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Look out for MJC’s reaction to India’s changed articulation on Balochistan

India must be prepared for two responses — one from the MJC and one from the putative state of Pakistan

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

For the first time in many years, focus of the India—Pakistan discussion has veered from the familiar topics—Kashmir and cross-border terrorism originating in Pakistan—to Balochistan. After PM Modi’s reference to “the people of Balochistan” in his 2016 Independence Day speech, two immediate effects are clearly observable: one, the Baloch nationalists dispersed across the world have received greater attention from a completely new set of audiences. This has added much-needed vigour to their waning campaign against the atrocities committed by the Pakistani state in Balochistan. On the other hand, the intensification of the rhetoric has been met with one of the most brutal crackdowns by the Pakistani establishment within Balochistan—67 were killed and over 150 were reported missing in August alone.

The idea behind this post is not to gauge the wisdom or the folly behind the PM’s statement on Balochistan for such an exercise is futile.  Given that the wheels have already been set into motion, it would be worthwhile to ask: how will Pakistan react to this escalation from India?

To understand Pakistan’s reaction, it is critical to note that there will be two different responses because Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two. The first is a putative state; currently represented by a civilian government and a civilian de-facto head of state, having its own flag and other paraphernalia that make it appear like a sovereign state. The competing entity is not just the military, as it is generally held. Instead, it is a dynamic syndicate of military, militant, radical Islamist and political-economic structures, which pursues a set of domestic and foreign policies to ensure its own survival and relative dominance: what we call the military—jihadi complex (MJC).

The MJC and the putative state of Pakistan, both will react differently to India, depending on their own capabilities and intentions. My colleague Nitin Pai explains this duality of response through this analogy:

So when New Delhi engages Pakistan, it is like one batsman against two bowlers bowling simultaneously. Just when you think you’ve played a great shot—a solid defensive one or a flashy hit over the bowler’s head—you realise that you’ve been bowled by the other bowler before you’ve finished your follow- through. The doppelgänger is always there, even if you declare you aren’t going to face him. Even if you ignore him. Even if, as it turns out, you accept that he is a part of the bowling team.

Thus, India must be prepared for two responses — one from the MJC and one from the putative state of Pakistan.

First, let’s see the response of the putative state: there are hardly any new tools in Nawaz Sharif’s retaliation bag. The first response will be: Kashmir. At international forums and at bilateral diplomatic meetings, the Pakistani state will try to make the Kashmir issue central to any discussion on India and Pakistan, once again. Internally, it might consider conceding some grounds to Baloch nationalist demands in order to negate the negative propaganda. CPEC will again be posed as a panacea for Balochistan’s problems. In what could be an indicator for times to come, a string of development projects were announced on 2nd September by Nawaz Sharif — a dam, Gwadar Free Zone, Business Complex and a University. 

The more interesting question is: how will the MJC react? the MJC will definitely see India’s act as a provocation and will be considering a retaliation to shift the focus off Balochistan, particularly when it is on the rampage there. The distraction can come in the form of: a terrorist attack on the lines of Gurdaspur and Pathankot. Or in the form of heightened infiltration attempts in the Kashmir valley. Internally, there will be a campaign to highlight that the discontent in Balochistan is a result of Indian intelligence agencies. One can also expect the MJC to bring Kulbhushan Jadhav back into the zeitgeist.

Regardless of the two reactions aimed against India, India’s pitch for the Baloch cause will have significant repercussions on the internal power play between MJC and the civilian leadership. And in the current scenario, the MJC will start with momentum in its favour. This is because a strong, shared culture is a cornerstone of the MJC—a powerful force that keeps the various nodes together. And perhaps the most important feature of this shared culture is a deep-seated antagonism towards India. With a wider set of options, covert and overt, available at hand, the MJC is always in a better position to project itself as the true protector against evil designs of the Indian state. 

The internal power struggle gets further convoluted when one brings into account the impending change of guard at the helm of the military, in two months time. While Nawaz Sharif would want to project that he’s in charge, the Indian angle in Balochistan will play to the advantage of the Pakistani military in particular. The next two months will help us gauge how the Balochistan issue affects civil-military relations in Pakistan.

Finally, a reaction there will be from the MJC. The question is, is the Indian government prepared to manage the consequences of MJC’s retaliation? Answering this question is critical for calculating the true costs or benefits of India’s escalation on Balochistan.

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

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Online activism viewed through the “exit, voice and loyalty” framework

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

WhatsApp and Facebook action groups, change.org petitions, and online grievance reporting are now commonplace manifestations of citizens demanding better public services, particularly in the urban areas of India. Related questions arise: what are the motivations that lead to formations of such groups? And how effective in reality are such groups in resolving the key issue of under-provision of public goods?

