Friday, August 30, 2013

Will Maoists’ Anti-India Tirade Impact India-Nepal Ties?

Prof Hari Bansh Jha

Conflict does not end for all the time once it breaks up in a country. It happened so in Africa, Latin America, Asia and other parts of the world. Experience shows that conflict re-emerged in at least 40 per cent of the countries that at one or the other point of time were engulfed by conflict.Though unfortunate, certain ominous symptoms of another conflict have already appeared in Nepal that was triggered by violent conflict between 1996 and 2006 and in which more than 18,000 innocent people were killed and there was huge loss of property. What would happen to the Himalayan country and in its neighbourhood, particularly in India, if another violent conflict arises? Time has come to ponder over this.

The violent conflict in Nepal had started in 1996 after the then Prime Minister of Nepal Sher Bahadur Deuba failed to meet 40-point demands of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Like in 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) with its leader Mohan Baidya (alias Kiran) submitted 70-point demand to the leader of Unified Communist Party of Nepal –Maoist (UCPN-Maoist) and Prime Minister of Nepal, Baburam Bhattari, on September 10, 2012. However, the difference in the situation in 1996 and 2012 is that Baburam Bhattarai submitted the 40-point demand to the government of Nepal as a rebel leader of Maoists. But now Bhattarai is Prime Minister and the 70-point demand was submitted to him by none other than his own colleagues of CPN (Maoist) who split from the mother party UCPN (Maoist) on June 19, 2012.

Strikingly, many of the demands covered in 40-point demand in 1996 resemble the 70-point demand in 2012 and this is more so when it comes to opposing deals with India. In their bid to lend a nationalist fervor to their demands, the Maoists in 2012 as in 1996 tried to raise different issues like the scrapping of all the “unequal” treaties and other deals with India. Towards this end, emphasis was laid on scrapping the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with India, which is virtually a security pact between the two countries. Besides, abrogation of Arms Treaty of 1965, Mahakali Treaty of 1996 and Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement of 2011 with India has also been demanded. Other issues that have been covered in the demand include stricter control of the Nepal-India border, scrapping of contracts given to the Indian contractors such as to GMR and others for the construction of Karnli and Arun III hydropower projects, preventing the movement of vehicles with Indian number plates, and banning Indian Hindi movies as well as Indian music in Nepal.

The Mohan Baidya led Maoist party even threatened to take resort to violent means if their 70-point demands were not met. As the Bhattarai-led government in Nepal did not do anything about the 70-point demands as it cannot be done, the CPN (Maoist) in the first phase of their struggle declared ban on the movement of vehicles with Indian number plates in Nepal. Cinema halls across the country have been threatened not to show Hindi movies and play Hindi music. Argument has been placed that some of these measures were essential to give opportunity to the Nepalese industries to grow, which many of the intellectuals have questioned.

Of course, the Prime Minister of Nepal, Baburam Bhattarai, has given instruction to the security agencies to deal with the miscreants if at all they tried to stop the vehicles with Indian number plates because that could create shortage of basic essential goods in Nepal, including petroleum products and food items. But in reality, the Maoist call seems to have been working as most of the vehicles with Indian number plates have stopped plying on the roads in Nepal out of fear of attack. Even buses that used to bring Indian tourists to Nepal have been affected. On top of that, the cinema halls do not want to take the risk of showing Hindi movies and playing Indian music.

In the meantime, Nepal’s other political parties like the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Madheshi parties have opposed the 70-point demand of the CPN (Maoist). There is certain news of retaliation across the border in India when effort was made to stop the vehicles with Nepalese number plates. In Nepal itself, many people are dissatisfied with the move of CPN (Maoist) as they have started facing shortage of petroleum products and other essential items. Even the cinema viewers who like the Hindi movies and Indian music are disappointed. Most of the Nepalese media have also opposed the Maoist demands.

