Prem Shankar Jha

Today, the standoff has opened a route to the resolution of the long simmering boundary question. Can Modi turn the present draw into a victory for both India and China?

Even before news that the standoff between China and India on the Doklam plateau was ending with India withdrawing its 40 troops and one bulldozer was an hour old, the BJP’s spin doctors had begun to paint it as “certainly India’s win over a bullying neighbour”. In an unsourced opinion piece posted by the Economic Times the writer/s claimed that “China tried every threat to bully India – from starting a war to sponsoring insurgency within India. These threats make the Chinese climbdown very significant … The message that goes to smaller countries is that China might not back its threats with substantial action. While the Chinese retreat can encourage smaller countries to look it in the eye, it will also give India an aura of a regional power … Effectively, disengagement means China has been beaten back by India.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Indian withdrawal is an admission by New Delhi that it had no legal justification for its military presence in Doklam. For while there was a dispute over ownership of the plateau, it was between Bhutan and China and there is no record in the public domain of Bhutan asking for India’s help in dealing with the Chinese incursion. Beijing had warned India that it regarded the presence of Indian troops in Doklam as an act of aggression, not once, but four times in the past six weeks – in a 15 page statement of its legal position issued in July, in a formal demand by foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on August 22 that said India must remove its troops from the Doklam side of the watershed as a prerequisite for peace, and in two categorical statements by its ambassador in Delhi following these declarations.

What is more, China has hastened to puncture the balloon of Indian hyper-nationalism by stating categorically that while Indian troops have already withdrawn from the disputed area, this fulfilling China’s precondition for a stand down, Chinese troops will “continue fulfilling [China’s] sovereign rights to safeguard territorial sovereignty in compliance with the stipulations of the border-related historical treaty.”

What, then, is the compromise that has enabled both countries to back off?  Could it be that the two sides have reached an understanding on the one subject that neither country has mentioned in its statements – the road that China was building towards the Doklam plateau. Or that there is no agreement on this issue at all but that both sides thought it best to end the standoff anyway. If this is so, then Monday’s redeployment is neither a victory nor a defeat for either country. It is, at best, a draw.


Also read: The Bhutan Stand-Off Is an Opportunity, Not a Threat

The Bhutan Stand-Off Is an Opportunity, Not a Threat


Only time will tell whether this surmise is correct, but what cannot be denied is that the Chinese have seen the full extent of India’s  paranoia about the vulnerability of the Chicken’s Neck stretch of territory between Bangladesh and Sikkim and will not hesitate to use it in future to put pressure upon New Delhi when the need arises. On the other hand, should Delhi ever overcome it, Nathu La can become a major asset in building a durable relationship of mutual benefit with China.

The first step in overcoming India’s paranoia is for Delhi to recognise that the vulnerability of the Chicken’s Neck is a cartographic illusion that has been taken advantage of by armchair strategists to create their stock-in-trade – fear. To start with, Nathu La is at an altitude of 4310 metres, almost 14,500 feet above sea level and is snow-bound for at least four months of the year. This means that any force that crosses it to the Indian side, runs the risk of getting stuck there for up to four months at the mercy of whatever India chooses to throw at it.

Second, the Chicken’s Neck itself is not all that narrow – its narrowest part is actually between Nepal and Bangladesh and that is more than 200 km as the crow flies, from Nathu La.

Third, the distance from Nathu La to Kalimpong on the West Bengal border is 136 kms and an estimated five hours in a passenger car. There are innumerable bridges, culverts and tunnels on this road that can easily be blown up. So how would an invading force from China be able to get to the Chicken’s Neck in the first place and how would it maintain its supply lines?

The alarmists’ memories are also extremely short. In the early 1980s, it was India that drove the Chinese out of the Chumbi valley, using its newly acquired Bofors guns to fire over the Himalayan ridges down into it from distances of 40 kms and more. India is far stronger now than it was in the ’80s and China has far more to lose in the Chumbi valley, which has become a hub of economic activity after it became a rail head, than it had 30 years ago. If anything, China has had more to fear from the worsening of relations between it and India, than India does.

Today, the Doklam standoff has opened a route to the resolution of the long simmering Himalayan border dispute that had been closed by the failure of Chinese premier Chou Enlai to establish common ground with Jawaharlal Nehru during his visit to India in 1960 and the 1962 war. For to establish the illegality of India’s incursion into Doklam, it has emphasised its acceptance (in the 1890 treaty) of the watershed principle of boundary demarcation that was the basis, however hastily and casually delineated, of the MacMahon line. By re-opening this possibility within a framework of increased intra-BRICS cooperation at Xiamen next week, Narendra Modi can turn the present draw into victory for both countries. Whether he has the sagacity to do so remains to be seen.

Neither Win Nor Loss, the End of the Doklam Standoff is an Opportunity

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to China in May 2015. Credit : PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to China in May 2015. Credit : PTI

When Delhi ignored Beijing’s quiet demarches to let sleeping dogs lie in Arunachal Pradesh, not only did the Vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin summon Ambassador Ashok Kantha to express his “strong dissatisfaction and staunch opposition” to Narendra Modi’s visit in February 2015, but the entire text of his protest was released by the Foreign office, and carried in full by Xinhua , the next day.

China, he said  “has never recognized the so-called ‘Arunachal Pradesh’ unilaterally set up by the Indian side. It’s an universally recognized, unevadable fact that significant disputes do exist on the eastern section of the China-India border…. the so-called “Arunachal Pradesh” was established largely on the three areas of China’s Tibet — Monyul, Loyul and Lower Tsayul currently under Indian illegal occupation. These three areas, located between the illegal “McMahon Line” and the traditional customary boundary between China and India, have always been Chinese territory”.

However Liu kept the door open for resuming the convergence towards strategic cooperation that had taken place between Hua Hin and Durban. He again said that China placed importance on developing relations with India. He said the two countries, ‘as neighbors and the top two developing countries in the world, share broad prospect on cooperation at various levels’.

He expressed ‘the hope that the Indian side should treasure the sound momentum in the growth of bilateral relations, march toward the same goal with China and abide by the important consensus on the border issue’ and “called for the Indian side not to take any action that may complicate the border issue and stick to the general orientation of resolving the issue through bilateral negotiations so as to maintain the overall growth of bilateral relations”.

But the significance of this very public demarche was lost upon the Indian media, which did not even mention it. So two months later, surreptitiously, and therefore unnoticed yet again by the media, Modi sent four Indian warships to join a US carrier fleet in the South China Sea to enforce the freedom of navigation within it less than a week before his return State visit to China. With that all ambiguity about where India stood on the central strategic issue of our age, was dispelled.

Inspite of this China pulled out all the stops to welcome Modi later that year. Xi took an entire day out of his calendar to spend it with him in Xian. Li Keqiang spent in all 13 hours with him. The joint statement issued after the visit began by acknowledging “ the simultaneous re-emergence of India and China as two major powers in the region.” This was something Beijing had never before conceded and was obviously intended to keep the door open for serious further engagement on international issues. But Indian commentators either did not notice the shift or took it as an acknowledgement of India’s growing power and influence that required no quid pro quo.

Spread over several paragraphs was also a commitment by both countries to put the border dispute in cold storage and not allow it to hinder the further development of cooperation between the two countries. It reiterated that the two governments were determined to ‘actively seek a political settlement of the boundary question’ and ‘resolve outstanding differences, including the boundary question, in a proactive manner’. They agreed to exchange   regular visits and make full use of the opportunities provided by the presence of their leaders at various multilateral fora to hold consultations on bilateral relations and issues of regional and global importance. It again affirmed that an early settlement of the boundary question served the basic interests of the two countries and should be pursued as a strategic objective by the two governments.

But what was absent from it was any reference to strategic cooperation. This was glaringly obvious in the last, and from China’s point of view most important, section of the statement, sub-titled Shaping the Regional and Global Agenda. Given India’s explicit support for Vietnam’s rights in the South China sea, it came as no surprise that the statement steered clear of making even an oblique reference to the disputes that bedevil the region. But the joint statement did not even make a reference to the need to ensure the freedom of navigation in it.

China has stated, times without number, that it has no intention whatever of blocking free movement of commerce within it. Asserting a common commitment to protecting this freedom, possibly qualified by and explicit reference to commerce, would have balanced the reference to it in the Indo-US Joint Strategic vision statement of January 25. Its absence suggests that India either felt no need to establish such a balance or baulked at including any statement that would dilute the tacit commitment it had made to the US.

