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Tag Archives | China-India

Repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir will need extremely deft political approach

The repeal of AFSPA from the civilian areas of Kashmir is imperative to resolve the present impasse

By Guru Aiyar(@guruaiyar)

The killing of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani on July 8 by the security forces has once again set the cauldron of Kashmir on fire. All the gains made in Kashmir after the assembly elections last year and subsequent government formation have been completely frittered away. What more, Prime Minister Modi and Nawaz Sharif’s meet in Delhi on May 27 to improve bilateral relations is a dead letter now, especially after recent sabre rattling against Pakistan. What can surely improve the situation in Kashmir is partial revoking of the AFSPA from urban centres and keeping it alive on the areas close to the Line of Control (LoC) and northern areas bordering China.

The Act was imposed in Kashmir in July 1990 after full blown eruption of militancy in the valley. Twenty six years of the Act in force has come at a very high cost, both to the Indian forces as well as people of Kashmir. An Amnesty International report last year  detailed that AFSPA has claimed more than 43,000 lives, about half of them being militants. Slightly less than one third of total killed were civilians and the rest being security personnel. The record of prosecutions of security personnel is abysmally low against allegations of abuse and torture. No one denies that the security forces are doing a yeoman’s sacrifice. But, there is no suppressing the fact that they have been operating under near impunity  which is one of the factors for festering insurgency.

Repealing the Act is an extremely challenging task—one that needs political courage, confidence and a statesmanlike approach to problem solving. Next comes the incentive—gains that are to accrue should the act be repealed. Like any complex jigsaw, the aim should be to break it into minor solvable puzzles. There are two aspects to repealing the act—“why” should it be done, and “how” it can be done? It is easy to answer the first question. The first time time any government came closest to was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) I when it appointed a commission under a retired Supreme Court judge Justice BP Jeevan Reddy Commission. The commission, which had a retired General from the army, unanimously recommended that the act be repealed. It termed the act “too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars.” 

There is no need to reinvent the wheel while debating about repeal of the act. The question “how to do it” can be answered by first repealing the act from major urban centres and hinterland of Kashmir. Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir had precisely suggested this in 2013. To assuage the concerns of the security forces, they can be made to operate under  Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 2008 with adequate safeguards. 

The situation now has got caught in a vortex of political conundrums. The politicians claim that it is the army who is objecting to the repeal of AFSPA. The army, on its part claims that the situation is not ripe to repeal the Act. But when the situation was ripe in 2010, what was it that prevented the army from acceding? Simply raising the fear of Pakistan in the minds of politicians naturally propels them to persist with the status quo.

Wajahat Habibullah, a retired bureaucrat articulated this very clearly  when he stated that there no need for the army in civilian areas of Kashmir. The AFSPA can continue in areas on the LoC with Pakistan and to counteract the menacing presence of the Chinese army on the northern areas of Kashmir. There is no need for the army to be in the civilian areas in Kashmir. It is time that political will gets asserted unequivocally. Even if the army and defence ministry is overruled, this will be a game of brinksmanship to get a political consensus by the ruling party—not only from within, but even across the spectrum. Prime Minister Modi’s acid test will be to retrieve the present situation which is on the verge of disaster. It is an extraordinarily tough call. But extraordinary situations demand completely ‘out of the box’ solutions. In all probability, the prime minister would like to be remembered as the statesman who solved Kashmir.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution, an independent think tank on strategic affairs and geopolitics and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image – Indian Soldiers in Kashmir by Barry Pousman licensed from creative commons.

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India’s Stand on the South China Sea Ruling between China-Philippines

The normative stand taken by India on the South China Sea dispute between China & Philippines is in keeping with its stated principle of non-interference and respect for International Law

Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

India’s position is bang on target as far as the recent decision (July 12) by the international arbitration tribunal, The Hague on the dispute between China and Philippines is concerned. The court ruled that “there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources falling within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine dash line’. As was expected, China disagreed with the ruling. The US position is that the ruling should be treated as final and binding.

Mr V.K. Singh, India’s Minister for External Affairs had the following to say at recently concluded 14th ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at Viantiane, Laos

As a State Party to United Nation Convention on Law of the Sea(UNCLOS), India urges all parties to show utmost respect for the UNCLOS, which establishes the international legal order of the seas and oceans. India supports freedom of navigation, over flight and unimpeded commerce, based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UNCLOS.” Singh also stressed upon “maritime cooperation as a key priority.”

China has laid sovereign claims on the areas within South China Sea based on historical legacy and then rounded it off for the first time in 2009 with what is called the ‘Nine Dash Line.’

