Prem Shankar Jha

Shujaat Bukhari’s killing was the most cold-blooded and meticulously planned assassination in recent years and was, beyond a shadow of doubt, instigated by Pakistan’s ISI.

Modi's Kashmir Policy Is Playing Right Into the Hands of Pakistan's ISI

Photo edit: The Wire

Since the fateful evening when I heard that Shujaat Bukhari, my friend and colleague for the past 26 years, had been assassinated in Srinagar while going home to break his Ramzan fast with his family, I have often wondered who his assassins could have been, and what could have been going through their minds as they sat on their motorcycle waiting for him to emerge from his office. Were they simply semi-educated youth with no future in civilian life, brainwashed into believing that Shujaat was a traitor to Kashmir who was taking money from the state and Central governments to undermine the fight for freedom? Or were they mercenaries who were lining their pockets and soothing their consciences by pretending that they were doing Allah’s work?

Till today, more than a month after his death, there is no answer. Speculation still is rife. The majority view is that Shujaat’s murder was the outcome of the radicalisation and Islamisation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unleashed upon the Valley. Writing in Firstpost, Khalid Shah concluded that “the situation in the state has slipped from contemporary timelines and is back to the 1990s now”. In the Washington Post, Barkha Dutt echoed this: “Kashmir is sliding into a black hole of possibly no return.”

But Shujaat’s assassination was not a by-product of the tidal wave of anger created by the Modi government’s relentless use of brute force to crush Kashmiri separatism. It was the most cold-blooded and meticulously planned assassination in recent years, on par with those of Mirwaiz Maulvi Farouq in 1990 and Abdul Ghani Lone in 2002.

And it was, beyond a shadow of doubt, instigated by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Four video cameras caught the assassins riding on their motorbike before and after the assassination. But not one caught them loitering for 45 minutes as they waited for Shujaat to emerge from his office because they had chosen the only ten-metre stretch of road that was not covered by any of the CCTV cameras scanning this high security area. Only inside information, possibly from within the police, could have made them choose that precise spot.

Since 1990, 19 journalists have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir, including Bukhari. Credit: Twitter

Weapon of choice

For the ISI, assassination has been a weapon of choice not only in Kashmir, but much more so in Pakistan itself. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, nearly 10,000 people have gone missing in the country since 2001, with nearly 3,000 still unaccounted for. In 2016 alone, there were 728 disappearances.

Journalists have figured prominently on the ISI’s hit list, two of the most celebrated being Hamid Mir, the host of Geo TV’s ‘Capital Talk’, and Shahzad Saleem, the former bureau chief of Asia Times (online). Mir miraculously survived six bullets in his stomach because, knowing that an ISI car was following him, he drove straight to a hospital to seek shelter there, and was shot at its doorstep. Saleem was tortured and killed ten days after the publication of his book detailing links between the ISI, various rogue officers of the Pakistan army and terrorist organisations like the Tehrik-e-Taliban-i-Pakistan (TTP). In the same year, 12 other Pakistani journalists met a similar fate, though perhaps not all at the hands of the ISI.

In Kashmir, the ISI has a 28-year record of killing any leader who has shown willingness to negotiate peace with the Indian government. The list of its victims begins with Mirwaiz Maulvi Farouq, the father of Mirwaiz Umar Farouq, on May 21, 1990, and the elimination of all the six other Kashmiri leaders with whom George Fernandes had held secret talks in the first few months of that year. It stretches through Qazi Nissar, the leader of the Muslim United Front, in 1993; professor Abdul Ghani Butt’s brother in 1996; Abdul Majid Dar, the area commander of the Lashkar-e-Tayabba, who declared a unilateral ceasefire, in July 2,000; Abdul Ghani Lone, who had decided to take the Hurriyat into the 2002 elections, on May 21, 2002; Mir Mushtaq, the uncle of Mirwaiz Umar Farouq, in 2006; and the failed assassination of Fazal Qureshi, the senior most member of the Hurriyat (M)’s executive council in 2007 only weeks after he formally announced its acceptance of the Manmohan Singh-Pervez Musharraf four-point formula for settling the Kashmir dispute.

ISI’s ambition to wrest Kashmir from India had dwindled during the years of peace and reconciliation that had followed Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s historic 2004 meeting with Musharraf. They dwindled further when, in 2012, the Pakistan army command officially revised its threat perception and stated that this lay mainly to its west and not its east .

Its ambitions were revived when the surreptitious hanging of Afzal Guru by Delhi in February 2013 caused a spike in the number of young men joining the armed militancy, just as the hanging of Maqbool Butt had done in 1986.

But it was Modi’s policies, of humiliating the Hurriyat, spurning Nawaz Sharif’s overtures for peace, destroying the Peoples Democratic Party by entering into an alliance with it that it had no intention of respecting, ignoring and trivialising the remaining mainstream parties in the Valley, putting ever moderate nationalist leader in Kashmir – from Mirwaiz Umar Farouq, Yasin Malik and Ali Shah Geelani, to Shabbir Shah, Naeem Khan and Shahid-ul-slam – into jail or under house arrest, and adopting a “ten for one” policy of retaliation for firing across the Line of Control that claimed the better part of 832 civilian lives in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that sent the ISI and the Pakistan army onto a full offensive in Kashmir. 

The ISI concluded that its chance had finally come when his government began to gun down Kashmiri youth, branding them all as “terrorists”, often without giving them a chance to surrender and then boasting about its ‘kills’ to the national press. This had the opposite of the desired effect because from a mere 16 in 2013, the number of young men who joined the militancy in south Kashmir rose to 126 in 2017. More disturbing still, data collected by the Kashmir police showed that most of new recruits are coming from the villages where “encounters” had taken place, and that the maximum recruitment was taking place after the funerals of slain ‘terrorists’.

Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel take positions during an encounter with the militants at Nowhatta in Srinagar.
Credit: PTI

From the ISI’s point of view, therefore, the Modi government was a gift from heaven. The very last thing it wanted was for anything to impede India’s accelerating descent into self-destruction in Kashmir. Asad Durrani, a former director general of the ISI and convinced “peacenik”, summed this up at a recent book launch in Delhi. When asked what the ISI would do next, he said, “Nothing. You have done everything it wanted.”

