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.


Nuclear order in the twenty-first century (Observer Research Foundation)

By the mid-1990s when the term, ‘Second Nuclear Age’ started appearing in the writings of analysts, there was a dim realisation that new players would emerge on the nuclear scene. After 9/11, the threat perceptions on account of global terrorism grew, and they have remained a persisting concern. Yet, the international strategic community’s efforts have been focused largely on preserving the existing nuclear order rather than figuring out how it may need to evolve in the so-called Second Nuclear Age. It is clear that today, new semantics is needed—one that reflects the current political dynamics if the nuclear taboo that has existed since 1945 is to be sustained. This monograph addresses this challenge of furthering a discussion on evolving a new vocabulary and grammar for a 21st-century nuclear order. Our contributors include both practitioners who have been engaged in nuclear negotiations, and academics; in some cases, the author straddle both domains. Although the authors differ in terms of how much we can rely on old instruments and maps, there is broad agreement that we are navigating uncharted waters.

Ambassador Rakesh Sood is a Distinguished Fellow at ORF. He has over 38 years of experience in the field of foreign affairs, economic diplomacy and international security issues.

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

Will India’s Trump Fears Ease With the New US Asia Reassurance Initiative Act? (Observer Research Foundation)

On December 31, U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA), which promises to bring back fresh focus to American priorities in the Indo-Pacific. The Act assumes particular importance in the context of China’s expanding and aggressive footprint across Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania and the responses by the United States as well as its allies, partners, and friends in the region.

India for one has three specific areas of concern that it would want the United States to address. Within South Asia, there are two: India is worried about the prospect of American withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as about the inroads that China is making in India’s neighborhood. A third concern is more broadly the challenge that China poses to India, both militarily and politically. So, New Delhi is likely to judge this Act on how it will address these three challenges.

India will be happy to have been accorded special importance under the Act, which reiterates India’s significance in the U.S. strategy in the region. The Act notes India as a Major Defense Partner, a “unique” status for India, which would ease defense trade and sharing of technology, including “license-free access to a wide range of dual-use technologies” as well as promote greater coordination on security policies and strategies and increased military-to-military engagements. Of course, in practical terms, this doesn’t change very much. Nevertheless, the symbolic element is always important while dealing with New Delhi.

Of course, the congressional action comes immediately after Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Whether the congressional action will slow down or alter American withdrawal remains to be seen. Trump is reportedly considering changes to his approach to Syria, including slowing down a reduced presence. On the other hand, he also dismissed the Indian contribution to Afghanistan as nothing more than a library. Given India’s sensitivity to developments in Afghanistan, New Delhi will be very interested in whether the U.S. Congress can moderate Trump’s instinct to withdraw.

A second regional issue is China’s expansion in India’s neighborhood. China’s enormous wealth and its remarkable capacity for infrastructure building has made it an attractive partner for India’s neighbors, despite the threat of being sucked into a Chinese debt trap. Beyond this, the comfort of having an extraregional great power as a counter to the regional hegemon was probably an equally important factor. India’s limited capacity to provide an alternative has been an issue. The Act does talk about countering China’s coercive economic policies, but New Delhi would be interested in seeing whether this will provide any help to India’s neighbors in escaping China’s debt grasp.

A third issue is whether this Act will reassure India in its direct confrontation with China. Like other powers in Asia, India has also sought a more accommodative policy toward China over the last year. Change of leadership in the Indian foreign ministry was one factor, with Vijay Gokhale replacing S. Jaishankar in January 2018. Jaishankar was known to be an advocate of closer U.S.-India relations while Gokhale appears to be a much more traditional Indian Foreign Service officer who prefers equidistance from both the United States and China.

But more than personality factors were at play in India’s pursuit of closer ties with China. Though the Indian military stood fast in the 2017 Doklam crisis, the Indian military’s overall preparedness is rather poor. Indian military budgets are lower than they have been in decades and corruption scandals and bureaucratic incompetence have delayed necessary acquisitions. Another issue is domestic politics. India is set to hold national elections in 2019, and there are suspicions that the Modi government did not want to be diverted by a confrontation in the Himalayas.

Though these factors were important, underlying all these is a certain lack of confidence in America’s commitment to India and Asia. In that sense, this congressional action is potentially positive in providing greater reassurance, even though a lot will also depend on whether the Trump administration follows up on it or not.

India, like other American partners in Asia, has had concerns about Washington’s commitment to the region. This Act is not likely to remove those concerns. But to the extent that it endorses a consensus opinion within the U.S. Congress and also expresses the broad bipartisan consensus in Washington, it is likely to be welcomed in New Delhi.

This commentary originally appeared in The Diplomat.


Kashmir: Urgent need for revival of informal social control system (Observer Research Foundation)

The murder of a 10-year-old boy, Umar Farooq, on 19 July 2018 has sent shock waves across the Kashmir Valley. The boy went missing on 16 July when he was on his way to the neighbourhood market from his home in Gulgam village of Kupwara. On the third day after his disappearance, his mutilated body was found a short distance away from his home. According to the villagers, his body was found naked, partially burnt, his left arm missing. Police said the body was “putrefied”. People from all shades of life condemned the gruesome incident. A district-wide shutdown was observed as a mark of protest against the crime and police constituted a special investigation team to apprehend Farooq’s killers.

Global Nuclear Security: Moving Beyond the NSS (Observer Research Foundation)

There has been a renewed effort to strengthen old international rules and regimes on nuclear security as well as to establish new ones. The Netherlands and India share concerns on nuclear security, given the threats both countries have to contend with. The Netherlands hosted the Nuclear Security Summit in March 2014, and is currently the international coordinator for the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. India is planning to host a WMD Terrorism Summit before the end of 2018, a commitment the Indian Prime Minister made at the 4th Nuclear Security Summit (NSS).

China’s design to capture regional SatCom markets (Observer Research Foundation)

China is strategically capturing a major share of the international communications satellites market. This includes launching government satellites of developing countries in the Global South, such as Nigeria, Venezuela, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, some of whom have repeat orders in place. China has developed an ITAR-free (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) communications satellite bus known as Dong Fang Hong 4 (DFH-4) and uses its own launch vehicle Long March 3B (LM-3B) for executing these contracts. The China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) is China’s government entity authorised to negotiate and execute these contracts.

China’s design to capture regional SatCom markets