official level. However, he was reprimanded by Swaraj for his pains. The Shiromani Akali Dal had questioned his patriotism and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had accused him of furthering his own agenda. Sidhu was generous enough to ignore this sniping after the Union government later did exactly what he had proposed – take up the Pakistani offer.
Why did the Modi government change tack? Usually matters relating to Pakistan are a convenient way of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment in the Hindu heartland, a staple BJP electoral tactic.
The reason is that anti-Pakistani sentiments no longer resonate in Punjab. Muslims on the Indian side and Sikhs on the Pakistani part of Punjab were, so to speak, “cleansed” during Partition. Today, the horrific events have receded from memory, and been replaced somewhat by nostalgia for the days of united Punjab. This was evident from the fact that Sidhu did not face criticism within Punjab itself. Indeed, given the Pakistani offer, it appeared that New Delhi was scoring a self-goal among the Sikh community by not taking it up immdiately.
Hence the quick about-turn. Even so, New Delhi ensured that the Kartarpur corridor will not be the basis of normalisation of ties, especially since its groundbreaking ceremony in Pakistan was scheduled for November 28, the week India was commemorating the 10th anniversary of the horrific terror attack in Mumbai. Sushma Swaraj politely declined the invitation to attend, noting however, that India would be represented by Union Ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri.

Other U-turns

But this is not the only about-turn this month. Earlier on November 9, India participated in the second Moscow format meeting on Afghanistan where Taliban representatives were present. It did so by using the artifice of sending two retired foreign service officers who work with government-funded think tanks in New Delhi. So far, India has maintained that it did not recognise the right of Afghan insurgent groups to participate in any peace talks because of their jihadist background. The real concern, however, has been New Delhi’s belief that the Taliban are a mere proxy for Pakistan.
A third straw in New Delhi’s confusing wind has been the visit of former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik to Jammu and Kashmir, where he met Hurriyat leaders. Bondevik is currently the head of the Oslo Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, and given Norway’s penchant for peace-making, there is speculation that some peace moves are afoot. The fact that New Delhi permitted the visit is significant. That Bondevik clearly sees his role as a peacemaker is evident from his remarks in Srinagar and his subsequent visit to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Pakistan.
This too is an about-turn. For six years, no foreign dignitary has met Hurriyat leaders, and New Delhi has sought to isolate the Hurriyat since 2014. At the same time, it has refused to talk to Pakistan, especially on the issue of Kashmir where it has adopted a policy of militarily finishing off the militancy.
This recent development suggests that the Union government may be realising that it is in a no-win situation with regard to Jammu and Kashmir currently, and needs a way to break the ice with both Pakistan and the players in the state.
What is not clear even now is whether these shifts in New Delhi are because Modi wants to minimise the possibility that some of these issues will act as a drag on his re-election campaign, or if they represent a change of heart in New Delhi.
Certainly, the 2019 General Elections were an important consideration when India made peace with the Chinese in Wuhan earlier this year. The BJP knows that bashing Pakistan plays well in its electoral base, but it is one thing to inflate a minor cross-border strike into a military victory, as was done with the so-called surgical strikes across the Line of Control in 2016, and quite another to get involved in a skirmish that may not work so well for India and expose the Modi government’s weaknesses. Likewise, turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir, which was in a state of relative peace in the years before the Modi government, could play badly with the electorate.
The fact is that the Modi government has made a mess of India’s Pakistan and Jammu and Kashmir policy, and now it is seeking to ensure that things do not blow up in its face.
The Scroll November 28, 2018

