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Exploring Mongolia’s balancing behaviour

In the near future, it’s unlikely that Mongolia will position itself as one of the allies in India’s efforts to balance out Chinese influence | by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Mongolia’s supposed volte-face has attracted the attention of India’s strategic community in the last few days. A simplified sequence of events is as follows: In May 2015, Mr Modi made a trip to Mongolia, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister to that country. The most substantial outcome for Mongolia from this visit was the announcement of a $1 billion line of credit. Notably, the $1 billion amount is the second largest credit line issued by the Government of India, since the inception of this assistance programme in 2003-04. This was followed the Dalai Lama’s ninth visit to Mongolia in November 2016 (the last planned visit in August 2014 was cancelled by Mongolian authorities because President Xi was to set foot there on the same dates). China unsurprisingly objected to the November visit: it closed down a key border crossing between the two countries and cut-off talks on providing a $4.2 billion debt to Mongolia. Soon enough, the Mongolian Foreign Minister was made to publicly apologise for permitting the visit. He went on to say that the Dalai Lama will not be allowed to visit Mongolia under the current administration henceforth.

China’s official response to the events was sullen — an approach that has come to characterise its relations with most of its neighbours. The Chinese Foreign Affairs Spokesperson said:

we hope that Mongolia will truly learn lessons from this incident, truly respect the core interests of China, honour its promise and make efforts to improve the relations between China and Mongolia.” In turn, the Mongolian ambassador to India on called on India to extend support in this moment of crisis.

Now, because of the India angle to this story, some analysts pointed out that India’s inability in extending sufficient help was to blame Mongolia’s spectacular capitulation. Accurate or not, this assessment leads us to the following questions: what does this turnaround say about Mongolia’s capacity to challenge China? And, can Mongolia ever demonstrate balancing behaviour and ally with states such as India in countering China? On examining the recent turn of events closely, two possibilities come forth.

The first possibility: it was Mongolia that initially sensed an opportunity — a visit by the Dalai Lama could signal that his reincarnation could appear in Mongolia. Hence, the Mongolian government permitted the visit, albeit one strictly classified as that of a ‘religious nature’ alone. But when the Chinese stick came down with all its might, Mongolia quickly retracted.

Mongolia has played this game before — this was the Dalai Lama’s ninth visit to the country since 1979 and on each occasion, the Chinese response has been unkind. In 2002, China retaliated by closing the border rail crossing for two days, isolating the land-locked country further. The response in 2011 was milder — a ‘stern representation’ was made to convey Beijing’s displeasure at Ulan Bator. With this history in mind, it is difficult to believe that Mongolia permitted the trip without expecting a pushback from China.

The second possibility: India was, either a failsafe option that Mongolia presumed it could revert to in case the Chinese retaliated, or was the one that abetted the Dalai Lama’s visit. In either case, this possibility relies on a perception that Mongolia can be a balancing power — ready to join hands with weaker sides such as India to challenge the regional hegemon.

If this was indeed the intent from the Indian side, we’re on the right track. However, the same cannot be said about the instrument used. It would take a lot more than a mere increase in Line of Credit (LoC) to get a land-locked country — one that is struggling with a ‘$1 billion budget gap and looming debt repayments’ — on your side. A Line of Credit — whatever the amount extended may be — count merely as an attempt that can at best marginally change incentives of the recipient country. Projects undertaken as part of LoCs come with riders — 75% of the value of the contracts must be sourced from India. And the utilisation rates of LoCs are often slow, because of supply side constraints (read incompetence of Indian exporters) or because of demand issues (read inadequacies of recipient nation’s importers). [Data on lines of credit available in this xls sheet from the EXIM bank website.] 

Probably, the truth lies somewhere in between both the possibilities. What is clear is that China’s response this time around was swift and unforgiving, in continuance of China’s aggressive stance against its neighbours under President Xi. And it came at a time when Mongolia is already struggling economically. Under such circumstances, can Mongolia be one of the allies in India’s project of balancing out Chinese influence in the near future? Can, for instance, Mongolia take the risk of allowing the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama to appear in Mongolia?