Equally significant was the absence of any reference to the civil war and humanitarian crisis in Syria, any explicit condemnation of ISIS and, most significantly, any welcome of the US and EU’s agreement with Iran. There was not even the implied criticism of the US’ quest for global dominance and a unipolar world that BRICS’ Delhi declaration had contained. Nor was there an endorsement of a multi-polar world order. It was as if the Delhi meeting of BRICS had never taken place.

Although Narendra Modi had taken a huge business delegation with him, and came back with $22 billion worth of state and corporate investment commitments, the joint statement concentrated only on terrorism, border demarcation, and the bilateral trade imbalance. The possibility of redressing this by facilitating large amounts of Chinese investment in India was only touched upon in passing. There was no reference in the joint statement to China’s proposal to form a Regional Cooperation Economic Partnership or to the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) plan into which it was absorbed, and no indication on whether India would join it or not.

The joint statement also showed that China had begun to hedge its bets. It ‘understood and supported’ India’s aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations (no mention of the Security Council) and, in language that foreshadowed the US’ welcome of India’s interest in joining APEC, it ‘took note’ of India’s desire to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group.

Since then, as the Modi government has ploughed ahead, China’s withdrawal of its offer of strategic cooperation, and return to its older policy of isolating, and neutralising India, has gathered momentum. It opposed — and prevented — Masood Azhar from being declared an International terrorist by the UN Security Council. It is opposing India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. It has committed $14 billion to building a tunnel under the Great Himalayan range, roads, bridges and a rail link to end Nepal’s dependence on India for access to the rest of the world. It has committed $13 billion to building ports, roads and power plants in Sri Lanka and a whopping $45 billion to developing Pakistan’s road, rail, port and nuclear power infrastructure.

When these projects are completed Pakistan’s infrastructure will not only far outstrip that of India but also, by creating an alternate route for its exports to Africa and Europe through Pakistan, shower so much foreign exchange upon it by way of transit fees that it will never again have to turn to India for help as it did in 2012.

Prem Shankar Jha is a senior journalist and author of Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos and War, and Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger, Can China and India Dominate the West?

This is the third part of the series of Indian foreign policy under the Narendra Modi government. The first two can be read here and here.

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File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Credit: PTI

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Credit: PTI

China and India’s relationship had begun to warm after the two countries signed the Agreement for Peace and Tranquility in the Border Regions, in 1993. Not only did trade between them grow at an astonishing pace, but they found themselves on the same side of the fence on a growing range of issues, from climate change to the invasion of Iraq and the need to build a multipolar world order. The first unambiguous signal that China was willing to set bilateral issues like the border dispute and Tibet aside in search of closer and more structured cooperation on strategic issues came from former premier Wen Jiabao, when he asked for a meeting with Manmohan Singh, who was then prime minister, on the side-lines of an ASEAN conference at Hua Hin, Thailand, in October 2009.

Confrontations on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) had multiplied during the previous three years. Tensions had heightened further in 2008 when a mini-revolt broke out in Tibet on the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight to India, that the administration in Tibet ascribed to a conspiracy hatched in Delhi and Lhasa. Finally, by September 2008, prolonged attention in the international media had begun to turn a visit by the Dalai Lama to Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, to inaugurate a new hospital, into a confrontation between the two Asian giants that was threatening to spill over into war.

The need to defuse the mounting tension was apparent, so Delhi welcomed Wen’s initiative. What no one asked was why it was Wen, and not Singh, who had initiated the meeting. The media concluded that China had caved in when India ‘stood firm’ on the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang and that this was the way to deal with it in future.

Detailed briefings given by the Chinese foreign office after Wen’s return showed that what Beijing had wanted was to find a way of preventing unwelcome media attention from forcing the two countries into a confrontation that neither wanted. The issue was speedily settled when Singh decided to ban the international media from Tawang, which is beyond the Inner Line, and allowed only a handful of Indian correspondents to cover the event. The rest of the discussions between him and Wen ranged over strategic issues that affected both China and India.

Beijing’s relief was writ large in the despatches of Xinhua and reports in Global Times. In diplomatic demarches, what is not said is usually more important than what is. The statements emanating from Beijing referred once more to the Himalayan impasse as a border dispute and not as an illegal occupation of ‘southern Tibet’. Premier Wen said it would be resolved ‘gradually’, and would not be allowed to impede cooperation on other issues. The term ‘South China” was not used. C-3S, the Chennai based centre for China Studies , summed up China’s goal pithily: “Premier Wen Jiabao, obviously conveying a message from the Chinese leadership, conceded there was enough space in the world for both China and India to grow”.

The breakthrough at Hua Hin created the launch pad for a Chinese bid to raise the level of Sino-Indian cooperation from the tactical to the strategic level. A participant at a closed door conference on India=China relations held by the Lee Kuan Yew school of International Affairs in Singapore, in 2012, defined it as follows: “There can be five levels of relations between two countries – ranging from total opposition (level 1) through occasional tactical cooperation (level 3) to strategic collaboration ( level 5). China and India are on level 3. We would like to take it to level 5”.

Measured by this yardstick, China and India began moving from level 3 to level 4 at the annual BRICS meeting at Sanya, on Hainan Island, in April 2011. They began to move from level 4 towards level 5 during the fourth and fifth BRICS summits at New Delhi and Durban in 2012 and 2013.

The trigger for broadening the scope of cooperation from the economic to political and strategic issues was provided by NATO’s abuse of the UN Security Council’s no-fly-zone resolution to embark upon regime change by force in Libya, and follow it up with a similar covert attack on Syria. For China, as indeed for Russia and India, the message was clear: The invasion of Iraq in 2003 had not been an aberration. For the US, victory in the Cold War had rendered the UN charter obsolete. The Westphalian international order that it embodied, and which insisted that force must be the weapon of last, and not first, resort was therefore well and truly dead. The world was returning to the ‘constant state of war’ that the 17th century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes had described as the state of nature. China decided that it could no longer rule out becoming America’s and Nato’s next target (only two years later Russia did become the US’s next target).

BRICS’ Delhi declaration in 2012 was therefore twice as long as the one issued at Sanya. It contained the most comprehensive criticism of the failures of the West that had been voiced by any group of countries since the end of the Cold War. It demanded that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states, be respected. It condemned the attacks on Libya and Syria, and warned that the threats to Iran “must not be allowed to escalate into conflict”. And it explicitly called for the establishment of a multi-polar world order.

The Delhi meeting gave a fresh impetus to China’s efforts to forge strategic cooperation with Delhi. President Xi Jinping made this clear at the Durban meeting of the BRICS heads of government in March 2013, within months of succeeding Hu Jintao.

The signal was a change in the wording of the joint statement with Singh on the border dispute. From saying that the two countries would “gradually narrow differences on border issues” it read that they would “strive for a fair, rational solution framework acceptable to both sides as soon as possible”.

Break with protocol by President Xi

At the Durban meeting, Xi also broke protocol when he told Singh that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s first foreign visit would be to India. On May 13 – days before Li Keqiang’s visit – Wei Wei, China’s ambassador to India, took what was for the Chinese government the unprecedented step of writing an op-ed piece in The Hindu, urging the Indian government to set aside the border dispute and focus attention on developing closer relations between the two countries. As in all diplomatic statements the words and phrases he used conveyed precise meanings.

“The China-India boundary question a problem left over from history … At present, the comprehensive development of China-India relations has created favourable conditions for solving border-related issues. …To strengthen good-neighbourly and friendly cooperation with India is China’s strategic choice and established policy which will not change. … Both sides “should proceed from a strategic height and a holistic perspective…. and strive for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the boundary question at an early date”.  (emphases added)

The message could not have been more explicit: China regarded the border dispute as a legacy of the past, and wanted to get beyond it as soon as possible in order to cooperate with India on strategic issues of the future. The more China-India cooperation increased in the future, the easier would it be for both countries to find a mutually acceptable solution. One could not, however, find in history the solution to a problem created by history. One had, instead to go back to first principles and approach the task with a willingness to compromise.

Li Keqiang’s visit to India a few weeks later was an unqualified success. A senior Indian official who was present at his meeting with Manmohan Singh told me that their discussion had gone so well that it could have been choreographed. Singh summed up his own impressions in a formal statement when he said, “ I am delighted that there are so many areas of convergence between us on which there is a great deal of meeting of minds”.

