Understanding Transportation in Emerging Economies (CSIS)

On November 6, 2018, CSIS hosted a workshop on “Transportation in Emerging Economies.” The Chatham House Rule event convened representatives from government, international organizations, think tanks, academia, and private businesses. The group gathered to explore the economic, environmental, and social drivers of urban transportation and mobility in emerging economies. The focus was on the interplay between transportation and energy consumption and the potential to disrupt conventional modeling and planning with new, multi-modal transport policies and investments, new vehicle technologies, and changing business models. This workshop was part of CSIS’s ongoing work on energy and development. There were five main takeaways from that wide-ranging conversation.


Nikos Tsafos

Managing Global Food Insecurity (Chatham House)

Carmel Cahill talks to Gitika Bhardwaj about how conflict, economic crisis, climate change and trade disputes have the potential to disrupt the global food system.


Carmel Cahill
Former Deputy Director, Trade and Agriculture Directorate, OECD

A Double Bind for the World Trade Organization (CIGI)

In November 2018, the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed to investigate the legality of US tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The United States’ move to raise national security concerns as a justification for the tariffs will be at the centre of the examination.



Israel and Abbas: Security Cooperation + Terrorism (BESA Center)

At one and the same time, the PA indirectly encourages terrorism while pursuing extensive security cooperation with Israel to quell it. Israel accepts this contradictory framework and will probably continue to do so, even during the succession crisis that is likely to follow Abbas’s demise.


Is US Withdrawal Viable in Afghanistan? (BESA Center)

President Trump’s decision to withdraw half of all US troops in Afghanistan will likely be seen as a sign of weakness by the Taliban, who might subsequently feel less motivated to accept a ceasefire proposal. For Pakistan’s security establishment, Trump’s desperation to ensure a less ignominious exit from Afghanistan represents a chance to engage with Washington on its own terms.


2019, the year of aligning decisively (Gateway House)

The imperative for India to move away from its non-aligned posture is now, especially if it wants to be consequential in the global reordering underway. This will play out in the contention between the U.S. on one side, and China and Russia on the other.


US President’s “library” of lies can’t wash away India’s Afghan contribution (Observer Research Foundation)

In his latest press briefing, US President Donald Trump belittled India’s assistance to help build a library in Afghanistan. Media reports have already indicated that this assertion is inaccurate and reeks of Mr. Trump’s ignorance. For many in the Indian strategic community, the comment by President Trump comes as a shock, given the fact that India has contributed immensely and meaningfully in the developmental efforts for Afghanistan. President Trump, at least on this occasion, seems to have suffered aneurysm, as he had himself, while addressing his troops at Fort Myer in August 2017, appreciated India’s efforts in Afghanistan and stated that the US wants “India to help us more with Afghanistan in the area of economic assistance and development”. It needs to be realised by President Trump that India has always preferred to remain modest about its role.

However, it comes as no surprise that India’s contribution for nation-building in Afghanistan is perceived by President Trump as miniscule when compared to United States’ efforts, which has largely been confined to bombing towns and villages in the name of providing security. The US President seems to be towing the line of previous US administrations, which in the last 17 years, went overboard in safeguarding Pakistan’s sensitivities about Indian involvement in Afghan affairs. In his book titled Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016 , author Steve Coll narrates how just prior to the US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, the then Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf had strongly insisted on omitting India from the American security strategy. The Bush and Obama administrations readily honoured these commitments and ensured that India was kept at an arm’s length in the US’ Afghan strategy throughout their tenures.

These misplaced sensitivities of the United States towards India kept the latter from gaining a larger developmental footprint and an expanded mandate in the region. And look at the results today. After 17 years of maintaining its presence in Afghanistan, the ground situation for the United States and its allies hasn’t changed much. Violence in Afghanistan continues to increase, attacks in Kabul refuse to cease, Taliban has bounced back and is negotiating from a position of strength and the operational capabilities of Afghan National Army remains questionable. President Trump’s decision to pullout American troops at this juncture also hints of lack of prudence and sincerity. While the troop withdrawal decision seems like Mr. Trump simply pandering to his election promise, it also gives rise to numerous risks – which, besides opening up Afghanistan to Pakistan and the US’ strategic rivals Russia and China – also seems like the US conceding to Afghan Taliban’s demands, if not a full admission of defeat.

Therefore, at this critical phase of the Afghan conflict, it would make better sense for the US to recognise the salience of India’s non-military approach towards conflict resolution in Afghanistan. India has made the most of the limited space that was granted to it, and that too, in an extremely difficult environment. India focused on small developmental projects and community-development programmes covering wide-ranging sectors. With each development project, India has gained a foothold of credibility and goodwill in the minds of the Afghan people and strengthened the domestic dispensation in the war-ravaged country. The strength of India’s developmental initiatives in Afghanistan lies in their sustainability and grass-root penetration.