Very unlikely, especially if India is unwilling to think beyond Lines of Credit. If India is seriously considering challenging China, that demands it to offer something that can drastically change its partners’ incentives. Perhaps it is time to consider options such as offering unconditional development (if not military aid), or investing in long term developmental projects (like CPEC, minus all the Chinese characteristics) to bolster the capacities of smaller states in China’s neighbourhood. And even that wouldn’t guarantee the balancing credentials of states such as Mongolia, too low on the national power scale to inflict pain to China. Perhaps, a better balancing strategy for India would be to consolidate relations with Vietnam — a country that has the credentials to take the fight to the Chinese in alliance with partners such as India.

Also read: my piece on how India’s Lines of Credit stack up.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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A power-centric timeline of Pakistan

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

There have been some excellent books on various aspects of the Pakistan state in the last couple of years. However, I found one feature missing these books: a power-centric timeline of Pakistan.

By this, I mean listing all major events since Pakistan’s independence in conjunction with the occupants of the most important positions of power. Such a database can become a ready reckoner for researchers working on Pakistan. Further, it might help derive further insights about Pakistan. Since I didn’t come across such a timeline before, I decided to make my own. With the help of my colleague Puru Naidu, we have created this timeline which is open for access [access the google sheet here].

Essentially, we have created a timeline for Pakistan starting 1947 with a quarter-year as the unit of resolution. Then we’ve listed the occupants of four most important political positions in Pakistan throughout this time period. These positions are: the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief of Army Staff, and the Director-General of ISI. We chose these positions based on their historical and current relevance. Moreover, our contention is that the overly centralised power structure in Pakistan allows for reducing Pakistan’s political structure to these four positions. Finally, we are listing all major political events of international importance in independent Pakistan’s history through the time period.

A power-centric timeline of Pakistan

A power-centric timeline of Pakistan

 

Some points to be noted:

  1. This is a work in progress. Listing of historical events is an ongoing work.
  2. A reductionist exercise is a simplification, and might miss out some important details. For example, the DG-ISI position wasn’t an important one until the 1990s. In fact, as Hein Kiessling notes in his new book, the ISI was not even considered as the best intelligence unit within Pakistan for the first two decades after independence.

Comments and suggestions on this exercise are most welcome. Should we include any other political positions? Are we missing an important historical event? Let us know and we will make the additions. Hope this small exercise will help the growing literature on Pakistan.

[access the timeline google sheet here]

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

 

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On India—Portugal relations

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Bárbara Reis, Editor-in-chief of the Portuguese magazine Publico asked me to comment on Portugal PM António Costa’s ongoing trip to India. Here are the questions and answers. [The full interview on the Public website is here]

Q: How would you describe India-Portugal bilateral relation, in particular compared with other European countries?

I’d put Portugal as the fourth most important country in Europe for India along with Netherlands. The first spot goes to Britain because of historical links and strong contemporary economic ties. Moreover, like other Asian members of the commonwealth, India too sees Europe through Britain. Germany and France are the other two European nations with which India has strategic partnerships. Then comes India’s partnerships with Netherlands and Portugal, both of which have substantially large Indian communities.

Q: Is Costa’s visit relevant for India? In what way? 

Costa’s visit is very significant for three reasons:

One, it comes at a time when India’s traditional connect in the European Union — Britain, is on its way out. Thus, India needs other partnerships to help navigate the complex mechanisms of the EU. As it stands, the EU is not looked upon as a credible strategic actor internationally. Apart from matters of trade and investment, emerging Asian countries like India prefer to interact directly with the member-states of the EU and vice-versa. This is where India-Portugal relations in general and this visit in particular become significant.

Two, India needs to partner with Portugal not just to access the EU, but also to link it with other Lusophone countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. Costa’s visit can give impetus to these partnerships as well.

Three, Costa will be visiting Gujarat, Goa, and Karnataka. It is not very common for the leader of another country to go out of the capital New Delhi. This visit can hence be utilised to establish links directly with these states, all three of which are amongst the economically better performing regions of India.

Q: PM António Costa’s father was an Indian from Goa. How does that fact play in Indian internal and external politics?