Li’s visit set the stage for President Xi Jinping’s visit to India 16 months later. In the intervening months signs of the importance that Beijing attached to changing the locus of its relations with India multiplied. The Indian national day reception at Beijing in January 2014 was attended by the vice president of China, who delivered a 10 minute speech extolling the ties that had existed between China and India since antiquity.

Six months later, when ambassador Ashok Kantha, who had replaced the current foreign secretary S. Jaishankar, presented his credentials, he was one of only two out of 14 ambassadors whom President Xi asked to stay back for a short talk.

Finally, President Xi himself met national security adviser A.K Doval when he visited Beijing on September 8, 2014 to prepare for his India visit. The last senior official who was granted this courtesy by a Chinese president may have been Henry Kissinger in 1970.

Too mired in the past

In Delhi, unfortunately, only those closest to Manmohan Singh and key members of the foreign policy establishment fully grasped the signals that Beijing was sending. The intelligentsia, with only a handful of exceptions, remained too deeply mired in the past to shed its defensive mind-set towards Beijing. This was even more true of the government that Narendra Modi established, for he not only made it a virtue to cut all links with those who had made policy during the UPA regime, but also with those who had done so under Atal Bihari Vajpayee. As a result, the new government treated President Xi’s visit more as a bilateral mending of fences, not unmixed with elements of theatre, than the culmination of a long and patiently sought rapprochement.

Whatever President Xi Jinping may have wanted to achieve during his visit was, however, sabotaged when Chinese troops surrounded an Indian outpost at Chumar, in eastern Ladakh, only days before he arrived in India. With no clear idea of the reasons behind his visit, most Indian analysts and media pundits jumped to the conclusion that he had deliberately arranged for this to happen during his visit in order to remind Modi of just who had the whip hand in Ladakh.

They could not have been more wrong. According to an Indian diplomat who was present in Ahmedabad when Modi bluntly asked Xi Jinping what had happened, the Chinese president replied, “I don’t know”, but promised to find out when he returned to Beijing. For any head of state, let alone that of China, to have to admit ignorance to his counterpart when on a state visit must have been embarrassing, if not humiliating. Again no one asked why Xi should have exposed himself to it by timing the intrusion for the day before he reached India. That he wasn’t simply saying the only thing he could have said when confronted by Modi became apparent when, on September 21, barely a day after he returned to Beijing, Xi issued a stern reprimand to the PLA to follow the dictates of the party’s military commission.

But in the next seven months, as Modi visited Japan, the US, South Korea, Australia, signed the Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific document with Barack Obama and ignored Beijing’s privately voiced protests, it became apparent to China’s strategists that he had either not understood its overtures, or had decided to reverse the foreign policy of the UPA and its preceding three governments and edge into a closer embrace with the US. As a result its attitude towards India also began to change.

Prem Shankar Jha is a senior journalist and author of Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos and War, and Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger, Can China and India Dominate the West?

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By drawing even closer to the United States and signing binding agreements, India is giving up years of carefully calibrated balance in its foreign policy.

File picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Obama in the White House in June. Credit : PTI

File picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Obama in the White House in June. Credit : PTI

This is the first of a three-part series on India’s foreign policy.

In two lacklustre years of governance the BJP has done very little to fulfil its promise of economic revival and vindicate the trust that the people of India had bestowed upon it. That may be why its propagandists have worked overtime to portray the signature of the Logistics and Supply Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the USA, and President Obama’s designation of India as a “major defence partner” as a huge success in his foreign policy.

With very few exceptions, commentators in the national media have fallen in line with this assessment. Only a few have noticed that in his eagerness to cement a closer defence relationship with the US Modi had given away India’s most prized asset – its zealously guarded independence of foreign policy – in exchange for a barrage of flattery and a bunch of verbal assurances that do not even add up to the proverbial thirty pieces of silver .

Declaring India a major defence partner has cost the US nothing. Unlike NATO or the US’s defence treaty with Japan, it is not a mutual defence pact and does not bind the US to coming to India’s aid if it is attacked. The most that India can possibly aspire to is a relationship somewhat similar to that of the US with Israel, where the US constantly reiterates its determination to come to Israel’s aid if it is attacked, but not via a defence treaty.

But India is not Israel. Its India-born American community is rich, and becoming politically more influential by the day. But it can never, even remotely, aspire to the power to shape US policy. American military power is not, therefore, ever likely to be deployed against India’s two main adversaries, Pakistan and China: Pakistan because it too is ‘a major non-NATO ally’, and China because it is simply too big for an already war-weary nation to take on.

In sharp contrast, the commitments that India has made to become worthy of this award (for that is all it is) are concrete, onerous and, worst of all, open-ended. Indian diplomats who have been involved in the negotiations insist that, unlike the Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA) that the US has signed with its other allies, it does not give the US Navy and Air Force an automatic right to use Indian bases while waging its wars. What it will facilitate automatically is the refuelling, restocking and repair of their craft at Indian naval and air bases during joint exercises, anti-piracy and other UN-sanctioned operations in the Indian Ocean.

This is the assurance that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had rushed to Beijing to give to the Chinese after postponing the signature of LEMOA at the last minute during US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit to Delhi in April. But in practice, these caveats against automatic involvement in America’s wars are hollow because Delhi will find it exceedingly difficult to deny these facilities to the US once the latter has committed itself to a military operation – because of the angry reaction that will provoke in the US media, and the Congress.

LEMOA is also only the thin end of a rather fat wedge. The US has made it clear that signing it will make it easier to acquire sensitive dual-use technologies. But to get the most out of it, India will have to sign two supplementary “foundational” agreements, the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA).

The US needs these to ensure that sensitive technological information shared with India does not get passed onto ‘unfriendly’ countries. But this concern will cut both ways. Its immediate result will therefore be to cut India off from access to cutting edge Russian armaments and technology.

A big loss

This will not be a small loss. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the Soviet Union began to come apart, it could have been argued that India did not really have any alternative but to turn to the West for advanced weaponry. But that is no longer true. The S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries, Sukhoi-35 multi-role aircraft and long-range cruise missiles that Moscow unveiled in Syria last year show that the technology gap between the US and Russia has not only narrowed but, in some important areas, reversed.

There is nothing comparable to the S-400 in the western armoury, and the Su-35 costs a quarter of what India has committed itself to paying France for the Rafale. So no matter how Modi’s propagandists try to dress it up, these three agreements will lock India into permanent dependence upon American, European and Israeli suppliers and make it pay through the nose for what it gets.

Thus when CISMOA and BECA have been signed, India will lose its capacity to act independently and will become a permanent appendage of the Western alliance. To see how this could work out in practice, Modi has only to pick up the phone to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif or, better still, ask General Pervez Musharraf about how Pakistan came to join the War on Terror after 9/11.

The difference between Modi and his predecessors is that the latter were not prepared to pay this price. Manmohan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narasimha Rao had coped with China’s rise by assuaging its anxieties about Indian intentions in Tibet and rapidly deepening the economic relations between the two countries. But they had simultaneously asserted India’s right to deal independently with the countries around the South China sea, to continue sheltering the Dalai Lama and to allow him to run a virtual government in exile from Dharamshala.

All three also steadily deepened India’s relationship with the US, but carefully avoided making military commitments that would limit their options in the future. Vajpayee refused President George W. Bush’s request for Indian troops to pacify Iraq after the 2003 invasion, and Manmohan Singh studiously refused to sign the logistics supply, and its supporting agreements, with the US throughout his time in office.

The success of this careful balancing act is testified to by the fact that during this period it was not only the US but also China that began to woo India. Modi’s precipitate action – taken without any of the open discussion and extended parliamentary debate that had preceded the signing of the Indo-US nuclear agreement in 2008 – has ended this hard-won equidistance and the power to influence world events that went with it.

What is even more disturbing: while it has crowned Obama’s attempt to yoke India to his goal of containing China with success, it has wantonly thrown away the best opportunity India had, or may ever have again, of making a lasting peace with China and harnessing its enormous financial, technological and managerial resources to accelerate India’s industrial development.

Breaking from Nehru’s legacy

The US must have sensed its opportunity when Modi signalled his willingness, probably during his first visit to Washington in 2014, to make a clean break with Jawaharlal Nehru’s legacy in foreign policy. Barack Obama lost no time in capitalising upon this and accepted Modi’s invitation to be the guest of honour at the 2015 Republic Day celebrations. The reason why he did so at such short notice surfaced when the two leaders signed the ‘U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region’ on January 25.