The one obstacle that remained was the ordinary Kashmiris’ aversion to Pakistan and the overwhelming desire for peace. A Chatham House survey carried out as recently as in 2009 had shown that even in the four most estranged districts of Kashmir valley, only 2.5 to 7.5% of the respondents had said that they wished to be a part of Pakistan. This was changing thanks to Modi, but the last thing the ISI wanted was the sudden emergence of a civil society movement in Kashmir that would give a voice and direction to this inchoate desire for peace.

That emergence took place in 2015 and Shujaat was one of its principal architects. That year, he and Ershad Masood, an academic and journalist based in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, set up a Kashmir Initiative Group, whose stated purpose was to take the now stalled dialogue on peace to civil society. The group started working in a small way by organising a tour of PoK by ten journalists from Jammu and Kashmir, and held meetings in the two parts of Kashmir. It gained strength when it obtained the financial backing of Conciliation Resources, an international NGO with impeccable credentials.

The group’s work gained importance, however, when even after Burhan Wani’s death had shut down the Valley for four months, Delhi refused to change its one track policy of repression by even a jot. But it became a threat to the ISI’s plans only after it organised a large conference in Dubai on July 31 last year. The two-day meeting was attended by 28 people belonging to political parties in both parts of Kashmir and national parties in India and Pakistan, including the BJP, and a number of eminent observers who included two former director generals of the ISI – Durrani and Ehsan-ul Haq – and Air Vice-Marshal Kapil Kak.

The Dubai meeting turned out to be a roaring success. Despite disagreements on many issues, the conference arrived at a strong consensus on several key points. These were: the need for both the Indian and Pakistani governments to make human security their paramount concern and therefore declare an immediate and complete ceasefire on the LoC and take strong measures against extremism in all its forms in both parts of Kashmir; to encourage their respective governments to re-engage in a political dialogue, in consultation with Kashmiri groups; and for these groups to keep talking to each other despite their differences, to explore creative proposals that did not involve an immediate shift in their stated positions. Lastly, the conference was unanimous that civil society in Kashmir, as well as in India and Pakistan, had an important role to play in creating an atmosphere conducive to dialogue.

Had this conference taken place during former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s rule, both governments might have welcomed the initiative. But in August 2017, the quality and eminence of the participants, and the sheer breadth of consensus, came as a rude shock to the Pakistan army and the ISI because it threatened not only to derail its plans in Kashmir but perhaps more importantly its use of the threat from Modi’s India to restore a creeping military rule within Pakistan.

The attempt to do so began with the leaking of an open quarrel at a national security meeting in October 2016 between Nawaz Sharif and key members of his cabinet and the army chief, over the latter’s refusal to reign in the Lashkar-e-Tayabba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the Haqqani network, to Pakistan’s premier newspaper Dawn. Since then, with the help of a quiescent judiciary, the army has succeeded in ousting, charging and now jailing Nawaz Sharif and members of his family, placing an exit ban on the journalist who wrote the story for Dawn, and now placing a similar ban on General Asad Durrani for having taken part in the book launch in Delhi. Modi’s continuing his policy of killing Kashmiri militants has therefore become a necessity for the Pakistan army’s continued seizure of power in the country.

This is what turned the Kashmir Initiative Group into a target for the ISI. Shujaat Bukhari had always been an outspoken champion of peace. His entire career in journalism had been built on the conviction that negotiations based upon misconceptions were doomed to fail. Only truth and honesty in reporting what was happening on the ground could create the essential bedrock upon which the edifice of peace could be constructed. When the Modi government abruptly closed all doors to dialogue with Hurriyat in Kashmir, by force of circumstance, he and his newspaper became the ISI’s targets.

Shujaat Bukhari, editor of the Rising Kashmir, was laid to rest on Friday at his ancestral village,
Kreeri, near Baramulla. Credit: Rising Kashmir

The ISI might even then have done nothing if it had believed that Modi would return to power in 2019. But the growing unity of the opposition, the succession of bye-election defeats suffered by the BJP, and the coming together of the Congress and JD(s) in Karnataka have made its return less and less likely. This may have been the final straw that made it take the decision to crush any possible revival of dialogue in Kashmir, by killing its current principal icon of peace.

Shujaat is not, however, the only ‘peacenik’ that the ISI might attack in coming months. In the months after the Dubai conference, two Kashmiris who head NGOs that had not been invited to the conference – Nazir Gilani and Athar Masood Wani, a former adviser to the prime minister of PoK – condemned the conference as a “sell out” for not insisting on the right to self-determination on the basis of UN resolutions. Pakistan based Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin also described the participants in the conference as being on the payroll of India. In Pakistan, the attack upon it became so shrill that one paper headlined it as “Kashmir Blood Was Sold in the Air Conditioned Halls of Dubai”.

In Srinagar, this theme was picked up by the Kashmir Reader, and Hurriyat (Gilani) general secretary general Ghulam Nabi Sumji, but later rejected by Gilani. Shujaat began to receive warnings that he and two other participants in the conference were on the hit list of the ISI.

The campaign ended abruptly in October after Ershad Masood and a colleague met Salahuddin in Islamabad. Salahuddin denied playing any part in the campaign against the conference, said that he had initially been misinformed about its proceedings, and assured Masood that he was not so mean as to order the killing of a journalist.

However it revived again, abruptly in April, two months before his assassination, with virulent attacks on the participants in the conference and specific threats to the lives of Shujaat and two or three others who attended it. Shujaat took these threats very seriously, went to the Kashmir police and gave them the names of the principal attackers. For the record, they were Nazir Gilani in London, Sheikh Tajamul Islam, Abdullah Geelani, Raees Mir, Aslam Mir, and Athar Masood Wani in Islamabad and Muzaffarabad, and Iftikhar Rajput in Brussels.

It is difficult not to link this revival of threats to the declining fortune of the BJP in India. Suffice it so say that Shujaat took the attack on the internet very seriously and lived in fear of his life. Two days before he was killed he had confided to a friend in his office, “I have young children, I don’t want to die”.

Hours after Shujaat died, one of his young reporters told me in a voice choked with grief, “Sir, we have lost everything, everything!”