Coming a full circle in J&K

Reports say that so far some 400 persons have been killed in J&K this year, more than half of whom were militants. This is the highest toll since 2009, when the figure was 375 for the whole year, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
But this is only one measure of the failure of the government’s policy. Another was visible last week when Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolved the Assembly that had been in suspension since June, in somewhat murky circumstances. Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP leader, said she had had to tweet her party’s claim to form the government because she could not reach Raj Bhavan either by phone or fax. With 28 People’s Democratic Party (PDP), 12 Congress and 15 National Conference legislators, Mehbooba’s  group had a clear majority in the 87-member legislative Assembly. 
In the meantime, surprise, surprise, Sajjad Lone, the leader of People’s Conference, which is close to the BJP, did manage to have a telephonic conversation with the Governor to stake the claim of his party. Lone has just two MLAs, though he claimed the support of the 26-member BJP group and 18 unspecified legislators.
For this reason, perhaps, the Governor decided to dissolve the Assembly and call for fresh elections in the state. Since the tenure of the Governor’s rule will end next month, the state is likely to go in for a spell of President’s rule.
In some senses the circle will have then turned full. Persuading the politicians of the Valley to participate in the elections took a major effort on the part of New Delhi between 1993, when militancy was defeated and 1996 when Farooq Abdullah and the National Conference first refused to participate in the Lok Sabha elections, but were later persuaded to join the contest for the subsequent  state Assembly polls that the NC won hands down.
Even though the Congress had won four of the six Lok Sabha seats, the Lok Sabha outcome had not really been credible. It was only when the NC rejoined the electoral process for the Assembly elections that a measure of integrity was given to the elections. 
This was even more true, six years later in 2002, when the NC and the newly formed PDP participated in the Assembly elections that were termed by many as the fairest ever to have been held in J&K till then. The reason was that there were now two strong contending Valley parties aligned openly to the Indian Union. This time around, the PDP emerged as the winner in a coalition with the Congress. The main thrust of the militancy may have been defeated at this time, but the levels of violence remained high in the state, often targeting those being perceived to be close to India.
And now we have a situation that could see prolonged President’s rule because New Delhi believes that minus the encumbrance of a state government it will be able to ‘sort things out’ in the state.
That is not likely to happen because the Union government actually has no political plan for the state. It has a tactical military plan which involves the physical elimination of the militancy. But here, too, there is no strategic plan. Killing militants doesn’t mean much in a situation where very clearly the situation has degenerated to the point where militant recruitment has been rising, rather than declining. Further, where between 1993 and 2014, Pakistani jihadis kept militancy afloat, now, there has been a sharp increase in locals joining it. According to one assessment, 164 persons joined militancy till the end of October in 2018. In 2017, 128 had reportedly joined; in 2016, 84; 83 in 2015; and 63 in 2014. These figures bring out the fact that the so-called ‘Operation All Out’ military effort to wipe out militancy may have had the opposite effect.
True, these local youth, often driven by their emotions, hardly pose a threat to the security forces. They are largely untrained and eliminated quite quickly, but they do clearly indicate the failure on the part of New Delhi to build upon the successes of the security forces and remove the underlying political causes of the militancy.
New Delhi’s problem is that it has nothing to offer but an unrelenting military face. The BJP does not believe that the state needs any kind of autonomy, so, there is nothing by way of a political formula that it has on offer. The matter of autonomy is more an issue of perception than reality, in other words, it is the things that New Delhi says and the gestures it makes towards the Valley that are important rather than the substance. But the Union government is unable to do this because the BJP’s local unit in the state is committed to a hard line against militancy and given its outstanding performance in the 2014 state Assembly elections, the BJP believes that it is close to being able to actually form a government in the state, never mind that it has little support in the troubled Valley.
Just what the party will do were it to actually come to power and form a government in the state is not very clear. Given its unpropitious performance as a coalition partner of the PDP in the 2014-2018 period, it is likely to make things worse.
The Tribune November 28, 2018

India Learned Valuable Lessons from 26/11. But So Have Terrorists Across the Border.