Encased in the fluff of mutual praise was the one paragraph that mattered: “Regional prosperity depends on security. We affirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.” As Srinath Raghavan has pointed out in The Wire, China has a far stronger interest than the US in preserving the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea because all but a small fraction of its trade, and more importantly its import of oil, travels through it. What the US is insisting on maintaining, therefore, is the freedom of navigation for military vessels and aircraft.

In April 2015, this agreement bore its first fruit when four Indian warships joined a US-Japan task force spearheaded by the American super-carrier, the John C. Stennis, ostensibly to assert freedom of navigation in the South China sea. This one action, which received virtually no mention in the Indian media, revealed how little they, and Modi himself, understood the basics, let alone the nuances, of the power-struggle that is taking place in international relations today. For at the time this happened, he was within days of making his first state visit to China.

It is possible that Modi was only paying China back in its own coin for timing its intrusion into Ladakh’s Chumur sector to coincide with President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September 2014. But if this was indeed his intention, then he had not been briefed about the overtures that China had been making to forge a closer strategic relationship with India ever since 2009 and the strategic convergence that had taken place in their world views since then.

Prem Shankar Jha is a ‘senior journalist and author of Twilight of the Nation State: Globalisation, Chaos and War and Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger: Can China and India Dominate the West?
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File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepalese counterpart Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli meeting in Delhi last February. Credit: PTI

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepalese counterpart Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli meeting in Delhi last February. Credit: PTI

New Delhi has shown commendable restraint in dismissing an alleged news ‘scoop’ by Pakistan Today, that Pakistan’s Joint Investigation Team has concluded that the Pathankot terrorist attack was “ another False Flag” operation carried out by Indian security agencies to bring Pakistan into disrepute, and reiterating that its multi-level interaction with Islamabad to root out terrorism will continue .

But this only serves to highlight the confusion in other areas of India’s foreign policy today, for it is in stark contrast to the Modi government’s hectoring policy towards India’s other important neighbour, Nepal.

India’s 1850 km border with Nepal is not its longest but its most sensitive and indefensible one. All but a tiny fragment of the country lies south of the great Himalayan wall which has been India’s natural frontier in the north since pre-history. Thus, were any hostile power to gain ascendancy over the country, the entire Indo-Gangetic plain would be rendered defenceless.

In 1947 this possibility was remote. Nepal and India had fought much of their respective struggles for independence together. The Koirala brothers, who founded the Nepali Congress, found sanctuary from the wrath of the Ranas in North Bihar and took their cue unabashedly from Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress. Two years after gaining Independence, therefore, India expelled the Ranas and restored King Tribhuvana to power. Since then, for better or for worse, it has been mentoring Nepal’s transition into  modern statehood.

It sheltered the leaders of the democracy movement in the eighties and nineties and helped them to force King Birendra to accept of a constitutional monarch.

Difficult to frame a Constitution

It again sheltered the democrats when King Gyanendra declared an emergency in 2005, persuaded him to restore democracy in 2006, and persuaded the Maoists to end their decade long guerrilla war and return to parliamentary democracy. Since then Nepal has been trying to frame a constitution that empowers its ethnically diverse people in an equitable way. This has proved a decade long nightmare because its 29 million people belong to no fewer than 66 ethnic groups.

By the end of 2014, protracted negotiations in two Constituent Assemblies had produced a consensus in principle. Nepal would be a federal state divided into eight regions representing eight broad ethnic groupings, and while 165 members of parliament would be elected through the simple majority voting system, 110 would be elected through proportional representation. All that was left was to demarcate the eight regions, and decide whether to adopt the constitution by a majority vote or a consensus.

India had made no secret of the importance it attached to consensus. Prime minister Modi, who had signalled the importance India attached to it’s Himalayan neighbours by making his first and second bilateral visits to Bhutan and Nepal, urged the Constituent Assembly to strive for consensus during his second visit to Nepal, in November 2014.

But the differences proved intractable. In the summer of 2015 the Constituent Assembly ran out of patience and decided to adopt the new constitution by a majority vote, leaving the demarcation of the regions to be decided later. This set off an immediate, violent, protest from two major groups in the Terai, the Madhesis and the Tharus, who feared that this was a stratagem for restoring the domination of the hill peoples over the Terai.

When, despite this,  the Constituent Assembly adopted the new constitution on September 20, India had to choose between not intervening and allowing Nepal to learn from its own mistakes, or make it rethink its options by expressing its displeasure in a more concrete way. Narendra Modi chose the latter option.

Within hours Indian Oil Corporation’s tankers stopped carrying transport fuels to Nepal. From around 300 trucks and tankers a day the number dropped to between 10 and 15. In Nepal diesel, gasoline and kerosene stocks dwindled, prices shot up and a black market was instantly born. On September 23 the Nepali government imposed draconian fuel rationing, accused Delhi of imposing a blockade and, a short while later, took its complaint to the UN.

New Delhi blames Madhesi unrest

New Delhi’s spokesmen put the blame for the blockade upon the Madhesi unrest which, they claimed, had made truck drivers fear for their lives. But this was not convincing because the Madhesi agitation had begun 40 days before the fuel blockade began. What is more, the drivers of trucks carrying fruit and vegetables did not seem to share this insecurity.

Modi has been accused of imposing the blockade out of personal pique. But this trivialises a very difficult decision. Delhi understood that to enjoy legitimacy a democratic constitution had to be accepted by everybody, and not by only a majority. Ramming it down the throats of the Madhesis and Tharus without even an agreed demarcation of their regions would only exacerbate the conflict and make India’s position more difficult because of its shared ethnicity with the Terai.

New Delhi may have wanted Nepal to rethink its options, but unlike 1989, when Rajiv Gandhi’s year-long oil blockade ended absolute monarchy in Nepal, this time the cure is likely to prove worse than the disease, because the Nepali government has turned for help to China. And China now has both the capacity and the motivation, coming from its slowing economy, to help Nepal end India’s stranglehold upon it.

This became abundantly clear in the last week of March when Nepal’s prime minister, K.P.Sharma Oli paid a week-long visit to Beijing at the invitation of Chinese premier Li Keqiang. During the visit China signed a trade and transit agreement with Nepal that will enable it to trade with third countries through Tianjin, the port closest to Beijing,  pledged $216 million to build an airport at Pokhara, Nepal’s second largest city, and to build a bridge at Hilsa in the extreme west of the country to connect it by road to Tibet.

These projects will provide considerable psychological relief to Nepal but will reduce India’s coercive power to only a limited extent. What will come close to destroying it, however , is the proposed 562 km rail link between Lhasa and Kathmandu, for Lhasa is already linked by high speed trains to the rest of China.

China’s giant infrastructure companies, which face rapidly shrinking order books, have been eyeing this gargantuan project, which requires drilling a tunnel under Mount Everest, and other giant projects, like a nine dam, 40,000 MW, power project on the Big Bend of the Yarlung-Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) , for some time. Indeed Beijing’s entire One Road One Belt policy is driven very largely by the need to keep its companies, and their vast labour force, employed.

Modi’s decision to blockade, or let the Madhesis blockade Nepal (for Kathmandu the difference is immaterial) has removed whatever inhibitions Nepal had felt till then about the rail link project.

Chinese signals to Nepal

Equally important were the political signals that Oli sent out during his visit. He described China as Nepal’s “All Weather Friend”, a pointed invocation of China’s description of Pakistan ( whom China has now raised to ‘Iron Brothers Forever’), and a reminder that India is a friend only when it suits it to be one.

He also signed a free trade agreement with China and committed Nepal to participating actively in China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. These are largely symbolic gestures when more than two-thirds of its trade is with India, but they signal the end of Nepal’s acceptance of Indian bilateralism.

The Madhesis suspended their agitation at the end of February and oil began to flow to Nepal once more. But neither capital seems to have realised that the blockade, and Kathmandu’s reaction, have brought India-Nepal relations to a fork in the road. Last week, after returning to Kathmandu, Oli said that India had lifted the blockade because it had proved futile. This was not only because it had drawn a barrage of international criticism but because Nepal had not succumbed to it.

His remarks show that Oli has still not grasped what Delhi, with India’s vast experience of ethnic federalism, has understood all along — that no country can impose a Constitution upon a dissenting minority and remain a democracy for very long. The Madhesis have warned the government that they will resume their agitation in May. If Oli does not resume talks to arrive at an agreed demarcation of the eight regions before then, and relies on force again, the divide between the hills and plains of Nepal will widen further and imperil the unity of the country.