But he and his colleagues had not lost everything. On the contrary, they had kept the one thing Shujaat had given them – raw courage. So, after accompanying Shujaat’s body to the hospital and giving their accounts to the police, his staff came back to the office not only to bring out the paper, but fill the front page with his picture and words that will be graven on every Kashmiri heart: “We won’t be cowed down by the cowards who snatched you from us. We will uphold your principle of telling the truth howsoever unpleasant it may be…” And in a magnificent act of defiance, they carried links on the editorial page to every recent article Shujaat had written.

The message they sent was unambiguous: terrorists, and their puppet masters, could kill a man but not the ideals he embodied. The next day, between 60,000 and 200,000 mourners who attended his funeral at Kreeri, his home village 23 km from Srinagar, drove the same message home to their fellow Kashmiris, to Pakistan, and the world. Burhan Wani and Sabzar Bhatt were not the only people who could make lakhs of Kashmiris grieve for them. Those who fought and gave their lives for peace, for a future in which ordinary Kashmiris could plan and dream without fear, could do so too.

https://thewire.in/security/shujaat-bukhari-assasination-modi-kashmir-policy-pakistan-isi

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Missiles were rained on Syria by the US, UK and France without any credible reason and with no international sanction.

After the Bombings in Syria, the West Is Drifting Towards a Big War

A boy sits on a chair along a damaged street at the city of Douma in Damascus, Syria April 16, 2018. Credit: Reuters/Ali Hashisho

In an article published in The Wire on April 9, I had expressed deep foreboding that, with the American century in its twilight years, the danger of war being used by weak, confused Western leaders as a distraction from the terminal decline of their global hegemony had grown exponentially.

Hours after it was published, the US and UK accused the Bashar al-Assad government of launching a gas attack on the last rebel stronghold in Ghouta, the once verdant but now heavily populated oasis that adjoins Damascus. Four days later, the US, UK and France fired 105 Tomahawk missiles into Syria from ships scores of miles offshore. This attack reflects, in microcosm, every facet of the breakdown of order and reversion to a barbaric, ‘State of Nature’, that is dragging the world ever closer to War.

Their justification for the attack reeked of moral self-righteousness: Theresa May claimed it was necessary “to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons… We cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons.”

Emmanuel Macron of France said: “The facts and the responsibility of the Syrian regime are beyond doubt. The red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed. We cannot tolerate the trivialisation of the use of chemical weapons, which is an immediate danger for the Syrian people and for our collective security.”

Trump knew within minutes of the attack that ‘Animal Assad’ was responsible, so he warned that “missiles are coming”.

Their self-satisfaction after the attack was equally odious: It was a ‘precision’ attack. It was 100% successful. Three known Syrian chemical weapons production sites were destroyed. There had been no civilian casualties. Syria had been taught a lesson. The West had upheld international law.

These is something obscene about this haste to condemn; to affirm the right to bomb and kill without provocation, without conclusive proof of wrongdoing, and without any prior sanction from a quasi-juridical body like the UN Security Council or General Assembly. It shows a contemptuous disregard not only for the international law enshrined in charter of the United Nations which the US itself largely drew up, but a disdain for the moral principles upon which civilisation itself is founded.

While the Syrian army was an obvious first choice in any search for culprits because it was in the process of cleaning out the last remaining rebel stronghold in Ghouta, Russia, which has a Reconciliation Team on the ground that has been supervising the evacuation of civilians from Ghouta through three humanitarian corridors, has not only dismissed the accusations as ludicrous, but claims it has evidence that it was a false flag operation actually instigated by the British.

It was, therefore, all the more essential to wait for a detailed examination of the site of the alleged attack by experts. A team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had already arrived in Damascus and was scheduled to hold its first meeting with the vice-foreign minister Feisal Mekdad, on Sunday, April 15. So what was the urgency that made the three countries decide to fire 105 Tomahawk missiles into Syria the previous night?

There is one possible answer: the strong likelihood that the OPCW might not endorse the conclusion that there had been a gas attack, or that the Syrian army had made it. This, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, had happened once before already: Two days before Barack Obama was to launch a devastating missile attack backed by B-52 bombers on Syria in August 2013, the British Chemical and Biological Weapons Research Centre at Porton Down had informed Prime Minister David Cameron that the Sarin gas used in the August 21 attack could not possibly have come from the Syrian army. In Hersh’s words “analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal”. This was the reason why Cameron decided at the last minute to refer his decision to the parliament, and Obama called off the strike a few hours later.

France, UK and the US fired 105 Tomahawk missiles into Syria last week. Credit: Reuters

Macron is still a relative newcomer to the twisted power game going on in the Middle East, but the need to avoid another Iraq-sized blunder should have made at least the British and American governments pause and make doubly sure that they were doing the right thing. The fact that neither government chose to remember Iraq shows that the attack wasn’t about punishing Syria at all.

This assessment, which is widely shared in the US and been expressed with withering elegance by Jeremy Corbin, the leader of the Labour party in the UK, explains two other anomalous features of the assault: First, if Syria had chemical weapons complexes and supply depots operational in 2018, how did the OPCW certify in 2016 that Syria had destroyed all of its chemical weapons and its manufacturing facilities?

If its experts were not fooled, (or bribed) how had Syria, which has fought, and been bankrupted by, the most vicious and brutal war in recent history, managed to rebuild even a rudimentary chemical weapons capability in just two years? Could it be that Russia has given them the plants/laboratories? Or China? or Iran?

Sensing this absurdity, a source in the US government has pointed the finger of suspicion at that other member of the Axis Of Evil, North Korea, by leaking a so far confidential UN report on it’s violation of UN sanctions to the New York Times. This report detailed a brisk trade that North Korea was doing in chemical plant equipment with Syria. It reported that there had been 40 shipments to Syria of acid resistant tiles, valves, thermometers, and other equipment that could be used to manufacture chemical weapons.

But as one American commentator pointed out in an article in the paper’s online edition (now deleted), these are used in many other chemical industries. In fact, a similar finding of dual use capability had briefly blocked even the import of lead pencils by Iraq in the nineties on the grounds that the graphite in them could be extracted and used to manufacture the heat shields of missile cones!