These are questions that demand an in-depth study by themselves. However, we get a few clues about analysing such questions from a framework by economist Albert Hirschman in his 1970 treatise “Exit, Voice and Loyalty”. The main argument that the framework makes is:

members of an organisation, whether a business, a nation or any other form of human grouping, have essentially two possible responses when they perceive that the organization is demonstrating a decrease in quality or benefit to the member: they can exit (withdraw from the relationship); or, they can voice (attempt to repair or improve the relationship through communication of the complaint, grievance or proposal for change).

In the urban context, this framework simply means the following: faced with a decline in the quality of living in a particular urban area, citizens can choose one of the two responses: either exit (move to a new city or another area within the same city) or voice (demand better services in the current areas through complaints and protests). The key question then is: what impact does online activism have on the choice between voice and exit?

Online activism makes it easy for people to choose voice over exit. This is because, as Hirschman says:
success in advocacy groups is uncertain. So, participation in a movement to bring about a desirable policy is the next best thing to having that policy.

This means that the act of getting involved in a public interest problem is seen as en end in itself by a few people because getting the desired outcome is anyways so uncertain. This further means that the costs of getting people to come together on an issue are actually seen as benefits by a few people. Thus, people move away from apathy, towards activism to voice their grievances. With online activism a possibility, the the costs of organising people over an issue become even lower, making it easier for people to rally around new causes.

Thus it is not surprising to find online petitions and action groups mushrooming to resolve urban issues. However, the key question remains: are such groups successful in bringing positive changes in the living standards that they sought to bring? As Hirschman points, since the act of getting together is itself seen as an end, people often see activism as a goal in itself. This is seen amply in the case of online action groups: groups die after getting initial ‘successes’ in the form of assurances from public officials or merely recognition in terms of ‘petition sign-ups’ or  ‘Facebook likes’. Converting this online voice into successful on the ground changes requires mobilising online groups into committed volunteers to chase the root-cause and follow up till the change is delivered. Not an easy matter.

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

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Book review — Afghanistan Post-2014: Power Configurations and Evolving Trajectories

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

[An edited version of this review first appeared in The Seminar Magazine’s July 2016 edition]

A comprehensive volume that throws light on Afghanistan’s polity in a period characterised by the declining presence of  US-led combat forces.

Afghanistan Post-2014: Power Configurations and Evolving Trajectories
Editors: Rajen Harshe and Dhananjay Tripathi
Publisher: Routledge India, 2016
Pages: 244
Price: INR 895

‘The Americans have all the watches and we have all the time” — a striking quote attributed to the Taliban leadership (page 93), sets the tone for this collection of essays: a study of the precarious state that Afghanistan finds itself in after the US-led NATO coalition decided to substantially reduce its presence in Afghanistan starting 2014.

Recent events give credence to the Taliban’s long-haul strategy. It now appears that the Taliban has indeed used their abundant time to consolidate. The result is a repeated occurrence of some of the deadliest attacks in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s short history. First, Taliban succeeded in occupying the northern city of Kunduz in September 2015 for fifteen days, in what was the first takeover of a major Afghan city since 2001. And then in April 2016, as part of their latest spring offensive, the Taliban executed a deadly suicide bombing in the heart of the capital Kabul, killing as many as 64 people.

Make no mistake, these instances are unprecedented because they pose a foundational threat to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. A weakened security apparatus in the face of an ascendent Taliban means that it will be tougher than ever before for the young state to maintain its monopoly over violence in the Afghan country. It is thus not surprising that Nicholas Haysom, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan said that for 2016, “survival will be an achievement for the National Unity Government.” Such fears were reflected internally as well. In a speech made in the Afghan Parliament, President Ghani warned that the nation would have six tough months of war and killing ahead of it and asked them to be united and support the security forces.

Given this critical juncture that Afghanistan finds itself at, a collection of essays “concerned with the trajectories of the course of developments in Afghanistan after ceasing of combat operations by US-led NATO forces” merits special attention. Afghanistan Post-2014 is one such work that attempts to answer the following questions: will the drawdown of troops push Afghanistan into the throes of political instability? What will be the nature of a state which is based on reconciliation with Taliban? And finally, what role do the international actors involved in Afghanistan play in the current scenario?

Though the book is essentially an academic exercise in understanding the ongoing developments in Afghanistan, the crisp editing makes it consumable even for a general reader who is curious about the political struggle playing out in Afghanistan. The language is accessible and wherever political science frameworks or International Relations (IR) theory is used, the reader is introduced to the concept gently by the authors.

A word of caution for the readers, though: though the book was first published in 2016, most chapters appear to have been written in 2014 or 2015 and have not been updated since. Thus, the readers (and this reviewer), with the benefit of hindsight, will find themselves genuinely disappointed with a few predictions in the book that were falsified in the interim period between composition and publication.

Editors Rajen Harshe and Dhananjay5 Tripathi are academics at the South Asian University’s  Department of International Relations. They have brought together an extremely diverse range of views on Afghanistan: from Germany to Russia to India with the objective of searching and delineating pathways of the likely course of development in post-2014 Afghanistan.