Had they been left to themselves Nepali politicians would have come to this conclusion sooner or later. But the support promised by China has given them false confidence, and lessened their awareness of danger. Modi’s faux pas has therefore pushed Nepal towards a relationship with China that could land it in the same predicament that Israel faces today. Unconditional American military , economic , technological and political support during and after the Cold War made it unnecessary for Israel to negotiate peace with its neighbours and the Palestinians when they had a chance to do so. Today the opportunity has passed: Israel faces rising terrorism, and does not know what to do.

Given the organising power of the social media, and the easy availability of arms in the black market, Kathmandu could find itself facing a similar situation in the Terai in not years but in months.

Does India want Nepal to go down this bitter road? The answer must be ‘no’. But to make it reverse tack Delhi must first stop treating Nepal as a de-facto protectorate, and help it to complete its transition to full nation-statehood. The first requirement for this is to respect Nepal’s sovereignty, scrupulously respect all treaty obligations and avoid intervening in its internal affairs.

This requires allowing its government to make, and to learn from, its own mistakes. In the immediate future, if Oli forces the Madhesis to resume their stir in May, India must still ensure that IOC’s oil tankers reach the distribution points within the country. This will involve forming convoys, cooperating with the Nepali army, and persuading the Madhesis that there are other, less destructive, ways of attaining their political goals. Delhi should remember that giving public support to the Madhesis movement can do to them exactly what Chinese support is threatening to do to Kathmandu.

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Israel has been joined by Saudi Arabia openly and Turkey covertly, in opposing the rehabilitation of Iran. Here is what is What I wrote about. A shorter verion appeared in  The Indian Express.  

“The euphoria that spread though the world after the Iran – EU nuclear  agreement is  proving short-lived. Republicans in the US Congress have made it clear that they will spare no effort to block it.  Hilary Clinton, the democratic Presidential hopeful, is keeping her options open. Whispers are escaping from European chancelleries that the sanctions on Iran will only be lifted in stages. Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani have responded by insisting that they must be lifted ‘at once’.

But the agreement’s most inveterate enemy is Binyamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel. In the week that followed the Lausanne agreement he warned the American public in three successive speeches that it would threaten the survival of Israel and  increase the risk of  ‘a horrific war’. This is a brazen attempt to whip up fear and war hysteria on the basis of a spider’s web of  misinformation.

Netanyahu unveiled  the first at the UN General Assembly in 2012. It was a large cartoon of a bomb with a red line across it, just below the mouth. This was how close Iran was  to making a nuclear bomb, he said. It could get there in a year. Only much later did the world learn that  Mossad, his own intelligence service, had told him that Iran was very far from being able to build a bomb.

Mossad probably knew what a US Congress Research Service report revealed two months later:  that  although Iran already had enough 5 percent, or low-enriched,  Uranium in August 2012 to build  5 to 7 bombs,  it had not enriched enough of it to the intermediate level of   20 percent to meet the requirement for even one  bomb.  The CRS had concluded from this and other evidence that this was because  Iran had made no effort to revive its nuclear weapons programme after stopping it ‘abruptly’ in 2003.

Netanyahu’s second deception  is that he only wants to punish Iran with sanctions till it gives up trying to acquire not only nuclear weapons but any nuclear technology that could even remotely facilitate this in the future. But he knows that no government in Iran can agree to this. So what he is really trying to steer the world towards is the alternative– a military attack on Iran.

What is more, since he also knows  that  destroying  Iran’s nuclear facilities will not destroy its capacity to rebuild these in the future he does not want the strike to end till it has  destroyed Iran’s infrastructure ( as Israel destroyed Southern Lebanon’s in 2006) ,  its industry,  its research facilities and its science universities.

He knows that Israel cannot undertake  such a vast operation without the Americans.  But there is one stumbling block—Barak Obama, who has learned from his recent  experience that, to put it mildly,  America’s  interests do not always tally with those of its allies in the middle east. So Netanyahu is following a two-pronged strategy: first to get the US Congress to insert clauses in the Treaty draft  that Iran will be forced to reject, and second to take advantage of   the spike in paranoia that will follow to  push the west into an attack on Iran.

He has been joined in this endeavour by another steadfast friend of the US, Saudi Arabia. At the end of February Saudi Arabia  quietly signed an agreement with Israel that will allow its warplanes to overfly Saudi Arabia on their way to bombing Iran. This has halved the distance  they will need to fly. And less than four weeks later, on March 26,  it declared war on the Houthis in Yemen, whom it has been  relentlessly portraying as a tiny minority bent upon taking Yemen over through sheer terror, with the backing of  Iran.

This is a substantial oversimplification , and therefore distortion, of a complicated relationship. Iran may well be helping the Houthis, but not because they are Shias.  The Houthis,  who make up 30 percent of  Yemen’s population, are Zaidis, a very different branch of Shi’a-ism than the one practiced in Iran, Pakistan and India. They inhabit  a  region that stretches across Saada, the northernmost district of  Yemen, and  three adjoining principalities, Jizan, Najran, and Asir,  that Saudi Arabia annexed in 1934.  The internecine wars that Yemeni Houthis  have fought since the 1960s  have not been sectarian, or even  against  the  Saudis specifically, but in quest of independence and, more recently, a federal state. This is a goal that several other tribes share.

The timing of  Saudi Arabia’s attack, four weeks after its overflight agreement with Israel, and its incessant  portrayal of   the Houthis as proxies of Iran, hints at a deeper understanding between it and Israel. The Houthis’ attacked  Sana’a, the capital, last September. So why did Saudi Arabia wait till now before sending its bombers in?

Iran has kept  out of the conflict in Yemen so far, but the manifestly one-sided resolution passed by the UN Security Council,  the immediate resignation of the UN special envoy for Yemen Jamal Benomar, who had been struggling to bring about a non-sectarian resolution of the  conflict in Yemen and been boycotted by Saleh’s successor,   Abed Rabo Mansour Hadi for his pains, cannot have failed to raise misgivings in  Teheran. Iraqi President Haydar Abadi’s  sharp criticism of the Saudi attack in Washington on the same day reflects his awareness of how these developments are darkening the prospect  for  Iran’s rehabilitation, and therefore  Iraq’s future.

To stop this drift Obama  needs to tell his people precisely how far,  under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel’s interests have diverged from those of the US, and how single-mindedly Israel has used its special relationship with the US to push it  into   actions that have imperiled its own security in the middle east.

Instead of dwelling on how the treaty will make it close-to-impossible for Iran to clandestinely enrich uranium or produce plutonium, he needs to remind Americans of what Netanyahu has been carefully neglecting to mention: that a nuclear device is not a bomb, and that to convert it into one Iran will need not only to master the physics of bomb-making and reduce its weight to what a missile can carry but carry out  at least one test explosion to make sure the bomb works. That will make escaping detection pretty well impossible.

Lastly the White house needs to remind Americans that Iranians also know  the price they will pay if  they are caught trying to build a bomb after signing the agreement. Not only will this bring back all and more of the sanctions they are under,  but it will vindicate Netanyahu’s apocalyptic predictions and make a pre-emptive military strike virtually unavoidable.

Finally, should a  military strike, whether deserved or undeserved,   destroy Iran’s economy,  it will add tens of thousands  of Shi’a Jihadis to the Sunni Jihadis already spawned in Libya, Somalia, Chechnya and  the other failed states and regions of the world.    The security that  Netanyahu claims it will bring, will turn out to be  a chimera.

  

 

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Nothing has stirred up so much controversy in the US as Obama’s U -turn on Iran . The following article explains some of the important causes behind it. There were also, doubtless, other considerations,but these are less well knwn.

GLOBAL POLITICS AT A TURNING POINT

The nuclear agreement announced in Lausanne on April 2, has made history but  the wolves have begun to gather. Israel’s Prime minister , Binyamin Netanyahu has called it a ‘historic mistake” that threatens the survival of Iran and could lead to a ‘horrific war’. He has been joined by Saudi Arabia and, less vocally,  by  other sunni sheikhdoms in the Gulf.

Their opposition stems from their   thwarted ambitions, for the most cursory examination shows that the agreement is too tightly constructed to leave any loophole for Iran to crawl through into nuclear weapons status.  So if Iran entered the negotiations with the intention of keeping open cracks in it that would permit it to produce  nuclear weapons in the future, it has already lost.