There could, in fact, be a more innocent explanation for these purchases: By 2012 (when I visited Syria) rebel attacks targeting Syria’s chemicals industry had almost wiped it out. The principal target had been its pharmaceutical sector, possibly because the same equipment could also be used to produce chemical weapons. As a result, the shortage of life-saving medicines had become so acute that WHO had launched a world-wide appeal for funds to supply Syria with these medicines. But so complete was the demonisation of the Assad regime by then that it was able to raise only $60 million.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Credit: Reuters

The Syrians could not have forgotten this. So it would have been surprising indeed if rebuilding the pharmaceuticals industry had not been one of the first tasks the government undertook after regaining control of central Syria.

The second anomaly is even harder to explain. In the reams of reporting and opinion-making not one commentator has raised the question of motive? In murder trials, the absence of motive is the single greatest obstacle to proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Why then has no one asked what Assad could possibly have hoped to gain from launching a single chemical bomb or rocket at an already beleaguered remnant of a rebel force in the last stronghold it still held in Ghouta?

By the end of March, Assad had regained control of all but one last rebel stronghold in Ghouta. A tally kept by the Syrian Red cross (Red Crescent) and the Russian Reconciliation Centre showed that 1,166,644 civilians, well over half of its population, had left Ghouta through the three humanitarian corridors created by Syria before the gas attack. These included thousands of rebels, their families and sympathisers. What need was there for him to risk all by using one lone chemical warhead now?

Precisely this accusation had brought him within a hairsbreadth of annihilation in August 2013. What is more, a single chemical bomb allegedly dropped by a Syrian air force fighter plane upon Khan Shaykhun, in April 2017, had brought 59 Tomahawk missiles down on his airbase in Lattakia. So Assad would have had to be a half-witted idiot not to know what would happen if he did it again. Needless to say, he is not a half-wit. But nor are the rebels, for whom this was the fourth attempt to drag the West into overt war against the Assad regime

Writing in the Washington Post a few days before the attack Carrie A. Welch gave one succinct explanation for the US-EU attack:

“The real reason for the attack threats is probably this: Midterms (elections to the Congress and the Senate in the US) are approaching, the Russia investigation ( of tampering in the US elections to put Trump in power) is escalating and former FBI director James B. Comey’s book is being released.

Research shows that diversionary wars — wars started to distract the public from domestic unrest — are hard to start in democracies and rarely have the intended effect. Military operations in an already existing conflict are much easier to manipulate — and are not as risky as starting a war.

My research finds that, during periods of political fragility, U.S. presidents systematically manipulate the timing and tempo of military operations. That’s true most often in the lead-up to elections, when public opinion quite literally determines the fate of a president. However, presidents also manipulate military operations when they need support from their domestic political base — for example, during negotiations over major pieces of legislation, bids for legacy, midterms or while threatened with impeachment.”

Since the attack was limited, no civilians were apparently killed, and no Russian and Iranian personnel killed or assets destroyed, there have been no repercussions. But Russia has warned the US and its NATO allies that if any of its assets in Syria are attacked, it will not only destroy the missiles in the air but also their launch platforms. That means the US naval task force in the Mediterranean. For the next eight months therefore, and possibly for the two years after that as well, the world will continue to teeter on the edge of a world war.

https://thewire.in/world/syria-airstrike-us-uk-france-war

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Bolton’s appointment has come when the US is trying to come to terms with the unsustainability of its three-quarter century hegemony over the modern world.

 

John Bolton's Appointment Signals the End of the American Century

In his 14 months at the White House, Donald Trump has administered several shocks to the American public. But none has been as severe as his appointment of John R. Bolton as the national security advisor. Bolton is known as one of the most radically hawkish voices in American foreign policy. He was a member of the American Enterprise Institute group that coached George W. Bush on foreign policy before he was elected, and then pushed him into invading and destroying Iraq.

In recent years, he has urged that the US declare war on both North Korea and Iran. It is no surprise then that Wendy Sherman has described him as a man who “has never met a war he didn’t want”. 

President Trump has hired and fired 60 people from top jobs in his administration in the past 14 months, so placing bets on Bolton’s longevity could be risky. But the appointment of such a man to a post that, more than any other in the US government, determines whether the country gets embroiled in another war or not, could not have come at a worse time for it has come when the US is trying to come to terms with the unsustainability of its three-quarter century hegemony over the modern world, and does not know which way to turn. It is at such moments that the possibility of a military conflict, i.e. a war, reaches a peak.

Hegemony must not be confused with dominance. The latter can be achieved through the exercise of military power alone. Hegemony, by contrast, is control, exercised without, or at best with a minimal, use of force. Subordinate countries then follow the hegemon’s lead because its restraint convinces them that it will use force wisely, and only as a last resort.

The US enjoyed this hegemony when it was being openly confronted by the Soviet Union but, paradoxically, began to lose it within months of the USSR’s collapse at a time when, in President Clinton’s words, Americans did not have “a single over-riding threat to their sovereignty”. The decline began, almost unnoticed, in 1994 when Clinton declared that the US no longer felt itself bound by the UN Security Council’s resolutions on Iraq and would not permit the lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq so long as  Saddam Hussein remained in power. This was the beginning of its destruction of the United Nations and its attempt to replace the Westphalian international order enshrined in its Charter, with one that was fashioned by it in its own image.

Since then, the covert or overt use of force to secure regime change has become the central tenet of American foreign policy. This was demonstrated by its unprovoked carpet-bombing of Iraq in 1998, its aerial invasion of Serbia to ‘liberate’ Kosovo 1999 and  the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Post US invasion, Iraq became a breeding ground for Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Credit: Reuters

For none of these actions did the US seek, let alone obtain, even a token nod from the UN Security Council. Its hegemony could  have survived if anything good had resulted from them. But Iraq has emerged as a frail, poor and unstable country riven with sectarian strife, and a breeding ground for al-Qaeda and ISIS. Kosovo is a trans-shipment centre for drugs destined from Afghanistan to Europe; and having had no compelling reason for declaring war on Iraq and Afghanistan, the US found itself unable to end them for years on end.

It, therefore, lost close to 7,000 soldiers, crippled another 60,000, traumatised a quarter of a million, spent trillions of dollars and ran up a national debt of nearly $20 trillion, while its infrastructure mouldered away and its cities began to resemble those of the Third World.