Notwithstanding the opposition, the CPN (Maoist) cadres are not in a mood to retreat from their 70-point demands. Media report s confirm that the CPN (Maoist) have among their cadres those elements who could not be accommodated within the mother UCPN (Maoist) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (alias Prachand). At a time when the political situation in the country is fragile and the law and order situation is fragile, efforts are being made by the party to bring to its fold those Maoist fighters who were discharged from the Maoist cantonments in 2012. Of the 19,000 plus Maoist fighters, more than 16,000 have already been discharged from the cantonments as they opted for voluntary retirement scheme. Now effort is being made to bring those people into the fold of the party. Besides, those thousands of Maoist workers who were disqualified in the cantonments in the initial stage for being child soldiers or on other grounds are also being mobilized. Consequently, the Maoists’ spirit is emboldened and the cases of forced donation, bandh and other such activities have started growing.

However, it is beyond comprehension as to how the Maoists, who took shelter in India for years during the conflict period, are targeting India. It was through the Indian intervention that the Maoists and the seven political parties of Nepal entered into 12-point agreement in New Delhi in 2005, which ensured safe return of the Maoists in Nepal. In a way, the 12-point agreement paved the way for the second People’s Movement in Nepal in 2006 and the emergence of the Maoists as the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly in 2008. It was then only that the monarchical institution of 239-long years was abolished and the Maoists were able to head the government in 2008-2009.

It is also difficult to understand as to why several Maoists want to maintain closer relation with China when the Chinese government provided even lethal weapons to Nepal to crush the Maoists during the time King Gyanendra ruled the country in 2005.

It appears that the CPN (Maoist) might try to take Nepal on the path of conflict again to serve their motto of capturing power, though such a move might prove disastrous to Nepal. They might do so with the help of the old fighters who were heavily indoctrinated during the conflict period in Nepal. Yet the ground reality does not favour the Maoists. Perhaps, many of such cadres might not return to the jungle and work as guerillas as they did in the past because they have been so much accustomed to the life of the cities and towns now. They have neither genuine support from the common mass of the Nepalese population nor do they have any international backing as such. Even the decade-long conflict made the people so much wary that they cannot that easily be diverted. They are in no mood for any conflict as they are disgusted with the selfish nature of the leaders. But this does not give room for complacency. In case the conflict of even low intensity breaks, of which there is some probability, it might not only have an impact within Nepal but also it might affect India most as being the closest neighbour and also due to the fact that there is an open border between the two countries. Therefore, before the situation goes out of control, all the Nepalese and other international stakeholders including India should see to it that peace and stability in Nepal is not disturbed. Conflict anywhere is threat to peace everywhere.

(The author is former Director, Centre For Economic and Technical Studies, Nepal)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why Pakistan is Blowing Apart LoC Ceasefire?

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

Even though there have been occasional violations by Pakistani troops of the ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, the recent flare-up has placed an enormous strain on the Confidence Building Measure (CBM) that had been mutually agreed by the two countries in late 2003. The violations of the ceasefire are no longer limited to either a small section of the LoC or to use of small arms but are taking place all along the LoC with higher calibre ammunition being used. What is more, the exchange of fire has continued unabated in one or the other sector of the LoC for nearly three weeks now. On the Indian side, the restraint that was being shown by the army in the face of regular provocations by the Pakistan army and its jihadist paramilitaries – pushing in infiltrators, firing on Indian positions, carrying out cross-LoC raids etc. –has now all but run its course. With the gloves coming off, the Indian Army has started to retaliate in a calibrated and proportionate manner.