 

President Obama has been at pains to point out that the agreement is based on technology, not trust, but he would not even have started down the diplomatic road   had he not been at least half-way satisfied when he and Rouhani first met at the UN in September 2013 that Iran did not want to become a nuclear weapons power.

Iran’s Foreign Minister explained why in a widely attended talk in Delhi  in January last year. The big powers, he said, remain trapped in a zero sum paradigm, in which if one party to a dispute gained, the other had to have lost. But in the tautly interdependent world of today there are no more zero-sum outcomes, for the damage any conflict does inevitably far exceeds the benefits it was expected to bestow on the initiators.  The way to resolve disputes is to find common ground that leaves both sides net gainers.   This could be found in allowing Iran to develop nuclear technology but not nuclear weapons.

This argument resonated with Obama because  he was acutely aware of   how badly the succession of   preemptive military interventions since the end of the Cold War had  weakened the US and stripped it of   its moral authority.  “Why is it,” he asked reporters while   on a tour of Asia  in April 2014 “that everybody is so eager to use military force after we’ve gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and our budget?”[i]

But what had completed his disillusionment  was the way in which some of the US’  closest allies had abused its trust and manipulated its policies to  serve their purposes without sparing a thought for how that  affected the US’ security. At the head of this list were  Turkey, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

 

Obama got his first shock  on November 28, 2012 when a Jabhat al Nusra  unit north of Aleppo brought down a Syrian army helicopter  with  a Russian SA-7, a   man-portable Surface-to-Air missile. A day that the west had been dreading had  finally arrived: heavy weapons that the US and EU had expressly proscribed because they could bring down civilian aircraft anywhere in the world, had somehow reached Al Qaeda’s hands.

The White House tried to pretend that that rebels had obtained a single missile  from   a captured Syrian air base but,   fed up with the  suppression and distortion of the intelligence they were providing, intelligence agencies   leaked it to the Washington Post that no fewer than 40  SAM missile batteries with launchers, along with hundreds of tonnes of other heavy weapons had been bought from the supposedly US- friendly government in Libya,   by Qatar and transported to the rebels via Turkey. Saudi Arabia had done the same through Jordan.

He received  his second shock at the next ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Marrakesh three weeks later   when not only  the   ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels that the US had grouped under a newly formed Syrian Military Council three months earlier, but  all  its Sunni Muslim allies, including Turkey, condemned a ban the US had put on the Jabhat Al Nusra,  while Britain and France remained silent.

But Obama received his  third, and worst, shock nine months later when, two days before the US was scheduled to bomb Syria the British informed him that soil samples collected from the site of the Ghouta gas attack on Augut 21 2013, and analyzed  at their  CBW research laboratories at Porton Down, had shown that the Sarin used in the attack could not possibly  have been prepared by the Syrian army. Had Obama gone through with the attack it would have made him ten times worse than George Bush in history’s eyes.

Only then did Obama fully realize the scale  of the conspiracy that had been hatched to pull the US into a direct attack  on Syria. The first  piece was put in place at the end of August when  the highly reputed German magazine Der Speigel, reported, “quoting several eyewitnesses”,   that Syria had tested  delivery systems for chemical warheads   at a chemical weapons research centre near Aleppo in August, in the presence of  Iranian experts.[ii]

The wealth of detail in a report from an area where no western newspaper has a  correspondent  suggested that the story, while not necessarily untrue, was  planted by an intelligence agency. But one person who took it very seriously was Israel’s Prime minister,  Netanyahu, who  sent  emissaries to Amman twice, in October and November, to request Jordan’s  permission to overfly its territory to bomb Syria’s chemical weapons facilities[iii].

This was followed by another  serious  allegation that the Syrian army had used Sarin   gas on March 19, 2013 at Khan al Assal, north of Aleppo, and in a suburb of Damascus against its opponents. Two more allegations of smaller attacks in April followed.

In May 2013, Turkish Prime minister Erdogan visited Obama, accompanied by his Intelligence chief, and pressed him almost rudely to live up to his “red line” commitment to punish Syria if it used chemical weapons. But by then US intelligence knew, and had conveyed to Obama,  that it was  Turkey’s secret service, MIT, that had been working with the Nusra front to set up facilities to  manufacture Sarin, and had obtained two kilograms of the deadly gas for it from eastern Europe, with funds provided by Qatar[iv]. Obama therefore remained unmoved.

Israel had also launched a vigorous campaign to persuade  US lawmakers that the vast majority of the Free Syrian Army were moderate Sunnis who had risen in desperation against Assad’s dictatorial Shia’a regime.  Jihadis made up  only a fraction, and  even the few who were there  had been drawn to Syria by  a desire to protect its people from Assad’s brutal excesses.

But who these ‘moderate’ FSA were came to light on May 13, 2013 when Senator John McCain paid a secret visit to Idlib on the Syrian-Turkish border to meet them.   Photos and videos posted  on the web, and resurrected after the rise of ISIS, showed that two  of the five leaders whom he  met  were  Mohammed Nour and Ammar al Dadhiki, aka Abu Ibrahim,    spokesman and a key member respectively of  ‘Northern Storm’ an offshoot of the Jabhat Al Nusra[v].  The third was none other than Abu Bakr al Baghdadi,  self-appointed Caliph of ISIS.

The visit had been organized by  a Washington-based organisation, the Syria Emergency Task Force that proudly claimed to have lobbied two thirds of the members of the US Congress in less than two years ( and published an article in the Wall Street Journal without informing it that the author was an employee of a lobbying organization) to  persuade them that the FSA were moderate Sunnis.

When journalists began to investigate its antecedents after  the McCain videos went viral on the internet, they found a deep connection between it and  AIPAC.  When Kerry announced the decision to bomb Syria, Israeli officials could no longer conceal their satisfaction. On August 27, alongside  Kerry’s denunciation of the Ghouta gas attack the right wing daily, Times Of Israel,  published three stories quoting Defence officials, titled  “Israeli Intelligence seen as central to US case against Syria[vi]; ‘IDF intercepted Syrian regime chatter on chemical attack’;[vii] and significantly, “ For Israel US response on Syria may be a harbinger for Iran” [viii].

The hard “information” that had tilted the balance was contained in the second  story: A retired Mossad agent who refused to be named, told another  German magazine, Focus, that  a squad specializing in wire-tapping within the IDF’s elite 8200 intelligence unit had intercepted a conversation between high-ranking regime officials discussing the use of chemical agents at the time of the attack.

 

Obama unveiled his decision to reverse the Bush doctrine in his graduation day speech at West point on May 28, 2014.  “Here’s my bottom line”, he said:  “America must always lead on the world stage. … But U.S. military action cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”His  choice of venue  was not accidental, for it was here that George Bush had announced the US’ first strike security doctrine 12 years earlier.

The Nuclear deal with Iran is the first tangible outcome  of the volte face. If no new hitches arise during the drafting of the agreement,   the world will begin to retreat from the  spreading chaos into which it has descended in  the past two decades. But to secure its future Obama needs to demonstrate the benefits that will flow from it well before June 30, if not earlier.

The place where he can do this almost immediately is in the battle against ISIS, for  the agreement has opened the way for involving not only  Iran but Syria fully  in the war against it. But Netanyahu  knows this, and believes that success there  will hasten Iran’s  acceptance as the pre-eminent power in the region.

 

He has therefore thrown caution to the winds and put Israel’s entire relationship with its patron, the US, on the line in an all-out attempt to scuttle the agreement with Iran in the US Congress. In their 2006 book The Israel Lobby in American Foreign Policy, Mearsheimer and Walt have described in painstaking detail how Israel has manipulated  US policy in the middle east through AIPAC and other Zionist think tanks and foundations with an utter disregard for its interests and security. Those who have read the book know  how slender is the thread on which  the future of  the middle east and, tangentially, of  South Asia hangs.

[i] http://www.thenation.com/article/181476/why-hillary-clinton-wrong-about-obamas-foreign-policy

[ii] Reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz  On  September 17, 2012.   http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/report-syria-tested-chemical-weapons-delivery-systems-in-august-1.465402

[iii] Reported by Haaretz on December 3, 2012.

[iv] Hersh was told this by two sources, one of whom claimed he had been told by Tom Donilon then Obama’s National Security Adviser , after he left his job. The second was a Turkish official who corroborated the story to a US official. London Review of books 8-17 April. Pp 21-24.