Perusal of Kallol Bhattacherjee’s book The Great Game in Afghanistan Rajiv Gandhi, General Zia and the Unending War presents an interesting phase in Indo-US relations, wherein the US leadership in the 1980s sought India’s assistance to discuss Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. It would also be interesting to recall an article by renowned journalist Shekhar Gupta, wherein he reveals how the then Prime Minister of India Narasimha Rao was so well-conversant with the intricacies and challenges of domestic affairs of Afghanistan. It is precisely this rich heritage of knowledge and experience, which India has, that a succession of American administrations have denied themselves.

But the Afghans know this aspect of India. And they appreciate the quiet and positive approach of India in their country. Which is why, the Afghan National Security Adviser is expected to hold talks on security issues with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval this week. Instead of ranting about India’s contribution to the cause in Afghanistan, it would perhaps be wise for the US administration to pressurise Islamabad to open a channel of communication with New Delhi and adopt a more realistic approach towards Afghanistan. It is baffling to see how Pakistan recently dispatched Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on a four-nation tour that included Afghanistan, China, Iran and Russia. In fact, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is visiting Turkey wherein Afghanistan would figure as an important agenda of discussion. It is disappointing to see how the Pakistanis are ready to talk to regional and extra-regional powers, but have denied themselves the opportunity of talking to India on any resolution to the Afghan problem.

Bottom-line remains that India is critical for any evolving security architecture in Afghanistan post the American withdrawal. It would perhaps serve President Trump well to facilitate a greater role for India than ridiculing its efforts.


Blowing hot and cold: PM is right, it will take time for Pakistan to change (Observer Research Foundation)

Despite the criticism that it was more of a monologue, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent interview provided important insights into the man and his policies. Nowhere did they appear more problematic than when he spoke about Pakistan.

In response to a question as to why cross-border terrorism had not stopped despite the so-called surgical strikes two years ago, he declared that it would “take more time for Pakistan to mend its ways”. He attacked those criticising the surgical strikes for speaking “the language of Pakistan”, said that terrorism and dialogue could not go together, and claimed that India had “managed to isolate Pakistan on the global arena”.

Coming from a politician about to go into an election some of this was understandable, but coming from the PM who should have led a coherent policy towards a country which is arguably the biggest foreign policy challenge to India, it was disappointing.

In 2014 and 2015, Modi’s approach to Pakistan veered from warm embraces to sudden put-downs. The next two years, 2016 and 2017, saw hot exchanges: cross-border attacks, surgical strikes, loud campaign to push for a comprehensive convention on international terrorism (CCIT) and “isolate” Pakistan.

None of this worked, so in 2018, things cooled down, New Delhi sought to curb cross-border violence and agreed to implement the 2003 ceasefire accord. There was another edition of the farcical process when India agreed to a dialogue and then called it off. Later in the year, India and Pakistan agreed to create a corridor from India to Gurdwara Darbar Saheb, where Guru Nanak lived for the last 18 years of his life, in what is now Pakistan. On Thursday, Modi claimed ownership for the initiative which, we all know, has had a somewhat more jaded history.

Just how policies did not work out is best brought out by the surgical strikes. They were meant to deter cross-border attacks. But they did not. Just two months after, there was a far more serious attack in Nagrota, the headquarters of 16 Corps. India did not react. Neither was there any response to a Jaish attack on Sunjuwan camp near Jammu in 2018. As for Pakistani BAT attacks, they have been going on constantly, the most recent being the failed one of December 30. After publicising and hyping the surgical strikes, India needed to respond to every attack, if it wanted to reinforce deterrence.

For the record, whatever the PM may say now, it was his party that has politicised the action, first by disclosing it, then by using it in the UP elections, and confirmed this by celebrating what is a relatively minor military action as a ‘Surgical Strike Day’ across universities and educational institutions.

The consequences of the failure of the Pakistan policy are many. There are opportunity costs to be paid for the constant tension on our western borders and for our failure to integrate South Asia into a single economic area. As of now, New Delhi appears to have no intelligible policy response to the current developments in Afghanistan. The Sino-Pak axis continues to gather strength, now expanding outwards in the Arabian Sea.

Sure, as the PM says, Pakistan is not going to change overnight because of war or some surgical strike. Change can only come through a careful and consistent combination of policies that encourage good behaviour and penalise the bad. It also requires patient diplomacy involving third parties – China, Saudi Arabia, the US or Russia. But most of all it needs an understanding that change has to come from within Pakistan itself. You cannot shift the behaviour of a country which you demonise for domestic political purposes.

Managing Pakistan effectively is a pre-condition for India’s putative rise. Modi is not wrong when he says it will take time for Pakistan to change. But smart policy would make that time shorter, rather than doing things that is stretching it, unconscionably, far into the future.

This commentary originally appeared in The Times of India