Tag Archives | South Asia

SAARC: A Sunk Cost

Following the Uri Attacks, the 19th SAARC Summit that was due to take place on the 15th and 16th of November has been postponed. India refused to attend the summit, placing the blame on cross border terrorism perpetrated by a single country. Soon, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan also chose to opt out of the summit meeting which was due to take place next month. Pakistan placed the blame on India for derailing processes of regional cooperation and reiterated its commitment to the SAARC charter. For now however, the seven heads of South Asia will not be meeting until India and Pakistan have simmered down tensions.

The Indian media has been quick to attribute the postponement of the SAARC meeting to the success of Modi’s diplomacy. However, SAARC meetings have always been susceptible to bilateral tensions. While the group is supposed to meet annually, it concedes that the regional organisation meets only once in a year and a half or so. No wonder SAARC’s initiatives have been characterised by failure: the countries cannot fulfill commitments to meet but intermittently.

The first time the SAARC Summit was derailed was in 1989 when Sri Lanka protested against the delay of the IPKF’s withdrawal from the country. The 7th Summit in 1992 was pushed by a year because of the Babri Masjid riots. A year later, India-Pakistan contentions impacted SAARC processes and the 8th Summit was pushed to 1995. The period between 1998 and 2003 saw repeated postponement of the 11th Summit because of a number of low intensity conflicts between India and Pakistan (from the Kargil War in 1999 to the Parliament Attacks of 2001). The 12th Summit was derailed because of the coup in Nepal and the Dhaka bombings.  After the 26/11 Attacks, the summit was again pushed by a year because of contentions between India and Pakistan. 2012 Summit

The postponement of the SAARC Summit is not a victory of Indian diplomacy but a feature of the SAARC mechanism. Unlike organisations like the ASEAN which have managed to keep channels of communication open even during times of conflict, SAARC’s history remains intertwined with the Indo-Pak power politics. It is unable to accomodate power dynamics of the region and allows for bilateral contentions to easily derail any processes. Even if the SAARC summit had taken place, what would have the result been? SAFTA is dead while the South Asian Economic Union is a pipe dream; regional trade remains at a meagre percentage.

At the 2014 Kathmandu Summit, hullabaloo was created about the launch of a SAARC satellite and cooperation of forces to deal with disasters. The Kathmandu Summit had taken place in the first year of the Modi rajya and there was much talk of the neighbourhood gaining importance- a move indicated by Modi’s unprecedented invitation to the heads of South Asian States to attend his swearing in ceremony. Two years later, bilateral ties between India and the remainder of the South Asian states (the case of Pakistan is debateable) are definitely on the upswing, however, the SAARC remains as ineffective as it has always been.

India needs to acknowledge that this multilateral initiative is not a success and direct its attentions towards the external neighbourhood. It needs to de-hyphenate itself from being merely a South Asian power and look at a larger region such as the Indo-Pacific. India is gradually improving ties with countries in South-East Asia and West Asia, which is the way to go. Maybe it is time to recognise that SAARC is a sunk cost and invest those resources in a more fruitful venture under the larger Asian security architecture.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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India-Afghanistan Relations: The Way Forward

The iconic short story “Kabuliwallah” by Tagore and the interpretations on the land beyond mountains and imaginations have shaped the India and Afghanistan relations from the past to the present.  “Bound by thousand ties and million memories”, the relations between the two countries go beyond the traditionally state-to-state relations or government. History, culture, civilization and people to people contact have created commonalities thus making the past history the guide to the future.

 

India-Afghanistan

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani paid rich tribute to Indian democracy. India has been admired as the largest pluralistic society in which diverse ethnic, linguistic, religious and sectarian groups coexist and cohabit together. India being the largest secular democracy is in a position to share its know-how and practice with Afghanistan. The nascent egalitarianism society of Afghanistan in all its earnestness looks forward to India for assurance and support in its quest for democracy.

There is a strong economic, politico-strategic and security component in the India-Afghanistan relations. India’s economic assistance and support to democracy is a step to reduce Afghanistan’s dependency on Pakistan and helps India to establish links with energy rich Central Asia. For India a friendly and pro-active democratic regimes in Afghanistan would act as a balancer in the region. The stability of the region can be assured only if we have a stable Afghanistan which would counter the Taliban forces and India has extended its all out support in this endeavour.

Encountered with deep recession, Afghanistan embarked on several austerity programmes and launched stimulus packages that would help the economy move out of a dependent entity to a self-reliance system.  From Afghan’s standpoint, India’s investments and partnership would be a great value addition in the re-building process of the countries economy and infrastructure. The strategic and security system of Afghanistan is fragile and weak and India’s support and strategic partnership is worthy of mention and a step forward in stabilizing the region. Powers like United States welcomes India as a key player in the stabilization process that agonizes Pakistan, who has adopted a zero-sum approach in the region creating a security dilemma.