[v] Abu Ibrahim was recognized in one of the photos of the meeting posted by Beirut’s main English and Arabic newspaper the Daily Star.

[vi] http://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-intelligence-seen-as-central-to-us-case-against-syria/

[vii] http://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-intercepted-syrian-regime-chatter-on-chemical-attack/

[viii] http://www.timesofisrael.com/for-israel-us-response-on-syria-may-be-harbinger-for-iran/

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Shortly after posting my article on how government formation in Kashmir could promote better India-Pakistan relations, I read an article by a distinguished former Pakistan High Commissioner to India, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi. I felt that this needed to be shared with a wider audience in India. Hence this post:

The need to rethink, radically

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi


A state of “no war, no peace”, with a neighbour several times our size provides no context to pursue counterterrorism policies. That too against organisations we have ben using as proxies and which have done us no end of harm diplomatically and domestically.

 

Another all-parties conference; a dash to Kabul; a rage of hangings; a 20-point National Action Plan to succeed the still-born Nacta and NISP; a committee for every point of the NAP; subcommittees for every committee; an overall oversight committee led by the prime minister who proclaims zero tolerance; a defining moment; a do-or-die challenge; an unending jihad against jihadis; eternal cooperation with the military which is invited to discharge his responsibilities; military courts of dubious value and still more dubious constitutionality.
“Democratic” political leaders who until recently were locked in mortal combat are now united in complicit support for a  “soft coup” and a resurrection of the doctrine of necessity.
The Supreme Court judges realising the gravity of the situation met under the chairmanship of the chief justice to assess how the prosecution of those accused of terrorism could be prioritised and completed expeditiously. They have, accordingly, agreed on an eight-point plan. Their plan has been summarily shoved aside by the 20-point plan. So much for the rule of law! Will the Supreme Court now accept amendments to the Constitution that are against its “basic structure” and clear intent and purpose? The superior judiciary is not incompetent. It has been impeded by those who would now supersede it.
There has been no collective and public (civil and military) leadership apology to the bereaved families and the nation. No acknowledgement of responsibility — indeed guilt — for bringing about a state of affairs in the country that directly and indirectly made the atrocity possible, if not likely. How can anyone say “this is a watershed moment” or “we have at last turned the corner”? Our 9/11, no less, have been so many self-inflicted tragedies in our short history including the fall of Dhaka, military surrender and the break-up of the country. There has been the loss of the Siachen Glacier and the fiasco of Kargil. There has been the intermittent war in Balochistan over decades. There were unprincipled deals ceding control in a number of Fata areas to dangerous militants.
These militants have become today’s monsters responsible for the school atrocity and murder and mayhem of every kind in Pakistan. There has been Abbottabad leading to national humiliation and isolation abroad.
Have we responded to all this criminal impunity with a greater concern for national security, governance and leadership? Why, or rather how will it be any different this time? Well, because enough is enough! Our cup of patience runneth over! The leopard will at last change its spots. Inshallah! Indeed, we have a plan for it. Mashallah!
We know the history of inquiry commissions in Pakistan. Even so, why has our suddenly “united” civil and military leadership not immediately sought to “break the mould” by establishing a genuinely independent, repeat independent, and competent commission to inquire into all aspects of how December 16 came to pass? Such an inquiry should, needless to say, seek to ascertain who bore the greatest responsibility for the political and security milieu, as well as the specific lead-up circumstances, including lapses, that resulted in the tragedy. It should make a meaningful and comprehensive set of concise, relevant and mutually reinforcing policy recommendations that are continuously monitored and reported upon to the nation on a weekly basis by our “born-again” leadership.
Counterterrorism in Pakistan has to be part and parcel of a comprehensive state and, indeed, societal transformation process. Yes, this is a longer term effort. But given our truly rotten circumstances, unless our action plan is embedded in a simultaneous commencement of this longer-term and much bigger project, it will lose direction, momentum and credibility very rapidly.
Solemn assurances to the contrary are rhetorical and meaningless because outside this broader transformation context they cannot be credible. This credibility of our counterterrorism commitment will also need to manifest itself in our foreign policy.
Take Afghanistan. Unless we deny the Afghan Taliban and their various cohorts and networks safe havens, sanctuaries and cross-border supply routes on our territory, how do we expect our commitments to President Ashraf Ghani and his government to be taken seriously? How would we play an acceptable role in a peacemaking and political reconciliation process in Afghanistan if the government in Kabul has grave reservations about our reliability as a partner?
If the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan are viable inside Afghanistan without our assistance we can still play a constructive role in facilitating reconciliation without seeking to use them as a check on India’s influence. If a terror-prone Afghan Taliban once again takes over Afghanistan, with or without our deniable assistance, it will be the TTP and not us who will gain “strategic depth”.
Take India. We need to have a predictable working relationship with it despite our continuing and significant differences on Kashmir and other issues. We will need to develop and implement modalities for managing our differences on Kashmir and building essential bilateral and regional cooperation to confront the challenges of the 21st century.
A state of “no war, no peace” with a neighbour several times our size provides no context in which to pursue counterterrorism policies against organisations we have been prone to use as ‘proxies’, and which have done us no end of harm diplomatically and domestically.
Unless we radically rethink our external policy strategies how will we develop a credible counterterrorism policy and transform our economy and society? There is no indication of any of this in the national action plan. Will we finally do what we say and dismantle the whole infrastructure of terror inside Pakistan? Will we begin to rationalise our India and Afghanistan policies and come across as credible to ourselves and the international community?
In memory of our lost angels:
You were the faces of tomorrow
Our living dreams of today.
May you help transcend our sorrow
May you abide and show the way.

Published in Dawn from Karachi and The Tribune from Chandigarh.The writer is a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

 

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Last month’s election in Jammu and Kashmir gave a ‘hung verdict’ of a new kind: most of the seats in Jammu ( 25 ) went to the BJP, But most of the seats in Kashmir (28)went to Mufti Sayeed’s mildly nationalist Peoples’ Democratic party. Thus neither party could form a government on its own in the 87 member state assembly.  This verdict brought to a head a struggle for power between the two main parts of this heterogeneous state whose roots go back  500 years. The split verdict has created both a crisis and an opportunity.  The article reproduced below, which  appeared in the Indian Express on December 31, 2014  examines its roots and what is at stake in the State. 

 

The election results  in Jammu and Kashmir have brought to the forefront an issue that has dogged Kashmir’s relations with the rest of India ever since Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession. It is, ‘which part of the state will  dominate policy-making —Jammu or Kashmir?

In the hundred years before Independence , it was the Dogras from Jammu. Prior to that , while Jammu was squarely a part of the Mughal and later Sikh empires, Kashmir had been  ruled for more than five hundred years by a succession of invaders, ranging from Afghans to Sikhs.

In 1947, therefore, the feeling of  disempowerment was far more acute in Kashmir than in Jammu. It was assuaged only when Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference came to power in 1947.  Sheikh Abdullah’s 1945  war cry of ‘Down with Dogra rule’ was not a repudiation of ‘Hindu’ rule, but of domination by rulers from Jammu. The National conference, and indeed the Sheikh’s, endorsement of the Maharaja’s accession to India was wildly popular in the valley because it shifted the base of  power in the state from  Jammu to Kashmir. To the educated , politically sensitive sections of the Kashmir’s population, this was ‘independence’ after more than 500 years of enslavement.

The need to empower Kashmiris explains Sheikh Abdullah’s  lack of interest in recovering Gilgit, Skardu and “Azad’ Kashmir from Pakistan. He knew only too well that  this would  make Kashmir’s pre-eminance harder to sustain.

The roots of Abdullah’s growing disenchantment with India in the six years that followed Accession and his eventual, disastrous imprisonment, lay in Nehru’s failure to understand that waiting for Pakistan to vacate  POK before holding a plebiscite was endangering not only its outcome but also Kasmir valley ( and the NC’s) control over the state. He was privy to the fact that Pathans  made up only a fifth of the ‘Raiders’ from Pakistan and that  more than two-fifths  had come from POK. So had Nehru gone ahead with a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference would have been happy as clams because it would not only have fully legitimized the Accession in the part India controlled, but also   Kashmir’s domination of Jammu in Indian Kashmir.

The reason why the Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed’s government  rigged every election in the valley from 1957 till 1972 was its need to maintain its dominance of the state in the face of declining popularity. The  suppression of dissent in the valley that this entailed led  to the uprising of 1990.