But none of this dented the huge sense of entitlement the US had inherited from its victory in the Cold War. Liberal interventionism therefore revived with a bang with the advent of the so-called Arab Spring. In 2011, Obama joined France and Britain in a disastrous destruction of Libya. In the same year he allowed Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to drag the US into an equally misguided attack on Syria.

As in the first round of military intervention, the UN Security Council was first misled and then excluded again from decision-making on war and peace. But the resemblance between these and the first round of American interventions ends there.

First, the US is no longer willing, or indeed able, to shoulder the burden of intervention alone. Instead, it created a more broad-based ‘transatlantic’ coalition to undertake its ‘humanitarian’ interventions. Its favoured instrument is NATO, which provides a sufficiently wide umbrella of consensus to sustain the illusion of multilateralism, but is flexible enough to allow every member to decide the level of its involvement. 

Second, responding to the profound aversion of the American public to the loss of American lives in places they cannot identify on a map, the Obama administration became determined not to send American troops into combat again. To avoid any further unnecessary entanglements, Obama placed an ever increasing reliance upon diplomacy to contain potential threats. Iran, Cuba and the containment of China were his major successes. But the benevolent impact of this upon public perception in smaller nations has been offset by the US’s increasing reliance on drones to wage its never-ending “war on terror”.

Machines have no feelings, so the target groups cannot negotiate with them, cannot surrender to them, cannot even fight them.  So drone warfare leaves no room for a hegemonistic relationship. Engaging in it is a tacit abandonment of the quest for  hegemony and a conscious decision to rule the world through terror alone. 

It is the final difference that has given the coup-de grace to the American Century. The US is now too broke to finance its interventions by itself, so it has begun to pass the hat around. Supposedly it does so only among its allies. But the main financiers with whom the CIA teamed up to arm the insurgents in Libya and Syria have been precisely the countries that had the most to gain from toppling the existing regimes in them – Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates of the Persian Gulf. This has turned the US into a new kind of mercenary  – a state that is available for hire.

No man, and therefore no state, can be both ruler and vassal at the same time. Therefore, when the US began to fight wars with other peoples’ money, the American Century became history. No one has taken a greater delight in rubbing this in than the US’s staunchest ally, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Netanyahu attacked Obama on American television in June 2014 for deciding to cooperate with Iran in halting the ISIS’s advance into Iraq, and went uninvited to the US and denounced the American president before the US Congress on American soil for crafting a nuclear agreement with Iran.  

Former US President Barack Obama (R) meets with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House
in Washington October 1, 20

The US’s loss of hegemony is only one part of the story. The other part is the West’s loss of moral hegemony in the post-Cold War years. The US and its allies have justified the assaults on Iraq, Libya and Syria by depicting their rulers as tyrants. Removing them would open the way for a transition to democracy. But what they chose to overlook was that the freedom to vote is not an end in itself, but only the means for securing other ends. These are the freedom to think, speak and write, freedom to worship and freedom from gender discrimination.

The states the West destroyed were modern states with high rates of  literacy and women’s participation in the workforce, striving to be secular and gender neutral. Their authoritarianism was designed not to prolong but to root out obscurantism, tribalism and religious extremism in their own countries.

By the yardstick of the ends democracy is intended to serve, the assaults on Iraq, Libya and Syria are morally indefensible for they have eliminated the very freedoms that they were supposed to bestow. It is not surprising therefore that the power vacuum their destruction has created has been filled not by democracy but by al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The sudden spate of terrorism and the rebirth of crude nationalism in the heart of Europe is a direct consequence. Brexit is its most flagrant example. But similar racist-nationalist impulses have sprung up in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Austria. A new wave of home-grown terrorism is sweeping across Europe. An unwanted  flood of immigrants, in large part caused by the wars unleashed by the West, has triggered a  resurgence of racist nationalism in Europe.

An unwanted  flood of immigrants, in large part caused by the wars unleashed by the
West, has triggered a  resurgence of racist nationalism in Europe. Credit: Reuters

As country after country has been convulsed by these challenges, people have begun to turn to strong leaders like Putin, Erdogan,  Xi Jinping, Duterte and Narendra Modi, to preserve the essential security without which their world will turn into a living hell. But the more authoritarian that a regime becomes, the greater is the insecurity its leaders feel. The stronger, therefore, becomes the temptation to focus the public’s attention on real or imagined external threats.

It is in such conditions that declining, but still dominant, regimes have sought a solution to their domestic problems, in small, manageable, wars. The Habsburg empire found itself in such a situation at the close of the nineteenth century, and the first decade of the 20th century. In 1914, it tried to tame its fractious minorities by invading Serbia, where an extreme nationalist group had succeeded in assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the Hapsburg throne. It ended by triggering its own complete destruction and the First World War.

Sixty-five years later, the  Soviet Union, which was similarly caught in a cycle of irresistible economic decline, sought to reinforce its hegemony over the Warsaw Pact countries through a limited military intervention in Afghanistan. It ended by getting enmeshed in a decade-long war it could not win, and brought about its own demise.

The US and Europe are facing a similar crisis today, and succumbing to a similar temptation to contain it by highlighting external threats. Russia, China, North Korea and Iran have been elected as the villains. Russia has to be punished for illegally wresting Crimea from Ukraine, for propping up the Assad regime in Syria, for intervening in the US elections to ensure the victory of Trump, and most recently for the attempted assassination of a former Russian agent, Sergei Skripal on British soil.

North Korea has to be punished for continually violating its obligations as a signatory of the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and daring to develop missiles that can carry nuclear warheads to the American mainland. China has to be punished for trying to extend its control over the South China Sea in violation of the 12-mile limit enshrined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.Iran has to be punished for just being Iran.

Economic sanctions have been imposed on Russia, and further strengthened on North Korea. Trump is threatening to resile from the nuclear treaty with Iran and not lift the UN sanctions that the US and EU are committed to removing. And he has imposed tariffs on imports, mainly aimed at China, that are on the brink of triggering a trade war.

A joint American, Japanese and, regrettably, Indian naval task force has steamed through the length and breadth of the South China Sea for months to enforce the freedom of militarynavigation outside the 12-mile limit.

Trump has threatened to obliterate North Korea and sent a submarine, followed by an American task force armed with thousands of Tomahawk missiles to underline his threat.