The US has always held Freedom of Navigation operations (FON OPS) as central. But China believes in what one can term as ‘strategic ambiguity’. There is a difference between sovereignty and jurisdiction. Sovereignty is like ownership of property domestically whereas jurisdiction roughly equates to an ability to benefit from or license the use of specific produce in an area (like the fish and hydrocarbons within the exclusive economic zone [EEZ] or a mining lease). Jurisdiction does not mean that one can impose controls on navigation or control the areas as if it is ownership. China has always reacted strongly to FON ops in the South China sea by the US. With the strategic pivot to Asia, we are in for interesting times. The US has unabashedly stated that it will continue to operate in the South China Sea by engaging in flight and naval activities, according to Admiral John Richardson, the chief of US Navy.

As India plans to host East Asia Summit (EAS) Maritime Conference in November this year, the issue of FON is certainly going to be a focal point of discussion. According to the Maritime Strategy unveiled in October 2015, South China Sea is a secondary area of interest to India. What role India plays as an emerging power in Asia and how it engages with China are somethings that would be of deep interest to policy makers .

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Chinese map of Spratly Islands by Joe Jones licensed from creativecommons.org

 

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On China’s Military Strategy: Implications for India

China’s White Paper on Military Strategy does not feature India explicitly, but points to stepping up of China’s involvement in the Indian Ocean Region

by Piyush Singh (@PiyushS7)

On May 26th, China released its white paper on military strategy, emphasizing a shift from “offshore water defence” to “open seas protection”. The white paper focuses on the current predicament in South China Sea. Otherwise, it contains the usual rhetoric of Taiwan’s unification, Tibetan independence, and makes thinly veiled references to outside powers perceived to be meddling in China’s domestic affairs, namely United States and Japan.

PLAN Harbin: Photo by Felix Garza, U. S. Navy

PLAN Harbin: Photo by Felix Garza, U. S. Navy

The paper mentions that while China has long followed the policy of defensive restraint, it will now follow a policy of “active defence”. Specifically, it means that China is going to be more involved in securing its interest abroad and participating in “regional and international security cooperation exercises actively”. However, the interpretation of “active defence” is that it is of defensive nature only in words, and can be used by party cadres to justify a military action. This means that if China initiates a military attack, then it will be interpreted as only defending itself and its interests against belligerent “expansionists”.

The armed forces of China are entrusted to adhere to the CPC’s leadership and take part in the dream of Chinese rejuvenation. This is being repeated in all propaganda campaigns across China, in light of the recent anti-corruption drive and arrest of certain high profile military leaders. Civil-Military Integration (CMI) is also being strengthened under Xi Jinping. It is further entrusted to build up strategic capability to counter threats in new domains, such as cyber-counterattacks and fighting off local wars within a limited timeframe. Chinese defence policy is highly influenced by the Gulf War of 1991 and the United States military complete dominance in bringing the war to a swift end.

The PLAAF will also expand on its defensive and offensive capabilities. PLA will be built into flexible and mobile units, capable of switching between theatres at short notice. This is important for India to ponder over because it shares a long border with China, divided into three sectors. China does not face any major land based threat in the region as much as it faces from India and this policy maybe directed at India. A rather proactive strategy is also being adopted for outer space security and cyber strategy.

Regarding its nuclear strategy, the paper notes that nuclear force will continue to be the centrepiece of national security and sovereignty. And it will continue to pursue a policy of no-first use.

The greatest emphasis has been laid down on the maritime domain. The paper states, “The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests.” China has actively studied the role of sea-lanes and their independence in securing a strong domestic front, both from history and United States dominance of open seas. ”Far Seas” concept would see a rise in offensive capabilities of the PLAN centred on aircraft carriers.

Days of Deng Xiaoping’s dictum of “keeping a low profile” are over. The military strategy paper clearly demonstrates China’s changing priorities and strategies. A blue water navy is surely up on the cards.

Even though the primary focus of the white paper is power projection in the Pacific sector, PLAN is bound to enter into the Indian Ocean.

India, does not feature prominently in the white paper, apart from obscure references, such as “Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs“, in an apparent reference to India’s deal with Vietnam for oil exploration in South China Sea. Implications of the white paper for India are that the land border is not as much a focus for China as the maritime domain is.

India should expect greater involvement of the PLAN in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), on the pretext of anti-piracy operations and naval exercises. As the Maritime Silk Road gets momentum, China will be actively be involved in protecting its interests in the region. China will also expand its capabilities to protect SLOC’s passing through Malacca Straits. Stand-offs in the regions could be expected.

India, has clearly not appreciated China’s involvement in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Selling of 2 diesel submarines to Bangladesh again questions China’s true intention in the region. The paper talks about fostering peace and development in the region, however its actions prove otherwise.

As a response, greater cooperation with the Australian and other regional powers is necessary for India. Furthermore, India should also deepen its relationships with its friends in the South China Sea. India’s 5-year defence agreement with Vietnam is likely to ruffle some Chinese feathers, and will surely see some counter action in coming days.

Piyush Singh is a Junior Research Associate with the Takshashila Institution. Piyush is a student of law at the Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur. He is on twitter as @PiyushS7

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