The message being sent is clear: unless the Pakistanis back off (after all they started the shooting match with the killing of five Indian soldiers on the Indian side of the LoC), there is a clear and present danger of the ceasefire agreement collapsing. If this happens, things will return to the pre-ceasefire situation in which both sides suffered heavy casualties of not only troops but also civilians living close to the LoC. The problem for Pakistan is that open hostilities breaking out on its eastern front is the last thing that the over-stretched military can afford at this point in time. As it is, Pakistan is sinking in a sea of crises, not the least of which is a tanking economy, rampant terrorism, two and a half insurgencies (the Islamist one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, a separatist movement in Balochistan, and the stirrings of a nationalist insurgency in Sindh), abysmal state of law and order with sectarian violence and criminal mafias tearing the country apart. Add to this the looming spectre of instability and chaos post 2014 after the Western forces withdraw from Afghanistan. By all standpoints of normal rationality then, it just doesn’t make sense for Pakistan to ratchet up tension with India at this stage. Or does it?

Many Pakistani analysts, assuming an air of injured innocence to mislead both domestic and international opinion, wonder what Pakistan stands to gain by heating up the LoC, and that too at a time when the new government has expressed its keenness to reach out to India and normalise relations. Asides of the fact that Pakistan has been quite adept at playing both sides of the game – professing commitment to peace on the one hand and surreptitiously promoting terrorism and proxy war on the other hand – there are a number of reasons why the Pakistani military establishment, if not the entire Pakistani state machinery, could be turning normal rational behaviour on its head and actually coming to the conclusion that rising tension on the frontier with India serves not just the corporate interests of the Pakistan army but also the security and strategic interests of the Pakistani state.

The most benign explanation for the LoC flare-up is that the Pakistanis made a tactical miscalculation by crossing the LoC to attack an Indian patrol and kill 5 soldiers. The strident reaction from the Indian side hadn’t been factored in because for some time now such actions by the Pakistanis never evoked any major response from India. But this time things spiralled out of control and the pressure of public opinion coupled with the anger within the army forced the hand of the government to raise the ante and give back to Pakistan as good, if not better, than it got. With India refusing to back down or climb down from the escalation ladder, the Pakistanis might have bitten more than they can chew and are now trying to bring things back to normal. But this explanation doesn’t quite explain why, for a number of months now, the Pakistanis have been trying to reignite the flames of Jihad in Kashmir. The sharp rise in number of infiltration attempts, ceasefire violations and ambushes and attacks inside the state of Jammu and Kashmir suggests a more sinister game plan than just testosterone imbalance among Pakistani troops which made then indulge in needless adventurism along the LoC. Indeed, there are good reasons to believe that Pakistan could once again be preparing the ground for putting Jammu and Kashmir back on the boil and both the recent heating up of LoC as well as the spike in acts of terror within the state are part of this plan for Kashmir Jihad 2.0.

Yet another reason why the eastern front has become hot, while tangentially related to the issue of Kashmir, has to do with Pakistan’s domestic power play between the military establishment and the civilian government. The Pakistan army isn’t very comfortable with Nawaz Sharif at the helm of affairs and feels spooked by his emphasis on civilian supremacy over all policy matters. There is a widespread perception inside Pakistan that Nawaz Sharif is unlikely to let the army wield the veto on foreign and security policy and will sooner or later make a play for whittling down the military’s influence in domestic politics. If the army has to remain top dog, it must pull Nawaz Sharif down a few pegs. The best way for doing this is raising tensions with India, a ploy that catapults the army to the centre-stage, and allows it to acquire the image of the saviour of the nation in the face of a hostile India. Related to this is the discomfiture of the Pakistani military establishment with Nawaz Sharif’s desire for normalising relations with India. The overtures made by Nawaz Sharif to restart some sort of an engagement with India hasn’t gone down well with the army. There are reports of the Pakistan army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani cautioning Nawaz Sharif not to be hasty in reaching out to India. Renewed hostilities along the LoC effectively sabotage the peace moves of Nawaz Sharif. In other words, the Pakistan military has killed two birds – arrested any possibility of political irrelevance and shot down Nawaz Sharif peace moves – with one stone – ramping up tension on LoC. For his part, Nawaz Sharif too is believed to have been spooked by the sudden rise in temperature on the eastern front. Whispers in corridors of power in Islamabad suggest that Nawaz Sharif and his close associates fear and suspect that the Pakistan army could be doing another ‘Kargil’ to him. He, therefore, is trying to play down the LoC incidents and not fall for the trap which he thinks has been set for him by the army.