Britain’s shaky Prime Minister Theresa May has not only expelled scores of Russians from the UKin retaliation for the killing of Skripal (which she has a sovereign right to do) but invoked the treaty obligations imposed by NATO upon its members to persuade them to do the same.

It was a similar invocation of treaty obligations that made Russia back Serbia, Germany back Austria, and Britain and France back Russia and Serbia in 1914, and start a war that none of them wanted, but killed nearly 20 million people and ended monarchical rule in Europe. Russia’s warning to Britain, and by implication NATO, not to ‘play with fire’ is therefore a reminder not to repeat the mistakes of history.

It is into this maelstrom that Trump has dropped Bolton, a self-avowed apostle of war.

https://thewire.in/world/bolton-national-security-advisor-donald-trump

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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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Modi has turned India into a military and diplomatic ally of the US. In China’s eyes, this has transformed India from a like-minded country, that shared its opposition to the US’s attempt to create a unipolar world, into an adversary.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) guides Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to a meeting room in Xian, Shaanxi province, China, May 14, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Three years ago, on the eve of the BJP’s victory in the general elections, India had achieved a status, and a degree of security, in its international relations, that it had never known before. Its relationship with the US and the European union was strengthening daily on the back of deepening economic ties; strategic cooperation with China and Russia on a wide variety of issues under the aegis of BRICS had given it a voice in the shaping of the post-Cold War global order that it had not enjoyed before, and tension with Pakistan was at an all-time low. All this was the result of patient, brick by brick, fence mending over two decades by four governments representing the entire gamut of Indian political opinion, those of Narasimha Rao, Inder Kumar Gujral , Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. Today all of their work has been undone and the edifice of security they built lies in ruins. India is a country under serious threat and it has no one to turn to.

The threat has come from China, whose foreign ministry has warned India not to allow the Dalai Lama to proceed with a 10-day visit to the Tawang monastery that begins on April 4. On March 3 its foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, issued a formal warning to New Delhi: “China is gravely concerned over information that India has granted permission to the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh. …An invitation to him to visit the mentioned territory, would cause “serious damage to peace and stability of the border region and China–India relations. We have ….urged India to stick to its political commitments and abide by the important consensus the two sides have reached on the boundary question…. (and) not provide a platform to the Dalai clique and protect that sound and stable development of Sino-India relations”.

In diplomacy the words a country uses in its formal demarches are of the utmost importance, so what he said needs to be read with care. “Grave concern” is not an ultimatum, but it is half-way there. It is reinforced by the warning that his visit now would cause “serious damage to the peace and stability of the border region”. For “serious” we should read “irreparable”. The spokesman’s use of the phrase “Peace and stability of the border region” is also a veiled warning because it is the exact title of the 1993 agreement signed during Prime minister Narasimha Rao’s visit to China that has been the bedrock of Sino-Indian relations since then. In brief, China has warned New Delhi that if India insists on letting the Dalai Lama visit Tawang it will consider the 1993 agreement to have been violated by India.

But a close reading of the statement also shows that China is reluctant to go down this road. Its use of the phrase ‘information that India has granted’ was designed to leave a loophole open for Delhi to change its mind. This may have been no more than a token gesture, for Beijing knows fully well that prime minister Narendra Modi approved of the Dalai lama’s visit Tawang as far back as on October 27 last year. But the Chinese spokesman Geng Shuang’s reference to the disputed area as Arunachal Pradesh, and as “the mentioned territory”, carefully avoiding China’s pre 2009 nomenclature of “South Tibet”, and his reference to the “important consensus on the boundary question” is an indication that China would much prefer to limit its differences with India in the Himalayas confined to a border dispute and wishes to avoid allowing it to expand into an irreconcilable dispute over the whole of Arunachal’s 140,000 sq.km of territory.

One does not know how the Foreign Office would have responded been it been given the chance, but it was pre-empted by Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State in the Home ministry, who pre-empted any measured response that might have left a door to compromise open, when he declared, suo motu, that the Dalai Lama would not only visit Tawang, but that as an ardent yellow hat Buddhist, he would be there personally to receive him. This has left China with only two choices, to assert its claims or back down.

What will China do? Indian policy makers are inclined to believe that the current demarche is another pro-forma objection of the kind that China has made every time an Indian President or Prime minister visits Arunachal, or the Dalai Lama has met the prime minister or president, in order to keep the border issue open till a formal agreement is reached. And had this been 2009, they may well have been proved right.

On that occasion too, a request by the Dalai Lama in March, for permission to visit Tawang to open a hospital in November, had set off a flurry of objections by Beijing and assertions of sovereignty by New Delhi that rapidly escalated into a war of words and turned the Dalai Lama’s impending visit into an international test of sovereignty. Another war in the Himalayas had begun to look like a distinct possibility when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao took the unprecedented step of asking Dr. Manmohan Singh for a meeting at Hua Hin, on the sidelines of an APEC conference to sort the matter out.

The discussions between them revealed that the Chinese wanted India, above all, to let sleeping dogs lie. In their view the border dispute was a legacy of history, and would die a natural death when relations between the two countries deepened. At Hua Hin, therefore, the two sides settled resolved the conflict by keeping the international, and most of the Indian, media out of Tawang. This turned the Dalai Lama’s visit into a strictly private one, carried out in his religious capacity, and robbed it of political significance.

But the situation this time is so different that to argue from historical precedent could prove suicidal. For in the past 26 months Narendra Modi has abandoned the policy of equidistance and turned India into a military and diplomatic ally of the USA. In China’s eyes this has transformed India from a like-minded country that shared its opposition to the US’s attempt to create a unipolar world, into an adversary.

The turnaround, which took place only a week after President Xi Jinping’s state visit to India, was so sudden that it could not but have taken China by surprise. In retrospect it is apparent that it took place during his first visit to Washington, and was signaled by the abrupt replacement of Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh with S. Jayashankar. Whatever passed between him and Obama brought the latter post-haste to India in January 2015, ostensibly to be the chief guest at our Republic day parade, but in reality to sign a ‘U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region’ on January 25, whose only operative clause was designed to prevent the assertion of Chinese hegemony in the South China Sea.