Not directly. But Mr Costa’s visit can be used to give impetus to Goa as a foreign policy actor, not only with respect to Portugal but also to other Lusophone nations. Traditionally, foreign policy has been seen to be the sole responsibility of the union government. But over the last decade, many states have started engaging with other countries directly, mostly for economic diplomacy. In this context, Goa is an important state because it is the richest state in India in per capita terms and also because a sizeable number of Goans reside outside India. Thus, riding on Costa’s Goan connections, the Goa—Portugal partnership can be made the first success story for this new paradigm of foreign policy in India.

Q: What could Portugal do to improve and strengthen the bilateral relation with India?

Portugal can help in three ways:

One, open up its doors to Indians for education. India has a shortage of world-class universities. Portugal can provide scholarships, especially in the social sciences stream.

Two, to establish stronger cultural links, Portugal can start short-term fellowship programmes for Indians on the lines of the US State department’s fellowships. This can involve not just Goa, but other Lusophone nations of the world.

Three, the Portuguese language in Goa has declined steadily over the years. It would help if Portugal could boost the Centro de Língua Portuguesa in Goa and tie-up with other schools and colleges for this purpose.

Q: Do you agree that Goa is being underestimated by both countries? Meaning, could Goa be the center of a new triangular type of diplomatic relations? Triangles like India-Mozambique-Portugal? Or India-Portugal and any of the other Portuguese speaking countries?

Definitely. The idea that states are important partners in India’s foreign policy is gaining ground now. States too see themselves as important players and are ready to engage other countries for establishing mutually beneficial economic relations. Many state departments now have NRI departments that interact with nations having large diasporas from their state. Goa can become the crucial link between India and all Lusophone nations. Goa should consider having a permanent trade representation in all Lusophone nations to accelerate the bidirectional flow of investments.

Also read: My colleague Anupam Manur’s article in Mint on the investment opportunities for India in Portugal.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Data story: Lines of Credit supported by India

A brief overview of India’s lines of Credit to other nation-states

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

India’s relationship with Mongolia has been in the news recently. After the Dalai Lama visited the Buddhist country, China suspended ongoing talks to grant a $4.2 billion loan and made Mongolia’s Foreign Minister apologise for permitting the visit. When Mongolia’s ambassador urged India to raise it’s voice against the Chinese overreaction, India’s response was as follows:

We are closely working with the Mongolian government to implement the credit line in a manner that is deemed beneficial to the friendly people of Mongolia by its leadership. We are aware of the difficult budgetary situation that Mongolia is facing due to various factors including high cost of servicing of debt raised by them in the past.

The credit line being referred to was the US $1 billion committed to Mongolia during PM Modi’s visit in May 2015. Meant to finance the ‘development of railways and related infrastructure projects’, this was the second-largest single line of credit by India since the programme started in 2003-04. This data point got me interested in this creature called Line of Credit. This post gives a basic overview of India’s Lines of Credit.

What is a Line of Credit?
A LOC is a ‘soft loan’ (not a grant) provided at concessional interest rates to developing countries and has to be repaid by the borrowing government. Besides serving the foreign policy aim of increasing India’s presence in critical geographies, LOCs are meant to promote exports of Indian goods and services — they come with a conditionality that a minimum of 75% of the contract value must be sourced from India.

One important factor to consider while looking at LOC figures is that the utilisation rates are typically low (the mean utilisation rate currently stands at 42%).  There are primarily two reasons: one, demand side issues such as inadequacies of recipient nation’s importers, insecure conditions, or lack of statutory clearances by the recipient government. Two, because of supply-side issues such as incompetence of Indian exporters, customs restrictions,  or lack of clearances from the Indian government.

Because a LOC is a soft loan (not a grant) and suffers from slow utilisation, regardless of the size of the amount approved as part of a LOC, it merely counts as an attempt to change the recipient country’s incentives at the margin. Which means, if a country is extremely critical to India’s national interest, it would require the government to do a lot more than announce billions of dollars worth of credit lines. Especially because China can match any LOC figure that the Indian government attempts — a direct outcome of continuous economic growth.