Domestic politics aside, there are other advantages also that the Pakistani establishment could be hoping to reap from the rising tension with India. Hints of this came in a report by one of the embedded journalists who quoted an unnamed senior army officer as saying that Pakistan was considering withdrawing troops on the border with Afghanistan and redeploying them on the border with India. This is a thinly disguised ploy of inviting US intervention on Pakistan's side. At a time when the US is in withdrawal mode from Afghanistan and is to all intents and purposes outsourcing Afghanistan to Pakistan, the last thing it would want is for Pakistan to shift its focus from its western border to its eastern border, or so the Pakistanis calculate. The expectation is that the US will, at the very minimum, lean upon India to cool things down and there is also a reasonably good chance that it could also go a step further to press India to seek a Kashmir solution which satisfies Pakistan. This sort of Pakistani calculation fits in well with the old and tired narrative (but one which has once again acquired some traction) that the problem in Afghanistan is not one of radical Islam or Islamist terror but actually an India-Pakistan proxy war. This nonsensical narrative peddles the line that the road to Kabul runs through Kashmir and the end point of this is that once the Kashmir issue is settled, radical Islam will die a natural death and South Asia will transform into a land of milk and honey. Ratcheting up tensions with India on LoC is therefore the first step in drawing the attention of the international community, in particular the US, to the Kashmir issue.

What is important to note is that Pakistan is willing to dismantle its security grid against the Taliban in order to beef up its defences against India. At one level, this is tantamount to an acknowledgment that Pakistan sees India as a much greater threat to its existence than the terrorism and devastation caused by the Taliban, and as such punctures holes in the airy-fairy talk about internal threats (Taliban and Islamic radical groups) replacing India as the primary threat to Pakistan's security. At another level, such a redeployment of troops and shift of focus will help the Pakistani authorities create space for a dialogue, even a deal, with the Taliban. On their part, the Taliban (about whom the Pakistanis never tire of insinuating that they are being funded by India!) have announced that they will ‘defend Pakistan's borders’ from any Indian aggression and that while their fight against Pakistan army is for the sake of Islam, they would not allow the enemies of the country (India) to attack their homeland. India therefore serves as a perfect excuse for both the Taliban and Pakistani authorities to enter into an accommodation of sorts, which in turn will create the opening for a possible peace deal. That any such deal will probably be very tenuous and at best tactical is of course another matter. But in the immediate at least, it will reduce the violence inside Pakistan and as such provide breathing space to both the Pakistani authorities and the Taliban.

The big question is whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is party to this double game, in which he plays good cop and is all sugar and honey to disarm India while his armed forces play bad cop to hurt and bleed India. His past record is rather mixed. The last time he was PM, Pakistan was merrily exporting terrorism into India even as he was engaging India in the Bus diplomacy. Members of his last cabinet used to openly hobnob with terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and some of them provided support and sanctuary to Kashmiri terrorists. There are reports of his links with Osama bin Laden and his turning a blind eye to sponsoring of Jihad International by his handpicked ISI chiefs. In his first term as PM, the ISI carried out the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993. In his second term, there was Kargil and other acts of terrorism. Even in the last five years, his party’s government in Punjab has been funding the activities of the parent organisation of LeT, Jamaatud Dawa, from the provincial budget.