In the introduction, the editors hail the “resilience” of Afghanistan. At the same time, they concede that while Afghanistan has steadfastly hung on to its freedom and independence over the last two centuries, the people of Afghanistan have invariably paid a high price in terms of loss of lives and property. This paradox highlights that self-determination has not translated to better life outcomes in Afghanistan. In fact, what we see there is self-rule combined with periods of illiberal authoritarianism. Tracing Afghanistan’s history from 1979 to 2001, the editors believe that Afghanistan was transformed into an epicentre of terrorism due to a triangular association between the Taliban regime, Pakistan and terrorist outfits such as Al-Qaeda.

In the first chapter, Rajan Harshe situates the Afghanistan problem in the context of globalisation. He places the blame of Afghanistan’s various vexing problems such as the Durand Line dispute, Soviet and US interventions, and finally the advent of global terror on globalisation. He believes that organisations like Al-Qaeda are an “anti-thesis” of the US-led imperialism in the form of globalisation. This reviewer is of the opinion that the causality for such claims remains weak—associating globalisation as a cause of terrorism would need much stronger evidence than is provided in the chapter.

Siddharth Mallavarapu’s chapter The many lives of Afghanistan makes an important point: one needs to dispel stereotypes on Afghanistan that represent the country as a combustible grouping of warmongering tribes. To do so, the author advocates bringing together three important disciplines: IR history, endogenous IR theory, and fiction writing based out of Afghanistan, such as the works of Khaled Hosseini and Atiq Rahimi. Mallavarapu masterfully breaks down what each of these fields has to contribute to the understanding of Afghanistan, making it the most interesting chapter in this collection.

Omar Sadr’s chapter makes the point that none of the conventional approaches for  international conflict resolution have been useful in Afghanistan. Mechanisms such as  hegemonic stability, balance of power and managerial role of the Great Powers have all failed in Afghanistan. The author instead advocates that peace can be brought about only when all the states involved institutionalise non-violent methods of dispute settlement. This approach has gained currency: processes such as Heart of Asia and the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) tried exactly this, but have thus far been unable in making Taliban and Pakistan shun violence.

Sadr also highlights the importance of trade routes in enmeshing states with each other, leading to subsidence of violence. However, Afghanistan’s problem has been that it remains overly enmeshed with Pakistan for trade and sea access. Attempts to link Afghanistan to the silk route through Central Asia and to the Persian Gulf through Chabahar are efforts that will go a long way in reducing Afghanistan’s coupling with Pakistan while enmeshing it with the other states in the region.

While the first section of the book dwells on theoretical aspects, the second section deals with instrumental issues directly related to the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. This section is of particular importance in the current situation—the hopes of peace through talks have died and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) will now be responsible for upholding the flailing republic.

Jayant Singh in his insightful chapter reviews the role of ANSF, once a lynchpin of the US and NATO strategy for a successful political outcome post-2014. Mirwais Balkhi lists the negative externalities that Afghanistan’s fall will have on the NATO countries, arguing for a closer NATO-Afghan partnership eventually leading to Afghanistan becoming a member of the NATO. Though an interesting viewpoint, such a scenario remains highly unlikely given that the US is now convinced about decreasing its role in Afghanistan.

The last section of the book throws up this interesting question: Without the military presence which underwrote the non-military involvement of many countries such as India and Iran,  how will the various international actors in Afghanistan react?

Sandra Destradi’s chapter throws light on one such actor that hardly finds a mention while discussing Afghanistan. Germany, one of the main players of the international coalition in Afghanistan can potentially decide to continue its support to ANDSF. The author however feels that Germany will mirror the trajectory of US involvement and is unlikely to take the initiative on security matters in Afghanistan because of its pacifist foreign policy tradition.

Russia’s viewpoint is important for the current situation in Afghanistan. Russia is concerned that a return of the Taliban will fuel narcotics trafficking, which kills 50,000 Russians every year. It is also worried that Islamic fundamentalism could spill over and create tensions in Central Asia. Nikolay Gudalov in his chapter on the Russian perspective reckons that Russia is open to a partnership with other countries in order to stall the return of Taliban. There’s possibly a window of opportunity for reinvigorating the resistance alliance between India, Russia and the other Central Asian countries that opposed Taliban in the period 1996—2001.

Shaji S analyses the Indian position in the backdrop of NATO withdrawal. He believes that Pakistan’s national interests in Afghanistan will be served best with a Taliban takeover of Kabul. Such a situation will inturn be the worst case scenario for India. This claim needs further analysis. There are indications that Pakistan might prefer Taliban control only along the Durand Line, allowing Pakistan to keep the Taliban in check this time around. At the same time, India should consider  talking with other players apart from the National Unity Government (NUG) to secure its interests. In his conclusion, the author makes a judicious recommendation: India has to balance both soft power and hard power elements in its approach towards Afghanistan in the near future while aligning with countries which have convergence of interest with India. One way to implement this would be for India to be in every forum that discusses the future of Afghanistan. With the Obama presidency in its last year, the US is likely to be more conservative on Afghan policy. Afghan air power can be bolstered by transferring some of our obsolete assets like the MiG 21s and bombers in the Indian inventory.