 

Nevertheless, how do India’s LOCs stack up? The summary is in the image below (click to expand the image). The data used to create these infographics can be downloaded from here.
locs

Also read: My colleague Pavan’s excellent Pragati Infographic: Foreign Aid going out of India.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

 

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Mythicising China’s strategic behaviour

From great wall to great iron via Sunzi bingfa

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Because we don’t understand China’s strategic priorities well enough, we often resort to historical antecedents, writings, even quotable quotes (remember Deng Xiaoping’s “lie low”?), to explain China’s strategic behaviour. This reductionist tendency is no longer the preserve of the non-Chinese. Chinese strategists themselves selectively pull out cultural myths that can project China as an eternally peaceful and responsible global power. Strategic culture myths serve another function: when on the backfoot, Chinese strategists often use cultural myths to imply that China has a totally different perspective on war and strategy that the West is incapable of understanding.

Given how frequently strategic culture myths are used in the Chinese context, I was delighted to read the chapter “Myth busting: challenging the conventional wisdom on Chinese strategic culture” by Andrew R Wilson, professor of strategy at the US Naval War College. The book is a Routledge edited volume titled China’s Strategic Priorities (ed. Jonathan Ping and Brett McCormick). The author identifies five myths that are believed to be the core elements of China’s strategic culture — the Great Wall myth, the Sunzi myth, the Good Iron myth, the Zheng He myth, and the myth of shi.

In the author’s words,

these myths enjoy little historical basis and even less explanatory power for understanding contemporary Chinese strategy. At best they are reductionist and misleading. And yet these five myths in their various forms and combinations continue to dominate today’s discussions of Chinese strategic behaviour [China’s strategic priorities, page 8].

I found this dismantling of China’s strategic culture myths very useful and constructed a mind map that can help China watchers (maximise the image to see the text). Maybe this will be instrumental in diffusing the mysticism surrounding China’s strategies.

China's Strategic culture myths. (Based on Andrew R Wilson's chapter in China's strategic Priorities)

China’s Strategic culture myths. (Based on Andrew R Wilson’s chapter in China’s strategic Priorities)

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

 

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Pakistan’s economic challenge

Thinking beyond CPEC

By Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

The Dawn editorial (10th December) makes a case against Pakistan’s overreliance on CPEC to solve its economic woes.

there are multiple roads to integration, and placing all the emphasis on CPEC alone risks putting too many eggs in one basket. [The Dawn, 10th December 2016]

CPEC has been projected as a panacea for Pakistan’s economic woes. A Deloitte report from earlier this year estimated that:

if all the planned projects are implemented, the value of those projects would exceed all foreign direct investment in Pakistan since 1970 and would be equivalent to 17% of Pakistan’s 2015 gross domestic product. It is further estimated the CPEC project will create some 700,000 direct jobs during the period 2015–2030 and add up to 2.5 percentage points to the country’s growth rate. [Deloitte]

Unsurprisingly, the potential benefits accruing from CPEC have been played up by sections of the Pakistani press, government, and the army. Among other things, two separate force formations, each comprising of more than 15000 security personnel, have been mobilised in order to ensure security for the project and for Chinese workers. And as Khurram Hussain highlighted in another Dawn article titled ‘Hidden costs of CPEC‘, the cost of these forces is now being bundled into the power tariff and passed on to the consumers.

Thus, The Dawn editorial accurately identifies the need to think beyond CPEC. It suggests two alternatives: change in the terms of the FTA with China, and increasing trade with Iran, beginning with the natural gas pipeline. However, both these alternatives are unlikely to solve Pakistan’s economic woes for the following reasons.

A renewal of the FTA with China in no way reduces Pakistan’s dependence on China. Pakistan has already acceded unusual diplomatic and political maneuvering space for China in a bid to revive its economy. Take, for instance, the conduct of Muhammad Lijian Zhao, a Deputy Head of Mission at China’s Islamabad embassy, who single-handedly fends off the mildest of reservations against CPEC by Pakistanis on Twitter. It is unusual that the concerns of Pakistani citizens, instead of being addressed by the provincial government of Balochistan or the Federal Government, are being swatted off by a Chinese bureaucrat.