They say that human memory tends to shut out trauma. But the pain caused by the 26/11 attack on Mumbai will always be difficult to forget. What happened on November 26, 2008 was an act of pure terrorism: Defenceless civilians sought out and gunned down over three days in the glare of national television.
For this reason, the incident has been a watershed in India’s attitudes towards terrorism. It hardened the country’s attitude towards terrorists and militants of all stripes. Further, it has made any kind of a dialogue process with Islamabad difficult, given how the authorities there have dragged their feet in providing justice to the 157 killed and the 600 injured on those terrible days.
The fact that the attack was planned and executed by a Pakistan-based terrorist group is accepted even by the authorities in that country. The official narrative in Pakistan is that these were ‘non-state actors’. But given the wealth of evidence about the meticulous planning of 26/11, it is difficult to believe the attack did not have some kind of official sanction.
Ten years on, India has learned some valuable lessons from 26/11, yet it is hard to be sanguine about the country’s ability to deal with future threats. For one, the terrorist groups operating on the other side of the border have also internalised 26/11 –and changed their modus operandi. Worse, the ruling ‘parivar’ is increasing the country’s vulnerability by attacking its social fabric.
A series of firm steps
Following Mumbai, the government of India came up with a slew of measures to deal with the new threat. The National Investigation Agency was created to investigate terrorism issues, four National Security Guard (NSG) hubs were set up for a rapid response to attacks. An amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was created to provide for the arrest and interrogation of terrorism suspects.
One of the first outcomes of 26/11 was to get the Multi Agency Centre (MAC), an intelligence agency clearinghouse, in motion. Subsidiary MACS at the state level came up next.
Counter-terrorism efforts ran up against India’s federal system on two important instances. In the first, opposition from the states prevented the emergence of a powerful new outfit called the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC). The second instance concerned a nationwide information-sharing system, the NATGRID.
The NCTC, which would have subsumed the MACs, was aimed at pre-empting, responding to and containing terrorist attacks. But several states blocked it, saying that it was improper and possibly illegal to give the Intelligence Bureau the charge of a body with investigation and arrest powers.
One of the major decisions of the government was to place the Indian Coast Guard under the Indian Navy, and make the latter the overall in-charge of maritime security, in coordination with the state government agencies and the marine police. A number of radars and automatic identification systems were later set up along the coast, as well as a command, control and coordination centre in New Delhi to monitor the operations.
But gaps galore
But this system is full of holes. Many of the coastal police stations have yet to become functional. Besides the infrastructure of jetties, police stations and vessels, there is a problem of imbuing the personnel with a maritime culture. Getting the largely land-oriented policing system to think in a maritime fashion has not been easy.
One of the major gaps in security relates to ports, especially the smaller ports and harbours of the country, most of which lack any kind of security cover. Even in the larger ports, little is being done to check the containers that pass through, as that requires specialised equipment.
Another major gap is in not being able to provide Automatic Identification Systems for all the fishing vessels in Indian waters. The scheme is being introduced for vessels 20 metres in length, but the bulk of the fishing fleet around India’s coasts consists of vessels smaller than that.
Policing as Achilles’ heel
Perhaps the biggest problem in counter-terrorism (CT) has been the country’s generally third-rate police system. The civil police are the first line of defence against terrorism, and often the first responder. But state police forces are grossly under-resourced and lack the organisation, leadership and culture to play an effective CT role. The MACs and AIS systems may be computerized, but the average police stations often lacks even the most basic of infrastructure. Instead of NSG hubs, the country would have been better off upgrading state police forces and creating SWAT teams to deal with Mumbai-like strikes.
Many of the failures of the CT system became apparent in the fiasco surrounding the Pathankot attack of January 2016. Despite advance knowledge of a possible terrorist strike, the response was, as in Mumbai, chaotic. First, reports of terrorists breaching the border and hijacking vehicles were ignored by the Punjab Police. Then, despite that information, the gunmen were able to penetrate the perimeter of the Pathankot Air Force Base. Instead of getting locally available army units to deal with them, the government insisted on flying in the NSG from New Delhi. Once again, it took three days to finally terminate the attack.
Coordination remains a problem
The Pathankot attack brought out another lesson not learnt from the Mumbai incidents. It had become clear in those excruciating days in November 2008 that no one was in charge of the counter-terrorist operation. At various times, various actors – the Mumbai Police, the Marine Commandos, the NSG – claimed to be coordinating the response. Because it was clear that in reality no one was.
Something similar happened in Pathankot when NSA Ajit Doval took charge of the response from Delhi, while a variety of players – Air Commodore Dhamoon, the base commander at Pathankot, Maj Gen Dushyant Singh of the NSG, Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, Air Marshal Anil Khosla, or the Air Officer Commanding in Chief of the Western Air Command S B Deo – seemed to be in charge.
A new MO from the Pakistani side
There was another angle to the Pathankot attack that the Indian side had not fully considered given the national preoccupation with the danger of more 26/11-type incidents.
Following the international outcry against the Mumbai strike and the wealth of evidence that became available on Pakistan’s official complicity in the attack, terrorist groups in Pakistan had, with the backing of their patrons in the military establishment there, turned towards a new strategy towards India. Instead of indiscriminate attacks on civilians and non-combatants, strikes in the years after 26/11 began to focus on military and police targets between Jammu and Kathua along the National Highway.
Between September 2013 and July 2015, there were five attacks of a similar pattern. A small group of militants dressed in army fatigues crosses the international border which runs parallel to the National Highway, they hijack a bus or a car and head to a target, usually an army camp or police post. Many of these attacks were carefully timed to disrupt important meetings between Indian and Pakistani leaders.
The Pathankot attack came in the wake of Prime Minister Modi’s sudden visit to Lahore to wish his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif for his birthday. The Mumbai attack of 2008 came following efforts by India and Pakistan to push their dialogue to the level of military officers from both sides.
Engineering social strife only helps terrorists
There is, unfortunately, another lesson that is being steadily unlearnt since those terrible days of 2008.
From the 1980s onwards, terrorist attacks in India have been a largely Pakistani affair. They have been organized and aided by the Pakistani intelligence organisations and executed through proxies. The Pakistani effort has been as much to seek the breakup of India as to foster tension and divisions between Muslims and other communities in the country, presumably in order to incentivize the radicalization of young Muslims. These efforts have so far been a signal failure.
All told, in three decades, there cannot be more than 300 Indian Muslims who have been accused of being hard-core jihadists; the number convicted is much smaller than that. This, in a population of some 170 million Muslims, and in a period when the high tide of Islamist radicalism swept the world, is statistically negligible.
Despite terrible bomb blasts, orchestrated communal riots and mayhem, the social fabric of the country has held firm. In the past four years, however, Hindutva activists have unleashed verbal and physical attacks on the Muslim community using cow protection, Pakistan, or so-called ‘love jihad’ as proxies. Muslims in India have not responded the way the Sangh wants, so the Hindutva fanatics are redoubling their efforts. Their end goal is to push Indian Muslims to the wall so that a section becomes militant.
The Wire November 26, 2018