Finally, Stephen Kingah and Arpita Basu are optimistic that SAARC could prove to be the platform to deal with the security problems in Afghanistan. However, this reviewer is of the opinion that SAARC is a weak institution, inadequately empowered  to deal with problems as complex as Afghanistan. Rather, a better approach would be to bring together countries that think alike on Afghanistan.

Overall, the book does a good job of covering the post-2014 scenarios in Afghanistan. The strength of the book is the simple writing and excellent editing. Some critical parts remain unexplored, however. For instance, what made dissatisfied groups in Nangarhar raise the flag of Islamic State (IS)? What was the relationship of that group with Pakistan and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)? Answers to such questions would have provided an insight into the power equations between warring groups. A chapter each elucidating the US and Pakistan’s perspective on a post-2014 Afghanistan would have also been immensely useful.

Nevertheless, the prospect of warlordism returning to Afghanistan is no longer a distant possibility. With the State’s authority receding, and with groups such as the Haqqani Network and Taliban combining their forces, Afghanistan truly fighting for survival. In the worst case, it might again end up in the hands of warlords, like we saw after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. After all, Afghanistan has time and again stood true to the aphorism: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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

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Why is India unable to ‘swing’?

India’s portfolio of capabilities to deliver pain to China (and the US) is not sufficiently developed, constraining India’s ability to swing between US and China.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in Seoul ended without a decision on India’s membership application, despite India’s energetic diplomatic push. In the end, China managed to get India’s membership bid blocked. Following this, the Indian geostrategic community has been trying to ascertain the motive that led China to oppose India’s entry into NSG.

Broadly, there are two lines of thought to explicate China’s opposition. The first argument goes as follows: China’s opposition is a result of the larger US—China powerplay. China wants to prevent an important partner of the US from growing in stature in global forums and hence it opposed India’s NSG membership. WPS Sidhu argued this point of view as follows:

In reality, it [India’s membership] is a contestation between the US and China to determine the future of the nuclear and world order. China’s public declaration to oppose New Delhi’s formal NSG application is more about keeping India out rather than bringing its “all-weather friend” Pakistan (which belatedly also put in an application) in; it is more about securing the existing nuclear and world order rather than strengthening the non-proliferation regime; and, above all, it is a blatant challenge to Washington’s leadership in shaping the evolving world order.

The implication, if this viewpoint holds true, is that any attempt by India to build closer ties with the US will lead to Chinese opposition for India’s membership in multilateral organisations that have the US as the fulcrum. The view also assumes that China will view India more favourably as India grows without coming in the way of China’s geopolitical ambitions.

The second line of thought argues that China’s opposition is consistent with China’s long-held strategy of containing India. Rajesh Rajagopalan, explains this point of view, as follows:

China’s strategy has been consistent since the 1960s and its sole objective was the containment of India. China containment strategy shows little correlation with the state of US-India relations. China transferred nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan in the 1980s, not exactly a period of close US-India ties. It transferred missiles to Pakistan in the 1990s at a time when India had lost its Soviet ally and its relations with the US were still tense. India’s increasing closeness to the US is the result of New Delhi’s reluctant recognition of China’s containment strategy against India, not its cause.

The implication here is that China will oppose India’s growth as a regional and global actor, regardless of India’s equation with the US. Thus, China will not only oppose India’s membership in multilateral organisations where the US has played a powerful role but will also undermine India’s role in Chinese led initiatives such as OBOR, SCO and BRICS.

Both lines of thought concur that China is determined to pose challenges to India’s rise.  This, despite the fact that India has tried to advance its relationships with both China and the US. Essentially, India has tried to project itself as a swing power —a factor that can tilt the equation in favour of any major power which has India on its side. It is with this objective that India is eager to be a part of every global governance forum led by China, even though India’s national interests clash the least with that of the US.

But if China’s actions are an indicator, it appears as though this strategy of ‘swing’ doesn’t seem to be working. Why is that so? A successful “swing” is the one where a state can demonstrate that it can deliver pain for one and pleasure for the other with equal effectiveness. And here in lies India’s problem — our portfolio of capabilities and stated intentions that can deliver pain to China and the US is not sufficiently developed. While India has amply demonstrated that it can be supportive to both Chinese and US multilateral campaigns, there is no articulation of how costly it can be to ignore India.

Let’s look at the current pain deliverance portfolio of India. In what way can it objectively hurt China?