Images such as these common on Twitter

Building a China—Pakistan friendship narrative: Images such as these are common on Twitter

The issue of raising a Special Security Division also reflects Chinese domination in the China—Pakistan equation. Raising a special division for Chinese projects and nationals, in regions where ordinary Pakistanis themselves fear for their lives, is further stoking alienation.

The opening of trade with Iran, without a peaceful settlement of political issues in Balochistan and Afghanistan, is also an unfeasible alternative. Pakistan’s economic growth centres are near its eastern borders (in Punjab and Sindh) and any trade with Iran will have to pass through the troubled western areas. Thus, it is unlikely that trade with Iran will take off unless Pakistan addresses the aspirations of the Baloch, and stops its overt and covert support for the Afghan Taliban.

What might resolve Pakistan’s economic challenge, then? Moeed Yusuf suggests that Pakistan has no option but to open up economically to India.

He makes an excellent argument:

Even when we add up realistic appraisals of possible reforms, includes CPEC, and factor in new export markets Pakistan can tap, we still end up well short of what the country needs to keep competing with India and other peer countries.

More importantly, it is absolute, not relative, gains that matter. We need to be concerned about the additional growth we would generate from acting as a trade and transit hub for the near and far neighbourhood and the force-multiplier effect it would have rather than what India or others might get out of the arrangement. Plainly, the new chief must know that keeping the region closed guarantees that India and Pakistan’s differential will continue to grow in New Delhi’s favour. [Dawn, The Chief’s Choice]

Alas, it’s is a tragedy that even major geoeconomic decisions of Pakistan need approvals of the army chief.

[Also read my post Thoughts on India’s approach to China’s 1B1R initiative on how India should look at CPEC]

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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What India’s surgical strike achieved, and what it didn’t?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Having introduced an uncertainty in its response, it is perhaps better for India to reduce the vulnerability of its military establishments.

In the wake of the attacks on the Indian army base in Nagrota, familiar uncomfortable questions have come to the fore: is it the lack of intelligence support that’s making such attacks recur? Has the fragile situation in the Kashmir valley helped rejuvenate terrorist networks? Or, are obsolete security mechanisms making military installations vulnerable to repeated attacks? Despite the recent spate of attacks on military infrastructure, these sticky, fly-papery questions still haven’t found responses that will make them dissolve away.

Nevertheless, the Nagrota attack throws up a completely new question: what did the “surgical strikes” of 29th September achieve — is there a need to replicate such strikes after the Nagrota attacks or should that option be dispensed with?

To answer this question, let’s assess what the surgical strikes achieved, from the lens of the three affected parties — the domestic Indian audience, the Pakistani military—jihadi complex, and the Pakistani civilian leadership.

For many Indians, a consciously coordinated action involving various parts of the administrative machinery — military, diplomatic, and political — was a signal that India will now respond to terrorism at strategic or operational levels, and not merely at a tactical level. Given that the earlier response — a carefully calibrated “strategic restraint” policy had failed to attenuate the attacks from Pakistan, a more forceful quid-pro-quo alternative became a cause of hope for some, and of aggressive chest-thumping for others. After the Nagrota attacks, some groups in this domestic constituency will demand similar strikes, with an aim of institutionalising this strategy.

Second, the Pakistani military—jihadi complex (MJC) was taken by surprise — it was anticipating a tactical response, but not a coordinated operational response. Moreover, the publicly declared cross-LoC Indian raids largely received a thumbs-up from the international community, weakening the complex’s narrative.  Within the complex, the jihadi node was specifically targetted. However, the shallow raids didn’t dent the terrorists’ capacity in any significant manner — there are no terrorist camps at such small distances from the LoC, merely a few launch pads to help terrorist squads in their transit. The operation also did not cause any major loss to the Pakistani army and hence it chose to deny the incident rather than escalate immediately. Overall, the surgical strikes served a signalling purpose against the MJC, rather than a concrete blow to its capacities; it flustered the MJC but hasn’t deterred it. It proved to the MJC that India is capable of maintaining a dynamic conventional threshold and that India is not just limited to the option of tactical retaliation.