Geo-economically Afghanistan is very important for India, the foreign trade policy of India and the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), hosts a tremendous promise that could help the country develop economic and strategic importance in Eurasia and Central Asia. The INSTC has particular economic and strategic relevance to India given the increasing regional ambitions of China through its one belt one road initiative. Several MOUs have been signed between India and Afghanistan. Indian investors are interested in the “virgin markets” of Afghanistan. Indian private sectors are seen as a driver towards prosperity in Afghanistan. The other important project is the building of Sister-City relations between major Indian cities and Afghan counterparts. The Sister-City relations will be connected through tourism, faculty exchange programs as well as through private sector investment. Several invitations have been extended to India to invest in Afghanistan.  India has been invited by Afghanistan to join Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan Trade and Transit Agreement a very significant link wherein Afghanistan would act as a land bridge connecting South Asia and central Asia

Termed as one of continuity and engagement, India-Afghanistan relations is built on mutual trust and cooperation. With the exception of the Taliban rule, India’s relations with Afghanistan remain strong. Indian support continues in the reconstruction, rebuilding and stabilization process of Afghanistan.  As the fourth largest donor, Indian contribution to the rebuilding process has been to the effect of US $ 2.2Bn and generous assistance has been provided in the formation of human capital with approximately 13000 Afghan students studying in Indian Universities. India’s signature project and commitment to democracy and institutional support can be seen in the completion of the Afghan Parliament. The Salma dam in Herat is yet another initiative in terms of infrastructure development is nearing completion which would generate 42 MW of much needed power for the electrification of rural and urban Herat and also help in irrigating 80000 hectares of agricultural land. The Trade and transit between India and Afghanistan, is gaining momentum and the movement of trucks across the Attari-Wagha border would spur regional trade and enhance economic engagement in South Asia. There is a ray of positive hope that Pakistan would allow the India-Afghan trade movement, which would boost Afghan economy. Afghanistan is also keen on India’s involvement in the India-Iran Chabhar Port project. The project would create an international transit corridor. The Chabhar Port Project is of enormous significance both to India and Afghanistan. For Afghanistan it would boost the regional trade and for India it would provide a sea-land access to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan.

India is an all weather friend of Afghanistan and continues to play a significant role in tackling terrorism in the region. India has expressed keen intent to strengthen Afghanistan’s defense capabilities for safeguarding its security and combatting all forms of terrorism.  India is supplying helicopters to Afghan government in its effort to combat the growing menace from Taliban. India and Afghanistan have discussed several ways and means to enhance cooperation to combat terrorism. India has spearheaded capacity building prgrammes and training to Afghan soldiers in their effort to tackle terrorism. Several terror network outfits operate from Afghanistan and have expressed this menace as a global phenomenon threatening international peace and stability.

Deep engagement drives India-Afghan relations. There is committed partnership and enduring interest between the world’s largest and fledgling democracy. A pluralistic society with rich tradition and civilization that was undermined by the Taliban forces today is committed to restoring peace and stability in the region. Deeply embedded in democratic principles and values, India’s support in this endeavor of reconstruction of Afghanistan is most sought after. There are set agendas and shared objectives in India-Afghanistan relations. India is keen to assist and build a robust economy and stable political institution in Afghanistan.  An earnest effort in the reconstruction process that is vital for India, as it anchors regional peace and stability.

 

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institute. She tweets @priyamanassa.

 

 

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Reflections on India’s Nepal policy

What should India do in response to the protests on the Indo—Nepal border?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Creating a new Republic is, at any rate, a gargantuan task. Seldom do states come out unscathed from the process. The task is compounded further in a networked society where failure to reconcile conflicting political demands can quickly escalate into a political crisis.

This is exactly the situation that Nepal’s seventh constitution has led the state to. Failure to accommodate the interests of the people from southern Nepal has led to widespread protests in the Terai region. Because of these protests, the flow of essential supplies into the landlocked country from India has ebbed, leading the pahadis of Kathmandu to label these protests as India sponsored interference. The Indian government has denied any blockade of trade, but has publicly expressed that some sections of the new constitution do not have broad-based ownership and acceptance.

The political protests have shifted the focus back to India—Nepal relations. While many commentators have opined on the hits and misses of the new constitution itself, there’s no assessment of how the latest political upheaval in Kathmandu is going to impact India’s national interests.

Before addressing India’s concerns, a brief review of the geopolitical realities of India—Nepal relations will help understand the situation better. First, Nepal being a landlocked country is heavily dependent on India. Dependence on another nation-state for its own survival is suicidal in international relations. So, it is perfectly understandable that any dispensation in Nepal will seek to reduce this dependence on India by breaking the Himalayan barrier and securing alternate trade and travel routes through Tibet.

Second, some anti-India sentiments in the hill regions are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. This is because any move by India on behalf of the ethnically similar Madhesis is likely to be seen in Kathmandu as a proof of India’s hegemonic stance. Issues of identity are sensitive and can quickly cloud even good karma from the past such as India’s effort in Nepal’s reconstruction following the disastrous earthquake or the fact that as much as 6 million Nepalese prefer to stay and work in India.

With these two conditions as the starting point, what does India seek from Nepal going ahead? One, Nepal has long been used as a conduit by terrorists from Pakistan. Thus, India wants sufficient leverage in Kathmandu such that terrorists attempting to use Nepal can be eliminated.