The first option is to amp-up India’s involvement in China’s neighbourhood. Rajesh Rajagopalan explains India’s involvement in East Asia as follows:

India can imitate what China is doing with Pakistan: build up the military capabilities of others on China’s periphery who share India’s worry about China. They may be too weak to match China, but enhancing their capabilities is one way of forcing China to divert its energies and make it understand the costs of strategic blowback. This can take the form of military assistance as well as training and other forms of cooperation.

ASEAN is also divided on the issue of tackling China. States such as Philippines and Vietnam have longstanding conflicts with China. While they are likely to be more vocal against Chinese hegemony, others in ASEAN will bandwagon with China. The next event that will see tempers rising in the region is the upcoming verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the issue of sovereignty over two island groups claimed by both China and Philippines. In all likelihood, this verdict will not go entirely in favour of either nation; PCA will settle for a mix of equidistance and equitable principles just like it did in the case of India—Bangladesh maritime dispute. Back then, India displayed exemplary maturity in accepting the PCA verdict. India can start projecting its own success story before the verdict comes out in the next couple of weeks. Going ahead, India can prioritise its relationship with the ASEAN nations that are likely to challenge China.

Second, India can look at global Chinese initiatives such as Belt & Road (OBOR) from the dual lens of competition and complementation: in the Indian sub-continent, OBOR should be looked at as an aggressive competitor, using it as an excuse to accelerate India’s own projects of connecting markets in India’s own neighbourhood. Outside the Indian sub-continent, India can look at complementing OBOR. For instance, in East Africa, India can work with China under the aegis of “Many Belts Many Roads” to expand its own reach.

Third, India can make its presence felt in BRICS and SCO by taking a strong stand against Chinese hegemony. Quitting these groups at an appropriate juncture can be used to make a point.

These are the three pain deliverance measures that India can implement at its current levels of power. Beyond them, there is little that India can do unless it gets its house in order with a view towards a substantial rise in India’s power in all dimensions — economic, military, maritime and political.

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

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India and the US—Pakistan partnership

How should India view the US—Pakistan relationship? What are the circumstances under which the US will cease its support to Pakistan’s military—jihadi complex?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

In my previous post, I had written about the 3 schools of thought on India—US partnership. Well, Pakistan is the main protagonist in one of the three strategies and hence it makes sense to look at the US—Pakistan equation in greater detail from an Indian perspective.

This Pakistan centred line of thinking goes as follows: why should India support the US when it continues to support and even encourage Pakistan’s military—jihadi complex (MJC), an irreconcilable adversary of India? This perspective has further found an availability heuristic too: our minds are fresh with the news of approval on the sale of F-16 to Pakistan, further confirming the bias that the US continues to play a double-game with India.

So, how should we view the US—Pakistan relationship? What are the circumstances under which US will cease its support to Pakistan’s MJC?

The US continues to mull over its relationship with Pakistan. The policy paralysis on this front was explained in this article. Suffice to say here that at present, Pakistan is important to the US national interest for two reasons. First, US still continues to see Pakistan as a part of the solution to the Afghanistan problem. There is no scenario in which US policymakers see a decline in threat from Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Afghanistan without an active role of Pakistan.

Second, Pakistan’s demand for war machinery, F-16s for example, serves the US military-industrial complex well. In fact, the optimal scenario from a US perspective is not the one where it blocks equipping Pakistan militarily, but a scenario where the US military-industrial complex can be a service provider to India and Pakistan, both. In that sense, a simmering localised conflict between India—Pakistan is not a particularly adverse outcome for the US.

Given that these are the two policy priorities for the US with regards to Pakistan, what will wean the US influence away from Pakistan? First, India has to demonstrate leadership in working with Afghanistan and other countries in restoring peace in that country. The US is desperately looking for alternatives but hasn’t managed to cobble up anything apart from an already faltering quadrilateral peace process. If this goal is beyond India’s capabilities, India will have to make peace with US—Pakistan cooperation on the Afghanistan issue in the near term. This also means a realisation that the co-operation will remain fungible—benefits accrued to Pakistan on its western front will, in turn, be used against India.

The second scenario in which the US might be forced to reconsider its Pakistan policy is when China becomes a major threat to US interests in East Asia and the Indian Ocean Region. In such a case, it would be in direct interest of the US government to ensure that India is focused on one common adversary only. It might then seriously reconsider its support to the MJC in the form of both arms and money. Whether India chooses to align itself with the US or chooses to be a swing power will then become an important question.

Until these two scenarios unfold, the US will continue to secure its partnerships with both India and Pakistan — and its support to the military—jihadi complex is a bitter reality that India will have to swallow.

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

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A representation of the US policy on Pakistan

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

We have long argued that Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two: the putative state (represented currently by a civilian government), and the military—jihadi complex (MJC) that has captured the commanding heights of power. One way in which the MJC continues to thrive is to utilise Pakistan’s foreign relationships for self-perpetuation.

In this regard, Pakistan’s relationship with the US is of special significance. Hussain Haqqani’s Pakistan: between mosque and military (2005) postulated that securing finances from the US is one of three legs of Pakistan’s policy tripod, the other two being a pursuit of religious nationalism and near manic obsession for a confrontation with India.