This did not prevent the Chinese government from laying out a red carpet for Modi during his state visit to China in May 2015, but since then the relationship has soured as India has moved rapidly into America’s strategic embrace. In the past eight months the Modi government has signed all the three military cooperation agreements needed to make it an ally of the US; and issued a second joint statement with President Obama in June last year affirming India’s intention to draw up “a roadmap for implementing the joint strategic vision that “will serve as a guide for collaboration in the years to come”.

The Chinese have responded by ignoring India’s objections to China’s building of a transit corridor to Gwadar through Gilgit and warning Delhi against trying to prevent it; refusing to allow India to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group; refusing to allow the UN Security Council to brand Masood Azhar and Hafez Sayeed as international terrorists; increasing the frequency of their submarine incursions into the Bay of Bengal, and sending their most advanced 7,000-tonne nuclear submarine undetected through the straits of Malacca to surface deliberately in Karachi. By the time BRICS met in Goa last October, its Delhi declaration of 2012, which had laid the base for strategic cooperation between China, Russia, and India, had become a piece of waste paper.

Had matters rested there India and China might still have been able to maintain something akin to the frozen peace of the post 1962 years. But, beginning in April 2016, the central government had embarked upon a succession of actions in Arunachal Pradesh that China has found increasingly hard to ignore.

In 2016 the US Consul General in Calcutta did not only visit Itanagar but made a public statement from there that “the US considers Arunachal to be indisputably a part of India”. In the very next month the Modi government sent four Indian warships cruising through the South China Sea with a joint US-Japan task force for two-and-a-half months as its first concrete implementation of its joint strategic vision agreement with the US.

Delhi followed this up by inviting the US Ambassador to India, Richard Verma, to the Tawang festival in October. Verma celebrated this by tweeting a picture of himself, attended upon by the Assam Chief minister Sarbanand Sonowal, the Arunachal chief minister Pema Khandu, and Kiren Rijiju standing in front of the Tawang monastery, to the whole world. Six days later, the government gave permission to the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang early this year.

So far China has carefully avoided being provoked. It responded to the US CG’s visit by stating : “China and India are wise, and capable, enough to deal with their own issues and safeguard the fundamental and long-term interests of the two peoples. The intervention of any third party will only complicate the issue and is highly irresponsible.” When Indian ships joined the US-Japanese task force it again refrained from criticizing India directly and accused the US, instead, of following a ‘divide and rule’ colonial policy towards the two Asian giants.

Only after Verma’s visit to Tawang, did China warn India directly that the diplomat’s actions would damage the “hard-earned peace and tranquility of the China-India border region.” It also repeated its accusation that the US was deliberately enticing India into a confrontation with China, by reiterating thatAny responsible third party should respect efforts by China and India to seek peaceful and stable reconciliation, and not the opposite”. Last week it repeated this warning, but in words that come close to an ultimatum.

This is the first of a two part series on Indo-China relations by Prem Shankar Jha.

 

Modi’s Approach to Foreign Policy Has Disrupted India’s Ties With China

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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 picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter. Credit: PTI

File picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter. Credit: PTI

Modi government’s last minute decision to postpone the signature of a Logistics Supply Agreement with the US during the visit of US Defence secretary Ashton Carter to India last week is the most recent manifestation of the confusion that grips India’s foreign policy today .

The government has given no explanation for its sudden turnabout, so most analysts have concluded that it got cold feet because the agreement would have made India a party, even if passively, to all of the US’ future military operations in the region. This had aroused serious misgivings in the country and invited a vigorous attack by the Congress party.

But the fact that Defence minister Manohar Parrikar visited China only days after Carter’s visit to reassure Beijing that India would not let relations with ‘third countries’ affect its relations with China, suggests that it was a Chinese reminder that India could not run with the hare and hunt with the hounds indefinitely that may have provoked its second thoughts on signing the agreement.

It is doubtful whether the Chinese will be reassured though, for this is only the latest of a succession of about turns that Modi has made in the 22 months that he has been prime minister. In August 2014, he reversed a decade of steady improvement in relations with Pakistan by rejecting all the understandings that the UPA had reached with it and the Hurriyat over the future of Kashmir. Today, he is trying to rebuild those relations once again.

Six months ago, Modi reversed five decades of Indian support for Nepal’s evolution into a modern nation state by imposing, or at least doing nothing to prevent, an oil blockade of that landlocked state. Nepal’s riposte was to repudiate Indian bilateralism, formally welcome China into Nepal and join its One Belt One Road initiative.

But nothing is likely to prove more costly than its ambivalence towards China. Modi has spared no effort to deepen India’s relations with China. But he has simultaneously deepened India’s military cooperation with the US, Japan and Australia whose stated purpose is to contain China’s rise, militarily if necessary.

To Indian policy makers this may look like a clever balancing act but, coming on top of the UPA government’s gradual distancing of India from its old allies, such as Russia and secular nations in the Arab world, in favour of the US, the gulf sheikhdoms and Israel, it is giving the rest of the world the impression that India does not understand where its long term national interest lies, and is therefore a country that no one can rely upon.

China has already signaled its distrust of India’s moves by moving swiftly to Nepal’s aid, and blocking the designation of Masood Azhar as a terrorist by the UN. It seems also to have lost interest in getting India to join its One Belt, One Road initiative.

Two epic developments are responsible for these power shifts. The first is Globalization – the migration of manufacturing from the high wage economies of Europe and North America to Asia — that began in the 1970s. The second is the victory of the transatlantic alliance in the Cold war and breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Globalisation

Over four decades, gradual de-industrialisation has hollowed out the economic base of the West’s military power by shrinking its revenue base just when its social security expenditure has been pushed through the roof by longer life spans and rising unemployment.

In Asia the hectic industrial development triggered by globalisation has done the opposite. First Taiwan, then Singapore, Hongkong, South Korea and Malaysia , and finally and most spectacularly China, have run budget and foreign trade surpluses, and accumulated massive reserves of Capital that have become the base of huge economic power. China has been able to leverage these into growing military power and hegemonic influence.

Had the resulting power shift been gradual the world could have adjusted to it peacefully. But the economic weakening of the West virtually coincided with its victory in the Cold War. This created a sense of entitlement to the fruits of victory, that enabled the US to launch, or support, a succession of attacks on so called ‘rogue nations’, with scant regard for the UN charter or the sanction of the Security Council.