Of course, if Nawaz Sharif is the changed man that many claim he is then he will need to prove his bona fides about wanting to improve relations with India by acting against his own jihadists, both the uniformed variety and the ones in Shalwar-Kameez. Until Nawaz Sharif walks the talk on peace with India, he can never be considered a credible partner in the normalisation process. India, meanwhile, must respond and react appropriately and proportionately to any and every provocation from Pakistan. Equally important, India needs to disabuse the West (especially the US) of any notions it might be harbouring of playing a mediatory role between India and Pakistan on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. The US must be made to understand that if it couldn’t pressure Pakistan into stopping support for the Taliban despite the heavy cost such a Pakistani policy was imposing on the US in men, money and material, then there is not much traction it will get from India on Jammu and Kashmir or for that matter on Pakistan.

Recent Political Developments in China

Growing signs of ideological hardening

Ambassador PP Shukla 
(Joint Director, VIF)

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, readers of a nationalist newspaper, Sovetskaya Rossiya [Soviet Russia] were exposed to a full-page article by one Nina Andreeva, a chemistry teacher at the Leningrad Technology Institute. The article appeared in March 1988, at the height of the tussle between Mikhail Gorbachev and his opponents in the Soviet Communist Party. The title of Andreeva’s article was “I Cannot Compromise my Principles”, and it was an open attack on the direction that Gorbachev – though without naming him - and his supporters were taking the Party and the country. It created a stir within the Party and became a rallying point for all those who felt that the policies of the westernising neo-liberals were leading the country towards non-socialist pluralism – by implication, to the end of the socialist state. Events were to prove her right, but this was not the response to the article then.

The reason for bringing up this now-obscure event from Soviet history is the appearance of a similar article in the Chinese press. On 1 August, Xinhua carried an article in Chinese under the title “If China Collapses, It Will Be Worse than the Soviet Union”. Before analysing the article and its import, the context needs to be set out. It is actually quite curious how obsessed the Chinese leaders are with the fate of the USSR. Perhaps nowhere else in the world, including in Russia itself, is there the same degree of attention to the developments leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union as in China.

To illustrate, here is a quote from Xi Jinping’s speech at the time of his Southern Tour in December 2012 – he was then already Party leader, but had not yet become President.
Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? An important reason was that their ideals and beliefs had been shaken. In the end, ‘the ruler’s flag over the city tower’ changed overnight. It’s a profound lesson for us! To dismiss the history of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Communist Party, to dismiss Lenin and Stalin, and to dismiss everything else is to engage in historic nihilism, and it confuses our thoughts and undermines the Party’s organizations on all levels. 
Why must we stand firm on the Party’s leadership over the military? ...because that’s the lesson from the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union where the military was depoliticized, separated from the Party and nationalized, the Party was disarmed.
In short, as recently as December 2012, the top leader in China was discussing the collapse of the USSR, and presumably drawing lessons for China from that experience. And the key elements he identifies are the lack of ideological commitment at the top, and the fact that the Armed Forces had been de-politicised – a clumsy word that one Soviet Defence Minister had trouble even pronouncing.

The important thing is that it seems the Chinese leadership is still concerned that it too might go the Soviet way. To the outsider, China is a success story par excellence, but apparently, the reality – at least as perceived by the Party - is more shaky.

And now, to turn to the content of the Xinhua commentary: not surprisingly, it spends most of the time on the collapse of the Soviet Union, and describes in detail what hardships befell the country as a result of the collapse. The GDP fell by more than half; its access to and control over the seas, built up over centuries, was lost; the people were reduced to begging, and war heroes were forced to sell their medals; the country is now reduced to selling its natural resources to get by. It goes on to refer to so stern a critic of the Communist Party as Solzhenitsyn as saying that Stalin and the Party were good for the country, and Russia after the break-up was in a worse plight.

In an interesting side-swipe at India, Xinhua suggests that, since China does not have the resources that Russia has, it will, following a collapse, fall below India in terms of living standards!

The commentary dwells a little more on the collapse of the USSR, and concludes that China will suffer a worse fate if it collapses. It argues that China was enslaved and occupied by foreign powers in the past, and it was only the Communist Party that gave China back its standing. The elderly are enjoying a stable old age, and the children have all the amenities they need – all thanks to the Communist Party. And all this would be lost if China were to collapse.