The US fails to differentiate between the MJC and the putative Pakistani state. Jeffrey Goldberg’s article “The Obama Doctrine” for The Atlantic says this about Pakistan:

He [Obama] questioned why the US should avoid sending its forces into Pakistan to kill al-Qaeda leaders, and he privately questions why Pakistan, which he believes is a disastrously dysfunctional country, should be considered an ally of the US at all.

These lines succinctly sum up the world’s Pakistan conundrum. When the policy response of a two-term president of the world’s most powerful nation-state towards a “disastrously dysfunctional” ally is merely restricted to “private questioning”, we know that Pakistan continues to confound all international stakeholders. US Ambassador Richard Olson’s testimony to the US House Foreign Relations Committee further displays the confusion.

The former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill also conveyed his frustration over US policy towards Pakistan. He pins the blame on the lack of continuity between successive administrations on taking tough steps against Pakistan. His argument can be summarised in this flowchart:

A cyclical problem

US policy towards Pakistan: A cyclical problem

MJC’s relationship with the US continues to be a prime concern for India.

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

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Three Indian schools of thought on the India—US partnership

A note on the retaliatory, bandwagoning, and swing power strategies.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s recently concluded India visit was keenly tracked — the attention garnered was comparable to President Obama’s last visit to India in January 2015. The visit concluded with an in-principle agreement between the two states on the Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that provides mutual military logistic support.

The US Dept of Defence described the agreement as a signal that “Our countries and militaries are closer than ever before – brought together by shared values and mutual interests”. The non-official stances were far more conservative, with some commentators highlighting the hesitation from India’s side in aligning itself with the US.

From the Indian side, the visit attracted the attention of all watchers of India’s foreign policy. These numerous views can broadly be classified into three categories. Classifying and reflecting on these viewpoints is a good point to start thinking about what India should do in this game of international relations.

The first school of thought is retaliatory in nature. The underlying principle behind this line of thinking is that why should India support the US when it continues to support and even encourage Pakistan’s military—jihadi complex, an irreconcilable adversary? This perspective has further found an availability heuristic: our minds are fresh with the news of approval on the sale of F-16 to Pakistan, further confirming the bias that the US continues to play a double-game with India. This position was conveyed, amongst others, by Bharat Karnad. He says:

the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Narendra Modi is not proving as adroit in maintaining distance from the US. Modi seems smitten by America, and losing the plot on how to further the national interest.

This retaliatory school of thought is low on realism. That’s because the optimal scenario from a US perspective is not the one where it blocks equipping Pakistan militarily, but a scenario where the US military-industrial complex can be a service provider to India and Pakistan, both. In that sense, a simmering localised conflict between India—Pakistan is not an adverse outcome for the US. And this will continue to be the case until the US is forced to reconsider its India partnership for much stronger reasons such as challenging China in East Asia or the Indian Ocean Region. In such a case, it would be in the direct interest of the US to ensure that India is focused on one common enemy only. Until that happens, US will continue to secure its partnerships with both India and Pakistan — its support to the military—jihadi complex is a bitter reality that India has to come to terms with.

Bandwagoning is the second school of thought. This position was conveyed most effectively by K Subrahmanyam, the most famous of India’s strategic thinkers. The perspective is as follows:

We don’t have any clash of national interest with the Americans. There are some issues that usually arise because of America’s dealings with third parties such as Pakistan. But at a time when the government-to-government relationship was not good, we still saw about two million Indians settling in America. If things improve, this trend will get stronger. India has to leverage this situation and change the US-EU-China triangle into a rectangle. Until then it is in our interest to help America to sustain its pre-eminence. After all, in a three-person game, If America is at Number One, China is at Number Two and we are lower down, it is in our best interest to ensure that it is America that remains Number One.

The idea here is that at least in the short term, India must align itself with the US and use this partnership to increase its own power. This assumption ignores the scenario that an alignment with the US can actually decrease India’s power if it is put on a collision track with China, or pushed to participate in conflicts of little interest or purpose.

The third school of thought is a marginal cost-benefit strategy which sees India’s role as that of a swing power. Pratap Bhanu Mehta speaks of this position when he says:

Its (India’s) interests have always been to do business with both countries so that both take it seriously. This is a sophisticated game. But an open declaration of a political and defence alignment with the US forecloses those options. We will come to be unwittingly identified with American rhetoric and designs for Asia. And the overblown rhetoric emanating from Washington about positioning India in its pushback of China will reduce our options.

My colleague Nitin Pai also agrees:

despite an alignment of interests, it must not always side with the United States. It must swing. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger, India’s options toward the United States and China must always be greater than their options toward each other… until New Delhi demonstrates that it can deliver pain for one and pleasure for the other, it won’t be seen as swinging. It will be mistaken for sleep-walking.