Second, Nepal is also the route for many organised rackets including human trafficking, circulation of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) and drug peddling. Again, India would want cooperation from Nepal to address these mutual concerns.

Third, India fears that China sponsored Maoists can cause disturbances in the eastern part of India, though this fear has subsided following the waning of the Maoist movements in both India and Nepal. And fourth, India wants to limit the impact of the unrest in Nepal on its own people in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Given these policy objectives and the geopolitical backdrop, India should not be eager to throw its weight behind any side in the ongoing confrontation in Nepal. India’s call of advocating for a representative constitution, without any attempt to project its power in Nepal is a reasonable policy option. Such an approach will calm the Indian borders while also ensuring that India retains enough power in Nepal to prevent it from becoming an anti-India laboratory.

The key for India is to have friends from across party lines in Nepal so that when the dust from the protest settles, India would be in a position to resume its collaboration with the new Republic seamlessly.

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

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The paucity of water resources in India

Krishna Kavita Meegama

The Indian subcontinent’s population of 1.5 billion is growing at 1.7 percent a year. An Indian gets 1,730 cubic metres of fresh water a year (global average is 8,209 cubic metres). The shrunken Himalayan glaciers will reduce the Indus flow by 8 percent and an eventual 20 percent reduction in the total available fresh water in the next 20 years. Most of our headwaters originate in the Tibetan Plateau, especially the Indus and the Brahmaputra (as also Sutlej). Given that China now controls the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which the Government of India has officially accepted as a part of the People’s Republic of China in 2004, we now have no recourse if and when the Chinese decide to divert the waters to its arid north or to build the largest dam in the world of 540 MW (twice as big as the Three Gorges Dam) to tap into the hydropower at Mount Namcha Barwa (where the Brahmaputra swerves sharply and drops 8000 ft to enter Arunachal Pradesh) generating 38,000 MW of energy. It is no surprise that territorial dispute with China re-started in 2006 along with plans to divert and build on the Great Bend.

By recognising Tibet as a part of China we have given up strategic rights to fight for our waters originating there, we will now have to deal very delicately with China and cannot afford to cause anger, since we have no treaty with it regarding water-sharing. Our economic growth depends on having access to waters for industrialisation and for the well-being of our people. Unless we engage with China, which we fail to do despite knowing how imperative it is, we cannot hope to convince them to stop diversion of the Brahmaputra. Even on the matters of dam building, it is essential that there is joint management of resources.

As co-members of BRICS and SCO, we should leverage on our similarities with the other member nations and concentrate on how we can build together as an alternative to the European Union. We should work on our futures as economic trading partners needing one another to survive than in playing a game of one-upmanship to usurp the other in the international arena. India’s standing too, in the world order will depend on how it can squeeze itself out of the mess it has created for itself over the years by refusing to see the truth about Tibet, the importance of Arunachal, the need to talk to China instead of running away from a confrontation or being belligerent for the wrong reasons. China would be happy to engage with a global power that does not kowtow to the West, unlike now where it looks at India as America’s proxy in the region.

India is already facing domestic water struggles due to excessive population growth, industrialisation, siltation, global warming and glacier melt. To China’s advantage, it is unlikely to be presented with a united opposition since all its downstream states are involved in internecine water conflicts of their own. China faces acute water shortage of 25 percent by 2030. 6000 lakes have dried up & the Yellow River is 30 percent dead, this has lead to desertification. Given this grim scenario, diversion is the only way out. Although with 10 major rivers flowing from it to 11 countries with none flowing into it, it has control of international waters. Any reduction in the flow of waters due to diversion or because of climate change will pose a serious challenge for Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and India as also the proposed large dams on the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) which are being built callously on seismic zones, which in the event of an earthquake at such altitudes can easily flood states of Arunachal and/or Assam.

According to World Watch Institute, since 1965, the water table in Beijing has fallen by about 59 meters or nearly 200 feet. In 1999, Jiang Zemin, then China’s paramount leader, announced xibu da kaifa, or the Great Western Extraction, which would transfer huge volumes of water from Tibet into the Yellow River. The politburo and 118 Chinese generals leant their support to the project, which included the Shuo-tian (reverse flow) canal as the solution to chronic water shortages. B G Verghese of Centre for Policy Research, says fears of diversion of water are “highly exaggerated” because the difficult terrain makes it all but impossible to do this. Colonel K P Gautam of IDSA says “India should negotiate with China. We need data on the quantum of water flow in the Brahmaputra, on the melting of glaciers.” Former water secretary Ramaswamy Iyer agrees that there is a chasm where there should be formal agreement. Until some years ago, water did not even figure in talks between India and China.

Previously India has not paid sufficient attention to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization but the region represented by the SCO countries is strategically vital for India. When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Rise of a New Global Order, writer Martin Jacques sounds a wake-up call for India: engage China or prepare to endure its hegemony.

 Krishna Kavita Meegama worked as a Journalist, TV anchor, Filmmaker prior to being a Language and Cultural Instructor. Currently on a sabbatical, she is studying the Upanishads in their original Sanskrit at a Gurukulam.

 

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