The solution to the danger of the collapse is to contain the micro-bloggers who apparently seek to copy the western system – the “non-socialist pluralism” of Nina Andreeva’s article. It appears that these bloggers reach millions of recipients, mostly sympathetic to their message of constitutionalism, and of western-style democracy with greater individual freedom. The author concludes that he would allow such a change only over his dead body.

The important point of inquiry is why there has been this kind of writing, especially in the public domain. To understand this, there is another strand in the current Chinese discourse that needs to be focussed on. This is “constitutionalism” – the notion that the Constitution of the country is paramount, and that the provisions on individual rights and freedoms need to be upheld and exercised. It is this kind of constitutionalism that Chinese leaders, including Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, have criticised for having separated the Armed Forces from the Party in the Soviet Union. [Yes, all three have talked about the collapse of the Soviet Union.] And this is what they are clear shall not be permitted to happen in China.

Constitutionalism is the very banner that some in the Chinese system are raising. The Southern Weekly, a “liberal” paper that comes out in Guangdong, had written an editorial at the beginning of 2013, under the title “China’s Dream, the Dream of Constitutionalism”. This was a reference to the slogan of the “China Dream” coined by Xi Jinping himself, and the editorial was thus filling its own content into the slogan. As it turned out, the content was unacceptable, and the censors changed the title, removing any reference to constitutionalism.

For good measure, there has also been a spate of articles in the Chinese press on the dangers of constitutionalism. The People’s Daily has taken the lead on this and ran three articles in August alone attacking this concept. One of them went so far as to say that the real aim was to overthrow the socialist system and oust the leaders of the Party. In another context, the People’s Daily accused “spies in the higher echelons of the Party” of colluding with foreign enemies.

This kind of fevered writing on a hypothetical event such as the collapse of China or the upholding of the Constitution would definitely indicate a graver source of concern than a couple of editorials in the regional media on the need to uphold the Constitution. There is, of course, the fact that the economy is in serious trouble, and many are beginning openly to express doubts even about the reliability of Chinese growth figures. We know that Premier Li Keqiang, before he rose to the present post, had himself told visitors that many of the statistics were “man-made”, and that he himself did not take them at face value. China’s public finances are another mess in the economy, and one that will lead to major difficulties.

Similarly, there are a growing number of incidents of unrest in the country. In 2012, the number of such incidents rose to 200,000, which must surely be hard to manage. This would also tie in with the remarks made by Xi about the importance of the Armed Forces being loyal to the Party, and not being allowed to be “nationalised” – ie, to become loyal to the State, rather than to the Party.

As to the Constitutionalists, they pose an unusual type of challenge to the Party establishment. After all, the present Constitution was adopted only thirty years ago, and the anniversary of the event was celebrated last December by the Party itself. It becomes very difficult to argue that upholding its provisions is in any way harmful to the country. And yet, that has been the burden of the attacks on those supporting the Constitution – the People’s Daily declared that Constitutionalism was incompatible with socialism! And yet, both Xi and Li have referred to the Constitution as the supreme law, even after they assumed office.

It would appear that a combination of difficulties is closing in on the Party leaders – economic in the first place, but also social and political. Of this last, the Bo Xilai episode is the most visible manifestation, and it is not yet clear what its implications will be. What does appear to be happening is that there is some unhappiness in the Party over the treatment of the entire episode, and some of the angry charges that are reflected in the writings mentioned above are a response to that. There was also a sense in the run-up to the CPC Congress last November and immediately afterwards, that Xi was a “reformer” of the kind that his father was, and that many people, in China and outside, are looking for. He himself has given little ground for expecting any such change from him, and his remarks on the fall of the USSR, quoted above, were made within weeks of taking over as Party leader. Perhaps there is a fear among the traditional elites in the Party that the pressure for change in the face of the mounting difficulties could lead to some experimentation in the direction of political pluralism. The opponents of this are moving pre-emptively to head off any such change.