The cost of this strategy is that with neither US or China backing India completely, their conduct with Pakistan becomes a determinant for India’s success as an international player.

Regardless of which of the three schools of thought the Indian government aligns itself with, the highest common factor for all the three is a substantial and rapid rise in India’s power — economic, military, maritime and political. Unless that happens, India’s options with any major power will always remain less than their options with each other.Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.
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Starting off on the right foot

Increase in capital outlay in the 2016—17 Karnataka budget is a good sign for the state

by Varun Ramachandra (@_quale) and Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

[Note: This article first appeared in the Kannada newspaper Prajavani on 19th March 2016]

The 2016—17 Karnataka state budget was much awaited for two reasons. One, in 2015—16, Karnataka and other states had little time to respond to several important changes affected by the 14th Finance Commission recommendations. These changes had resulted in a 61% increase in unconditional transfers to Karnataka on one hand, and a decrease of nearly 50% in grants for centrally sponsored schemes on the other. Since these changes happened very close to the budget date, Karnataka could only make incremental changes last year.

Secondly, 2016—17 is the only election-free year for Karnataka. The three previous years had elections at state, union and important local government bodies respectively while next year’s budget will have to factor in the 2018 state elections. An election-free year means that the government can afford to depart from marginal changes and take decisions that might not be populist, but are nonetheless necessary for long term welfare.

So, given the importance of this budget, how did the Karnataka government fare on important areas this year? This article analyses the budget in the backdrop of this unique opportunity.

How did Karnataka’s earnings change?

The Finance Minister accounted for an increase of 11 percent in Karnataka’s own tax collections, which primarily come from taxes on sale of goods (VAT), alcohol and land duties. There was also an increase of 12 percent in Karnataka’s share of taxes collected by the union, taking the unconditional transfers received from the union to a total of 26,978 crores. Note that this number had already increased by 61% last year, as a result of 14th Finance Commission recommendations.

A big change this year was that Karnataka has budgeted for a significant increase in the loans to be borrowed from markets. This was made possible, without any change in the fiscal deficit because of a change in methodology for estimating the state’s GSDP, abruptly changing it from 7.36 lakh crores in 2015-16 to 12.13 lakh crores in 2016-17. The new methodology gives higher weightage to the IT sector’s contribution, a sector that Karnataka excels in. Since the permissible borrowing limit is calculated as a fixed percentage of the GSDP, a higher GSDP allowed the government to borrow more from the open market.

But aren’t loans always bad? Not necessarily, it depends on what purpose the loaned amount is spent on. Generally, deploying borrowed money towards long-term asset creation can have a positive impact.  

How did Karnataka’s spending change?

On the spending side, there was a 21 percent increase in the capital expenditure (money spent on asset creation) at Rs. 26,341 crores and an 11 percent increase in the revenue expenditure (money spent to meet short term expenses such as salaries) amounting to Rs. 1,30,236 crores. The areas of urban development, irrigation & flood control, police, and crop husbandry saw major increases in allotments.

The continued increase on capital and revenue expenditures for irrigation and flood control shows us that agriculture continues to be the priority area for this government and that it is willing to focus on both long-term asset creation and meeting short-term expenses in this area. Second, there is an increase in expenditure outlay for water supply and sanitation but most of this increase is towards meeting running expenses with only a small jump of about 10 percent towards capital expenditure. Third, there is a doubling of capital expenditure on social security and welfare. Finally, there seems to be a new found focus on urban development with an increased capital outlay of 1886 crores compared to 365 crores last year.

It is heartening to see that significant portions of the increased borrowing  has been utilised for long-term asset creation. At the same time, it was disappointing that only marginal changes were made in allocations towards health and education — essential services for a state like Karnataka that aspires to reap the demographic dividend.

Varun Ramachandra (@_quale) and Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) are researchers with the Takshashila Institution.

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Thoughts on India’s approach to China’s 1B1R initiative

How can India respond to a Chinese project that is aimed at creating a geo-strategic realm for itself?

By Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Last week saw two articles in Indian media on the challenges and opportunities for India posed by China’s One Belt One Road (1B1R) project. This post looks at the arguments made in the two reports and puts down thoughts on India’s response to 1B1R.

To understand what 1B1R is, look no further than this succinct The Wire article by Shyam Saran. Suffice to quote this section in the piece that points to the strategic angle of the project:

China sees the twin-dimensional initiative as a long-term project to secure its geo-strategic realm, which has both a continental and a maritime dimension. It is not just an economic initiative. It has obvious political and security implications. In any case, China’s strategists do not draw lines separating economic and security objectives. Each dimension reinforces the other, even though the economic dimension may sometimes mask the security imperative.

1B1R then, is likely to remain the anchor around which China’s global outreach will be shaped. How should it be seen from an Indian National Interest perspective? Two pieces that appeared in the Indian newspapers last week offer a few leads while responding to this critical question.