How India is caught in the crossfire of US-China trade tensions

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loon’s warning, that Asian nations may be forced to make a difficult choice between their ties with China and their relationship with the US, if tensions continue to grow between the two, is timely.
Mr Lee made the comments on Wednesday at the end of the annual East Asia Summit that was held in the island-nation this year.
Lee’s remarks are a timely reminder of the fluid geopolitical situation in the region, where China has important economic links with the region that was once closely linked to the US. The region is feeling the geopolitical pull of China that has already succeeded in building deep ties several of its members like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
At the same time, Beijing has disputes with the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
india-china_111918113742.jpgA balancing role: Modi with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo: Reuters)
Strategic competition
Trade tensions between the US and China have introduced their own dynamic into the situation, because many ASEAN nations have deep ties with China. Singapore, for example, is the biggest investor in China.
Issues between the US and China are not likely to be worked out quickly. Even if they work out a ceasefire of sorts on the trade issue, they still have lots to quarrel about, ranging from Taiwan, the South China Sea and economic relations not related to tariffs.
In fact, trade tensions are a manifestation of the strategic competition between the two countries. US steps to limit technology transfers to China through legislation, such as the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernisation Act (FIRRMA), will set the tone for the relationship regardless of trade deals. There are two big geopolitical players in contention here, that of the US and China.
So we see a Chinese vision that is variously expressed as “China in the middle”, “China Dream” or sometimes as a “community of common destiny” which, some say, is derived from the Zhou dynasty model of tianxia or “all under the heaven”, where everyone lives harmoniously together under a good emperor.
Then, there is the American and Japanese vision, first manifested as the pivot, now expressed as the idea of a ‘Free and Open Asia Pacific’. Please note that “free” and “open” are important qualifiers that confer the benign geographic concept with political context. This is layered upon older American hub and spoke alliances where the US has bilateral security treaties with Japan, South Korea, and Australia. One of its more recent iterations has been the Quadrilateral Dialogue or the Quad, involving India, Japan, US and Australia.
modi_111918113815.jpgWhere does India figure in all this? (Reuters photo of Narendra Modi with Mike Pence)
ASEAN stance
But the ASEAN has insistently pushed its own security ideas.
These are in emphasising the centrality of the ASEAN work through institutions created by the grouping such as the East Asia Summit, the Asean Regional Forum (ARF), Asean Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM)-Plus format.
Formally at least China, India, the US all agree with the concept of the centrality of the ASEAN. They are participants in the ASEAN’s mechanisms. However, the body itself is divided and has not taken any clear-cut stand either in support of the FOIP or to criticise Chinese activity in the South China Sea.
ASEAN cannot stand still. It needs to continue to take steps that will make it an attractive investment destination. One step towards this is the removal of non-tariff barriers. And harmonising ASEAN’s approach toward services and labour mobility would cement the South-east Asian regional organisation, as well as taking political steps to hedge against longterm uncertainties such as the Sino-US competition, which is not going to go away soon.
mike_111918113827.jpgIssues between the US and China are not likely to be worked out quickly. (Reuters photo of Mike Pence with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang)
India’s role
Where does India figure in all this?
ASEAN countries like Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia are happy to have India into a role of balancing China. That, indeed, is the logic of the American decision to not only christen the Asia-Pacific region as the Indo-Pacific, but also rename its Pacific Command as the Indo-Pacific Command.
India has good ties with the ASEAN and last January, they were collectively the chief guests on Republic Day.
India has also held exercises with its ASEAN neighbours since 1995.
The 2018 iteration of this exercise, held in March 2018, had Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indo, Kenya, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, New Zealand, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand and Vietnam. Separately, India has a coordinated patrol CORPAT with Indonesia and Thailand since 2002.
India also has bilateral exercises SIMBEX with Singapore since 1994, and this year, India has begun bilateral exercises Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Despite all this, the reality of ASEAN is best brought out by the recently concluded East Asia summit where US Vice President Mike Pence rubbed shoulders with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Its centrality to the Indo-Pacific is manifest. What is not clear is what it wants to do with this centrality.
Mail Today November 19, 2018