Third, the Pakistani civilian leadership was able to utilise the surgical strikes against the dominance of the MJC. Unsurprisingly, a news report claiming that the civilian government has directed the military leadership to act against militants came out immediately after India’s raids. Meanwhile, the civilian leadership kept championing the anti-India rhetoric — such posturing continues to remain popular in Pakistan, regardless of who is in the driving seat. The army’s carefully cultivated image as the ultimate protector of Pakistan’s ideological and geographical frontiers took a dent, and the civilian leadership cashed in on the opportunity.

What will be the impact of another cross-border raid on the three affected parties?
Projected as a strong rejoinder to Pakistan’s use of terrorism, the Indian government will be able to garner domestic support from many quarters to a repeat strike. However, the border states of Punjab and J&K will have to bear the brunt of any further escalation, threatening livelihoods and economic prospects in these states.

The MJC and the Pakistani civilian establishment will now be better prepared in anticipation of another Indian strike. So, it will be very difficult for India to inflict any damage using the same level of deployment. Other options of this nature include using artillery against bunkers from a vantage point while avoiding collateral damage, or the use of air to surface strikes or using short-range cruise missiles to strike terrorist hideouts. But each of these alternatives is likely to result in significant escalation on both sides.

Having introduced an uncertainty in its response, it is perhaps better for India to reduce the vulnerability of its military establishments. Recommendations of the Lt Gen Philip Campose Committee, constituted after the Pathankot attacks, need to be implemented. There is clear indication that the MJC has altered its strategy over the last two years, focusing on high-value Indian military establishments rather than cause large-scale civilian damages. The sub-conventional warfare level, where terrorists operate, has clearly narrowed across the world. A conventional response to a terrorist attack having mass civilian casualties will now be seen as a necessity to curb terror. The surgical strikes have helped reinforced this viewpoint. A variant of the strikes can be used to target high-value terrorist infrastructure if Pakistan returns to its policy of causing mass casualties.

For now, it is better that India focuses on its defences. Ultimately, India is better off putting both — a grand rapprochement or a full-scale war — on the back burner, while expending available capacity to launch economic reforms, rendering Pakistan irrelevant.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Changing alignments in East Asia

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)
Early indications about a Trump Presidency’s impact on partnerships in East Asia

Since Woodrow Wilson, the goal of American foreign policy has been to prevent regional hegemony.

believes Seth Cropsey, Director of the Centre for American Seapower at Hudson Institute. Assuming this was true, the goal is now being reconsidered seriously in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential elections. All through the election season, Trump has indicated that the next administration would be more inward-looking — provision of the common good of security, and promotion of free trade, will not be the guiding principles of US foreign policy anymore.

In the early days, the effects of this new strategy are most clearly visible in East Asia. After Obama decided to suspend efforts to pass his signature Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal through the Congress, Vietnam too will not ratify the deal in the national assembly anytime soon. Trump’s victory also caused panic in South Korea’s financial markets, prompting an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. Australia too followed suit — signalling support for Chinese-led Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

The framework below gives an idea of how East Asian states are recalibrating their strategies over the past few weeks.

tpp-trump-duterte

Given that the US and China are overwhelmingly powerful in the region, bipolarity exists in East Asia. Further, there are two axes of alignments — political and economic. Based on their relationships with these two major powers, East Asian states can be assigned to one of the four quadrants. There are two bandwagon quadrants (where a state aligns with US or China both, politically and economically) and two hedging quadrants (where a state aligns with one major power in political engagements and aligns with the other in economic arrangements). Grey points indicate positions of East Asian states before Trump’s presidency and black points indicate recent shifts. I haven’t classified all the East Asian states in this framework, yet.

This framework indicates that countries like Australia and Philippines are already moving towards the hedging quadrants. With TPP faltering, a lot of states might follow the Australian trajectory —  economic alignment with China and play a waiting game on geopolitical alignment.

Countries such as North Korea and Japan will find the realignment tougher, and will look out for more options. Faster movement on India—Japan cooperation is an example. No surprises that a landmark nuclear deal between the two countries took place once it was clear that Trump would be the next US president.