For India, these are significant issues to sort through, because such internal pressures frequently affect the foreign policy as well. The emphasis on the role of the Armed Forces in preserving the system is particularly worthy of note. This could be linked to the growing aggressiveness we are seeing on the part of the Chinese forces in the border areas. If the trends towards ideological hardening discussed above were to continue, or worsen, it is likely that tensions on the border along the LAC will also worsen – with unpredictable consequences.

It is to be hoped, against hope really, that our defences are being looked to, for they need to be upgraded, and the earlier the better. History shows that instability in China can spill over into neighbouring countries. Forewarned is forearmed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cross-Media Ownership – Can India Checkmake It?

Shivaji Sarkar

India has been debating the issue of cross-media ownership for the last over 60 years.However, it is only now that it is being raised by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) at the behest of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for the first time.

In fact, TRAI in its paper expresses limitation on checkmating cross-media ownership. Rather, softly it has given it up. TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar said the regulator would, with the help of the Competition Commission of India (CCI), attempt to ensure that there are a minimum number of mergers and acquisitions. A consultation paper will spell out restrictions, make mandatory disclosure requirements, spell out levels of market share which will ensure plurality and diversity, list general disqualifications, recommend how cross media ownership can be dealt with, set rules for disaggregated markets, and ensure minimum mergers and acquisitions

The Indian Media and entertainment industry is estimated at about Rs 1052 billion and is growing by the day. Apart from the monetary value, the industry is important as it can influence opinion in political domain and trends in business. Groups owning a cross section of media have the capacity to tilt the balance in their favour though the industry does not accept it.

Veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta says the sheer number of media organisations and outlets often conceals the fact there is dominance over specific markets and market segments by a few players – in other words, the markets are often oligopolistic in character. The absence of restrictions on cross-media ownership implies that particular companies or groups or conglomerates dominate markets both vertically (that is, across different media such as print, radio, television and the internet) as well as horizontally (namely, in particular geographical regions).

It is also well-known that political parties and persons with political affiliation own/control increasing sections of the media in India. There are two kinds of such newspapers or channels. The one which are known to be published by political parties while others are published as independent papers or run as independent channels but show a marked tilt in favour of the owner’s political preference.

There are a few instances where the promoters have used the profits from their media operation to diversify into other unrelated businesses. These are the issues that need to be addressed to strengthen the democratic principles. But even TRAI guidelines are not so specific.

The credibility of news has always been an issue. But despite concerns about it, the Nehru government did not do much to control varied interests of newspaper owners. It was debated often. Everyone stressed on the merits of having a free press. Many agreed that when a newspaper owner has varied interests to serve, it compromises with news publication.

Journalism evolved in India over a long period since the first newspaper, Bengal Gazette and Calcutta Advertiser of James Hickey, was published in 1780. Journalism took a new turn in the history of the sub-continent and the Indian press gradually reached a stage where it could begin to influence the country’s economics, politics and culture. Here we are talking of a period when the Indian press was confronted with the might of British imperialism in whose domain the sun never set, as was the common refrain.

The press in the Indian subcontinent developed precisely for awakening of the masses in the pre-independence era, pitted against colonialism and imperialist tyranny. Marx had also commented in 1853, while discussing about the probable results of British rule in India, that this was the first time a free press, owned by the common inheritors of Indians and Europeans, had originated in Asiatic societies, and it would become a new and powerful instrument of India’s regeneration. In so far as the first half of the 20th century is concerned, the press played precisely this role in the sub-continent.
However, here we must bear in mind that the evolution of the press took place in the subcontinent on a totally different line after the country’s independence and partition in 1947. The Press Commission, formed under the chairmanship of J.S Rajyadhyaksh in 1952, thus drew attention to this aspect in the first part of its report, submitted in 1955.