The insurgency, however, broke Kashmir’s hold over Jammu. In the ensuing decade Jammu’s politics became detached from those of Kashmir and became those of the mainland. This parting of the ways, first vividly demonstrated by Jammu’s blockade of Kashmir in July 2008,  reached its consummation this week.

Today  the polarization between Jammu and Kashmir is almost complete. This has confronted the PDP and BJP with an extraordinary  challenge, but also a unique opportunity. To its credit the PDP has been the first to realize that running a stable, functionally efficient and politically  equitable government will not be possible if the polarization is not reversed.  This requires  cooperation – preferably a coalition – between  the PDP and the BJP. But a coalition can only take shape if there is a broad agreement on the principles and goals of governance.

To the PDP the irreducible minimum is for the BJP to  respect Jammu and Kashmir’s ethnic and religious diversity, explicitly distance itself from communal polarization in Kashmir and other parts of India, and  avoid any attempt to change Kashmir’s special position within  the Indian constitution.

Since the BJP’s  main concern at the moment is to  capture the chief ministership, and  since Mufti Sayeed had shown in 2002 that he is not averse to sharing the chief ministership of the state, a deal is possible. But for this the BJP must agree to the basic principles of governance that Mufti has outlined.

This would have posed no problem for Mr  Vajpayee, but today’s BJP is a different party in all but name.  For Mr. Modi, therefore , stepping back from the programmes of communal polarization that the Sangh Parivar’s  hardliners have  let loose on the country, and resuming a constructive dialogue with Pakistan will be a supreme test of leadership.

It will also be a test of his sagacity. For Pakistan’s encounter with the most bestial face of has become a defining moment for its government and army. The Nawaz Sharif government has shed the last vestiges of its ambivalence towards Islamist terrorism, and declared an all-out war on it within Pakistan. It has lifted a six-year moratorium on the death sentence with the specific purpose of putting terrorists it held in its jails  to death.

Around  500 terrorists are likely to be executed in the next few weeks. It is also revising its criminal code to award harsh punishment to terrorists, and is setting up special military courts  for their  speedy trial.

This is part of a comprehensive strategy that is designed to cut off all the insurgents’ sources of income including donations to charities under whose rubric they received their funds. The government also intends to enact a ban on religious persecution and punish the abuse of the internet for  the glorification of terrorism and  organizations sponsoring it.

 

The trigger was undoubtedly the killing of 133 children  in a Peshawar school, but the demand to lift the moratorium had in fact been made by the army chief Gen Raheel Sharif,  before this barbaric attack. Thus although it has done so for its own reasons, Pakistan is on the point of meeting Mr Modi’s demand that it should stamp out  terrorism within its own country  in order to build lasting good relations with India.

In the coming two years Pakistan will need all the help—military and economic– it can get. India could provide some of it indirectly by enabling it to move its troops from the Indian to the Afghan border. This would go a long way towards healing the scars of Partition. But even if does not, India will still be much better off with a stable Pakistan that is no longer hosting  terrorists, than it is today.

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Contrary to a widely held belief in India, peace on the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has always been relative. In 2011, when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, there were 61 incidents of firing from the two sides of the border. There was a similar number in the first ten months of 2012. But the exchanges of fire in October this year have been qualitatively different. Not only have these seen the heaviest bombardments that villagers can remember, but most of it has been by India. In a single day, October 9, Indian forces fired more than 1,000 mortar shells into Pakistani Kashmir. This was preceded by a week of heavy firing from both sides that, by Indian estimates, has killed 35 civilians in POK and 20 in J&K, and forced thousands to flee from their homes.

It has been different for three reasons: first, although it too may have started as a local exchange of fire in August, unlike the myriad exchanges of yesteryear it has not been allowed to remain local. Instead, in a manner disturbingly similar to the way the 150 year-old local dispute over the Babri masjid in Faizabad was politicized by the BJP in the 1980s, the Modi government has chosen to read a new aggressiveness in Nawaz Sharif’s government, born out of a change of policy towards India. Second, instead of relying on diplomacy to straighten things out, the Modi government has deliberately chosen coercion. Not only has India’s response to Pakistani firing been disproportionate, but the Modi government has not bothered to hide its desire to teach Pakistan a lesson. “The prime minister’s office has instructed us to ensure that Pakistan suffers deep and heavy losses”, a senior Indian Home Ministry official told Reuters.” The Modi government has decisively closed the doors to a return to diplomacy. Not only will it not talk to Pakistan till it stops provoking India through its violations of the LoC, but it will not do so till Pakistan acknowledges that Kashmir is “an integral part of India”. Third: unlike the UPA and Vajpayee governments, Mr. Modi has not hesitated to make domestic political capital out of an aggressive response to Pakistan. At a pre-election political rally in Mumbai on October 9, he proclaimed “it is the enemy that is screaming …. the enemy has realized that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” “The Enemy”; note the choice of phrase. An aggressive a response to Pakistan would be justified if there was no doubt that it had opened unprovoked fire on Indian border posts first. But we have only our own government’s word for this. Pakistan has stoutly denied opening fire first and Islamabad has lied far more often and habitually than New Delhi. But the Indian media have treated South Block’s press releases as gospel without once publishing a Pakistani refutation. Most policy analysts too have looked only for reasons why Pakistan has changed its policy towards India, without considering that the mote might be in India’s eye. The weak link in the government’s construct is the absence of motive. The Modi government ascribes its new-found aggressiveness to its frustration over failing to internationalise the Kashmir issue. But it does not take a dispassionate observer even five minutes to see that Pakistan has never had as strong a reason to let sleeping dogs lie in Kashmir as it does today. For, under a succession of military governments it has been sowing the wind in its international relations for five decades, and is now about to reap the whirlwind.

In the next few months Pakistan’s army-backed democratic, and moderately Islamic, state is going to face a convergence of challenges to which it has no answer. In Afghanistan, as the last American combat troops prepare to pull out, the Taliban have begun to show their power. Not only do they dominate the countryside in southern and western Afghanistan but they have moved into the north and all but captured the province of Kunduz. The Americans have armed the Afghan national army with modern weapons but left it with an air force that consists of two C-130 transport planes, 80 helicopters and a nascent drone reconnaissance capability. This is far from sufficient to give the ANA the close air support it will need to fight the Taliban. The ANA itself is subject to some of the same tribal and sectarian rifts that have made a joke of the Iraqi army. There is thus the real danger of desertions, collapse and the acquisition of modern American arms by the Taliban The future of the new Afghan government is therefore in considerable doubt. Had this been 2010 there would have been some reason to believe that Pakistan would welcome these developments, for at that time the former chief of the Pak army, Gen. Kayani, had harboured visions of controlling Afghanistan through the Taliban. But those days are far behind us. The Taliban are split; Mullah Omar’s influence has waned, and the link between Pakistan and the Haqqani Taliban has been eroded by incessant US drone attacks upon the latter. Finally, whatever Imran Khan may say, the Pakistan army harbours no illusion that a deal with the FATA-based TTP is possible. General Raheel Sharif is no friend of India, but knowing the bestial cruelty with which the TTP has treated captured Pakistani soldiers, he is adamant that it has to be fought and eradicated. To pursue this fight he has already shifted more than 150,000 soldiers, almost a third of his regular army, from the Indian border to FATA, and may have to shift more. He is also rapidly de-mechanising infantry divisions that had been mechanized only a few years ago in the belief that India was Pakistan’s main enemy. If the Taliban seize eastern Afghanistan the TTP will have an endless sanctuary from which to attack the Pakistan army. Pakistan therefore faces the prospect of a war without end. Worst of all, it will have to fight this war without resources, for the US has already indicated that its aid will be tapered off after it leaves Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, the only other country that has come to its financial aid in the past, has made it crystal clear that future aid will be conditional on its making peace with the TTP.

The difference between Dr Manmohan Singh’s UPA and Modi’s BJP is that Dr Singh foresaw Pakistan’s impending crisis and knew that it would create a unique opportunity for the two countries to bury the poisoned legacy of Partition and make a new start towards lasting peace and amity. Dr Singh also knew that the Pakistani State was too weak respond to its own crisis in a coherent manner and would need a lot of forbearance from India. But the BJP seized upon his forbearance and projected it as cowardice and weakness. Today it has made India a prisoner of its own hawkish past.

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