Interesting days ahead for East Asia watchers. China can be expected to be strident in the days to come.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Book Review: Not War, Not Peace?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

[An edited version of this review first appeared in The Business Standard Newspaper on 4th October 2016]

A lucid and comprehensive account of India’s strategic predicament in countering Pakistan-backed terrorism

Not War, Not Peace? — Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross-Border Terrorism
Authors: George Perkovich and Toby Dalton
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Pages: 297
Price: INR 695

‘Prescient’ would be an underwhelming adjective to describe a book that claims to be “the first comprehensive assessment of the violent and non-violent options available to India for compelling Pakistan to take concrete steps towards curbing terrorism originating from its homeland”. The timing of this publication can perhaps be compared only to the timing of Virat Kohli’s strokeplay.

In this book, the authors George Perkovich and Toby Dalton (both from the DC based think tank — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) provide some much-needed clarity to questions such as: how should India respond to Pakistan’s usage of sub-conventional warfare? and what are the costs and benefits for each of India’s options?

As a piece of analytical writing, the book avoids the trap of a recency bias—excessive jingoism calling for retribution in response to terrorist attacks such as Uri can lead to an error in decision-making, hurting India in the long run. Instead, the authors identify four objectives for any response by the Indian side to an act of terror: one, satisfying the domestic political—psychological need to punish the perpetrators; two, motivating Pakistani authorities to prevent the next attack; three, deterring Pakistani authorities from escalating the conflict in reaction to India’s punitive moves; and four, ending the conflict in ways that doesn’t leave India worse off than it would have been, had it responded with less destructive means.

With these objectives as the backdrop, the authors describe five strategies: a proactive strategy not very different from the surgical strikes deployed in the aftermath of the Uri attacks, limited airborne strike on terrorist targets in Pakistan, covert operations to take out terrorists and their infrastructure, a change in India’s nuclear force posture allowing India to punish Pakistan in ways currently unfeasible, and finally, non-violent methods involving alliances with other states to inflict costs on Pakistan.

The book proceeds in a structured manner: each chapter picks up one strategy and then assesses what the likely next steps on the escalation ladder could be. Authors also identify the benefits and costs of each stage of escalation. To borrow a computer programming terminology, the book picks up an option and passes it through several “nested, if then else loops” systematically.

Some other highlights of the book. One, the book is severely damning of the “tendency in India, verging on standard operating procedure to announce or publicly discuss operational concepts or weapon systems before they actually exist.” We have seen glimpses of this tendency recently as well: whether it was the case of the PM raising Balochistan in the Independence Day speech, the case of a possible review of the Indus Water Treaty or DRDO’s claims on programmes such as ballistic missile defence systems. Premature sabre-rattling without credible capacity only motivates the irreconcilable entities in Pakistan, while India is caught off-guard when these forces retaliate.

Two, the book incriminates the below par performance of India’s military-industrial complex, saying that this lacuna constrains many of India’s military options. Three, the two authors’ assessment of the US role in Pakistan is also noteworthy. They accurately cite that even today, the US remains Pakistan’s biggest export market and a substantially large provider of economic and military aid. Getting the US to stop supporting Pakistan, financially and militarily, still remains an unfulfilled task.

A few sections in the book however, are based on long disproved assumptions. For instance, the first chapter derives that India’s position with respect to Pakistan is undermined, at least partly, due to a lack of “strategic culture”. The proof for this claim are statements by retired and serving defence officers, who place the blame on political leaderships through the years. In any case, this strategic culture fallacy doesn’t hold water. Just because India’s strategic aims were not Alexander-like in nature does not imply that there was no strategic culture. In fact, India’s strategic aim for long has been the consolidation of markets and states in the subcontinent. The chapter does make a redeeming point: the lack of a “defence economics” practice in India. Questions such as — how much and on what basis should be spent on its defence? Would the armed forces agree to a reduction in manpower in favour of better hardware? — still remained unasked and unanswered.

The authors are excessively charitable towards Pakistan when they criticise Pakistan for its “unwillingness or inability to prevent cross border terrorism against India”. After all, Pakistan has been directly involved in several cases of cross-border terrorism. The “rogue actor” model, often used to bury this unsettling fact can’t explain the following: how is it that there is a high substitutability of labour between the army and the jihadi groups, and between jihadi groups themselves? And what explains the fact that any efforts of peace talks between Pakistan and India are promptly followed by acts of violence, terror and intimidation from and within Pakistan?

Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two. The first is a putative state; currently represented by a civilian government. The second entity is not just the military, as it is generally held. Instead, it is the the military—jihadi complex (MJC): a dynamic syndicate of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures that pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance. Policies towards Pakistan will continue to be ineffective unless these two Pakistans are explicated and internalised.

The book also claims that “today and in the foreseeable future, the choice Indian leaders will face is between doing nothing and doing too much.” Perhaps, there is a space for a third option: Ignore Pakistan while building up defences, resolving the political issues in Jammu & Kashmir, and shaping international morality against states that support terrorism as a policy.

Finally, Not War, Not Peace is a must-read for anyone interested in the India—Pakistan protracted conflict. Long-time Pakistan watchers will enjoy the exhaustive nature of the analyses while new readers will find the language easy enough to grasp. One final regret: such a comprehensive and lucid assessment of India’s options was written first by experts in the US, and not in India.   

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Countering the two Pakistans

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Summary of an interview I gave to Channel News Asia.

The Indian Army claimed that it conducted surgical strikes on terrorist launch pads in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to pre-empt another infiltration by terrorists. Before we discuss the impact of this claim, it is important to analyse the antecedents. Else, we’ll be falling into the trap of recency bias which makes us react emotionally to the most recent events on the ground.

The current Indian government, much like the earlier Indian governments, started off with the vision that normalising the relationship with the Pakistani civilian establishment provides the best chance for peace in the region. Consequently, Nawaz Sharif was invited to the Indian PM’s swearing-in ceremony. Subsequently, the Indian PM also made a trip to Lahore in continuation of this policy. However, all this outreach ended with first, the attack on a bus and police station in Gurdaspur and then an attack on the Pathankot air base. More recently, the terrorists attacked the Indian army brigade headquarters in Uri. This cycle—rounds of talks ending up in retaliation coming from Pakistan has a long history. Hence we’ve previously advocated that:

it is futile to spend cycles on trying to engage Pakistan at all costs.  And that, only by developing and putting in place mitigation strategies can India truly hope to better insulate itself from the terror infrastructure that operates out of Pakistan [Discussion document: Sustained Dialogue Process as India’s Pakistan Policy].

Given that normalising the relationship with the Pakistani civilian government has higher costs than benefits, India was on the lookout for stronger options after the attack in Uri. And hence the attack on terrorist “launchpads” across the border. One needs to remember that this attack was not against the Pakistani Army or the Pakistani people. It was explicitly targeted towards terrorist infrastructure. Moreover, the Indian Army claimed responsibility for the attack and conveyed that there are no intentions to carry on with further strikes.

Pakistan’s response
Pakistani news agencies have been denying that there was a “surgical strike” and tried to play it down as cross-border fire. The terminology doesn’t matter. What is significant is that this was perhaps the first time that the Indian army openly claimed that it had struck down terrorist camps on the other side of the LoC. Even though tactical operations across the border from both sides aren’t new, this explicit claim is meant to blow the lid off the lie that Pakistan has been peddling throughout the world: any Indian response against a terror strike will eventually lead to nuclear war.

India’s claim and Pakistan’s subsequent dithering shows that there are options for India to explore below the nuclear threshold. There will be pressure on the Pakistani military establishment to retaliate and we might see some firing on the LoC in the days to come. But if Pakistan chooses to escalate in response to an attack on terrorists, it will only provide further evidence to how the army and the militants operate in unison and are in fact a part of an organisational structure— a complex.

What about the diplomatic responses?
Diplomatic responses (like refusing to attend the SAARC meeting) and military responses are not mutually exclusive to each other. In fact, since Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two—the first a putative civilian state and the second a military-jihadi complex—two responses are needed to counter the two Pakistans.

The diplomatic responses are meant to address the Pakistani people and the Pakistani putative state. They are meant to convey that the costs of supporting terrorists far outweigh the benefits. On the other hand, the overt military strike is meant to convey to the military-jihadi complex that India has options to strike back and that “tactical” nuclear weapons cannot be used as an excuse to target Indian people and the Republic of India.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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