Goes back to Kosovo

Beginning with Kosovo in 1999, it has launched, or supported, a succession of assaults on nations that posed no threat to it or any of its allies–Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Yemen. Not one of these has created a democracy, protected human rights or promoted freedom. What they have done is to destroy the tenuous system of international law that upheld the Westphalian state system that the UN charter had underpinned.

American, and several Indian, analysts have made light of the destruction of the Westphalian state system. “The West’s victory in the cold war”, they say, “has created a unipolar world. We therefore need a new paradigm of international relations“.

This seemingly profound observation relies upon ignorance of history, to gain its spurious credibility. For the Westphalian system was created to put a check on precisely the propensity for conflict between nation states that has dragged the world into chaos today.

This propensity springs from fact that the modern European state was born in war and territorial conquest. Since the boundaries created by conquest did not coincide with ethnic fault lines they had to be continually defended. This was done by creating standing armies to defend them and erasing pre-existing ethnic loyalties to create a new loyalty to “the Nation”. The constant need for coercion to maintain it gave the nascent Nation-State System a built in propensity for war .

Like the League of Nations and the United Nations three centuries later, the Treaty of Westphalia, which was signed in 1648 after the ruinous Thirty Year War, was designed to prevent this from ever happening again. To this end the signatories agreed to respect each others’ sovereignty, not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs and to resort to war only as a weapon of last resort.

The Westphalian precepts were still taking root when the rise of industrial capitalism in the 18th century gave a fillip to the propensity for war by giving inter-State rivalry an economic dimension that it had lacked until then. Competitive industrialisation behind tariff barriers further hardened frontiers, and set off a race to colonize large parts of the world to ensure access to raw materials and create new markets for their products.

Despite this, peace was maintained for a hundred years after the Napoleonic wars by a tacit acceptance of British hegemony, backed by an international network of bankers who were perfectly willing to finance colonial expansion but demanded peace within Europe in return. Karl Polanyi collectively labelled them Haute Finance.

Unstable peace

But the peace these created was an unstable one. By the end of the 19th century Britain’s hegemony had begun to be challenged by Germany and the US. When the space for further expansion of nation-based capitalist systems was exhausted, competition boiled over again into not one but two world wars in a space of 31 years that claimed at least 70 million lives. Peace did not return till 1945 when hegemony within the capitalist system passed to the USA.

US hegemony was based upon the reputation it gained during the second world war as a defender of freedom , democracy and human rights, and cemented by its lead role in the framing of the UN Charter. But till 1991 its exercise of hegemony was constrained by the challenge of Communism and non-alignment. By the time these failed and the US was able to resume its quest for global hegemony, the Vietnam war and Globalization had sapped much of its economic strength.

Victory in the Cold War nevertheless re-awakened the US’ hegemonic ambitions just when, as Paul Wolfowitz noted in a Defence Policy Planning paper as early as 1987, the economic base needed to sustain them was shrinking. Wolfowitz’s solution, which soon became the mantra for both political parties in the US and was enshrined as a new security doctrine by President George W Bush in 2002, was to use military power pre-emptively to destroy potential rivals before they developed the capacity to challenge its supremacy.

This is the true genesis of the US’ cavalier disregard for the UN charter and its determination to build a hegemonic world order. What US policy makers, other than President Obama, have still not realized is that hegemony is not the same thing as military dominance, and the resort to the second inevitably destroys the first by making the lives of peoples and nations less and less secure.

A quarter century after the end of the Cold War, it is no longer possible to ignore the fact that the effort to re-establish western hegemony has created not a new world order but chaos. Both the Westphalian and the unipolar world order are history. What has survived is the mindset, of constant suspicion and barely restrained aggression that characterizes relations between nation-states. This mindset views any improvement in a neighbour’s capabilities as a potential threat to itself, and therefore reduces international relations to a zero sum game in which if you gain anything I must necessarily be losing something, even if I cannot identify what it is.

This is the mindset that must change if humanity is to survive and rebuild a peaceful, livable world. Today when the merest whiff of trouble makes foreign investors rush out of a country,  starting a war with, or intervening clandestinely to secure regime change in, another country is an act of suicide.

The first requirement therefore must be to banish unilateral war and return to negotiation as the way to settle disputes. As Iran’s foreign minister Husain Jawad Zarif reminded an invited audience in Delhi in January 2015, this will only happen when negotiators eschew win-lose outcomes and start exploring bottom lines to find compromise solutions that leave both parties better off than before.

In his speech to West Point graduates in 2014 and, more concretely, in his dogged determination to push the Iran-EU nuclear deal through, President Obama has shown that he wants the US to eschew Bush’s pre-emptive first strike security doctrine and to abandon the pursuit of a unipolar world order in favour of a multi-polar order. But his term is ending and, as of now, even Hilary Clinton has said nothing that suggests that she understands the need for a radical change of direction. Until that happens, India will do well to steer clear of a closer involvement with it or its allies in the Middle East.

What the world needs now is not a new paradigm of international relations, but a powerful reaffirmation of the Westphalian paradigm with modifications to make it meet the needs of a culturally integrated world.   So long as the West resists this, or tries only to broad-base its quest for uni-polarity by forming ‘coalitions of the willing’, it and its friends will remain on the wrong side of history.

Russia, Iran committed to multipolar world

By the same token today it is Russia, China and Iran that are on the right side of history, for it is they who are most committed to building a multipolar world. This is apparent from the popularity Russia and Iran have gained by going decisively to the assistance of Syria and Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State. For no fault of its own India found itself on the wrong side of history during the Cold War. It must not make the same mistake again.

But this does not mean that it should simply switch sides. The role that it is best fitted to play is that of a mediator that can moderate conflict and bring warring nations back to sanity. This is a leadership role of a different kind from what India aspires to today, but it is one that it is ideally situated to play. This is not only because it is vast, democratic and unthreatening even to its immediate neighbours, but because it is the only modern state that has not been built through conquest and ethnic homogenization, but through negotiation and accommodation of differences. It is therefore comfortable with compromise and does not have to overcome the zero-sum mentality embedded in European nation states by their history and circumstances of birth, before initiating the quest for peace.

Prem Shankar Jha is a senior journalist and the author of Twilight of the Nation state: Globalisation, Chaos and War, published in 2006.)

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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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