One Belt One Road Plan. Source: China Daily Europe

One Belt One Road Plan. Source: China Daily Europe

The first piece in The Hindu while conceding that “Chinese political expansion and economic ambitions, packaged as 1B1R are two sides of the same coin” argues:

India needs to match ambition with commensurate augmentation of its capacities that allows it to be a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. This will require New Delhi to not only overcome its chronic inability to take speedy decisions with respect to defence partnerships and procurement, but will also necessitate a sustained period of predictable economic growth; OBOR can assist in the latter.

Besides resuscitating economic engagement with the world, there are other advantages of being a part of groups such as 1B1R. A thumb rule helps: in the amoral setting of geopolitics, it benefits an entity to be a member of many clubs, rather than being outside them. It is easier to be a part of the clubs and use them to build one’s own capacities, rather than spend inordinate efforts on opposing such formations. Hence, this author strongly supports India’s presence at other clubs like BRICS, AIIB and SCO as well. Applying this thumb rule to 1B1R, India is better off being a part of it, particularly because the capabilities for India to float a competing vision altogether, possibly in partnership with the Japanese PQI just don’t exist.

Even if India decides to be a part of 1B1R, two critical questions raised by the authors remain unanswered: Can India seek reworking of the CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor) by Beijing in return for its active participation? Furthermore, for the stability of the South Asian arm of OBOR, can Beijing be motivated to become a meaningful interlocutor prompting rational behaviour from Islamabad?

On the first question, India finds it unacceptable that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir. However, as the second editorial on 1B1R in Mint rightly points, New Delhi might now find it too late to extract Chinese concessions on CPEC in return for support on 1B1R. Moreover, India’s opposition or otherwise to CPEC will have little impact on the project itself. A more realist approach would be for India to de-hyphenate the CPEC leg from the overall 1B1R initiative.

On the second question, it is highly unlikely that China will restrain Pakistani actions against India in any meaningful way. In fact, China is most comfortable keeping the India—Pakistan conflict on the boil: on one hand, the conflict keeps India focused on its western border. On the other, the conflict allows gaining Pakistani friendship at minimal costs.

Overall, India can look at 1B1R from the dual lens of competition and complementation: In the Indian sub-continent, visualise 1B1R as an aggressive competitor: use it as an excuse to accelerate India’s own projects of connecting markets in India’s own neighbourhood. Outside the Indian sub-continent, look at complementing 1B1R. For instance, in East Africa, India can work with China under the aegis of 1B1R to expand its own reach.

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

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West Asia Engagement with Chinese Characteristics

Four parameters that are likely to guide China’s engagement in West Asia

By Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

My previous post Talking about the Asia beyond Pakistan was in light of the Indian External Affairs Minister’s visit to Israel and Palestine. Using The Economist’s Grid of Grievances, the post argued that:

if India were to be mapped on this graphic, it would perhaps be the only state that maintains a non-adversarial relationship with every West Asian state.

Apart from India, there is another state which is missing from the mosaic, and one that has been the quickest off the mark in dealing with the transformed power structure of West Asia: China. President Xi’s visits to Saudi Arabia and Iran, coming immediately after lifting of international sanctions against Iran, have garnered widespread attention in policy circles.

There is a broad consensus that China will be a force to reckon with in the new West Asia but there is little discussion on the direction that China is likely to follow in the process. This post tries to sketch out the parameters of a greater Chinese engagement in West Asia.

First, the Chinese government sees West Asia as an unsaturated market. West Asia in general and Iran in particular have the potential to boost demand for Chinese production. It is no surprise then, that Xi’s arrival was greeted with talks about the ancient Silk Road, reminiscent of a time when the supply chains between China and West Asia were robust.

Second, the Chinese government wants West Asian countries to bandwagon on its side in its efforts to create a new world order that challenges the West. On the geopolitical axis, this means China wants more West Asian participation in institutions like the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation. On the geoeconomic axis, China will look to get greater West Asian commitment to the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank (AIIB).

Third, China will side with the incumbent political leaderships in West Asia. As a geopolitical actor, China has shown less inclination to regime change except in conditions when a state’s internal political situation directly affects China’s security adversely, as seen in Afghanistan. Going ahead, China will continue to engage the ruling dispensations of all important West Asian countries.

Fourth, China will let others do the fighting against IS. Apart from supporting the incumbent leaderships militarily and economically, China will not put any feet on the ground against the IS, as long as the IS threat remains away from its borders.

These four parameters are likely to guide China’s greater engagement in West Asia. While it remains to be seen what aims this engagement will accomplish, China faces the same challenge as India does on the issue of increasing proximity with West Asian countries: thus far, the two countries have maintained fairly good terms of engagement with West Asia by allowing them to settle at a low level equilibrium, with none of the engagements taking the form of a strategic partnership. As these two states tries to scale these local maxima, the geopolitical environment is bound to throw up new challenges and tough choices that can upset the delicate balance they lie in currently.

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

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