He wrote, “Formerly, most of the Indian Press had only one objective and that was political emancipation of the country. Most of the journalists of that era were actuated by fervent patriotism and a feeling that they had a mission to perform and a message to convey. Political emancipation having been achieved, the emphasis has shifted and the newspapers are no longer run as a mission, but have become commercial ventures.” (Press Commision, p. 482).
In the same report, the Commission also commented that now the big newspapers, in particular, either kept mum on important occasions or hesitated from leading the public opinion, because they have to take care of certain business interests; they moved very cautiously and they had to act on the orders of the powers-that-are.

Therefore, “some of them are partisan in the presentation of news in respect of the financial interests with which they are allied; there is a certain timidity to expose courageously the shortcomings of those who are in a position of power and authority; there is a tendency to suppress facts which are unfavourable to their own interests or to the financial interests with which they are associated”, Press Commission noted.

It was precisely this press which the late V.K. Krishna Menon, an important member of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Cabinet, had dubbed as “the Jute Press”. The term originated as in early independent India most of the press was owned by jute industry barons and was used to further their own interests.There was another that was called “steel press” being owned primarily by the steel industry owners like the Tatas. The Mahalonobis Committee, which developed the Second Five-Year Plan of the country, also made very trenchant criticism of the role the press played in the concentration of wealth in a few hands

The Commission found that there was a great deal of scurrilous writing often directed against communities or groups, of indecency and vulgarity and personal attacks on individuals. It also noted that yellow journalism was on the increase in the country and was not particularly confined to any area or language. The commission, however, found that the well established, newspapers on the whole, had maintained a high standard of journalism.

It remarked that whatever the law relating the press may be, there would still be a large quantity of objectionable journalism, which, though not falling within the purview of the law, would still require some checking. It felt that the best way of maintaining professional standards of journalism would be to bring into existence a body of people principally connected with the industry whose responsibility would be to arbitrate on doubtful points and to ensure the punishment of any one guilty of infraction of good journalistic behavior. An important recommendation of the commission was the setting up of a statutory Press Council at the national level, consisting of press people and lay members.

The Second Press Commission was appointed on May 29, 1978 under the Chairmanship of PC Goswami. Later KK Mathew became the Chairman and submitted its report in 1982. The Second Press Commission wanted the press to be neither a mindless adversary nor an unquestioning ally. The Commission wanted the press to play a responsible role in the development process. It opined that the press should be widely accessible to the people if it is to reflect their aspirations and problems.
The question of urban bias too received attention of the Commission. The Commission said that for development to take place, internal stability was as important as safeguarding national security. The Commission also highlighted the role (and, therefore, responsibility) of the press in preventing and deflating communal conflict.

The recommendation of the First Press Commission for the first time provided the idea of what a responsible press should be.

The Second Press Commission formulated in a clear manner that development should be the central focus of the press in a country, which is building itself to become a self-reliant and prosperous society. The Commission declared that a responsible press could also be a free press and vice versa. Freedom and responsibility are complimentary but not contradictory terms, it said.

The Press Commissions recommended that newspaper industries should be separated from industries and commercial interests. It also recommended that newspaper industries should be relieved from the impact of foreign capital.

Much of it remained on paper. In 1955, the cabinet agreed on restraining foreign capital in newspapers but it was relaxed in 2000, which allowed 26 per cent foreign equity in newspapers but it ordained that the Editor has to be an Indian.

Does it make much of a difference? If we go by the First Press Commission, it does not. It noted that even in early 1950s, there was decline in the status of the Editor particularly in daily newspapers.

It has only accentuated as some papers like Times of India sometime back had even stopped giving the name of the Editor in their publications. In many newspapers, editorial control is being taken over by the advertising and managerial functionaries.
Promoting news of other group industries either directly or surreptitiously has become more a rule than exception. The line between objective journalism and promotion of group industries has blurred.

Why should it not be? A group like Times of India owns 40 different media and other businesses. So does Hindustan Times, Ananda Bazaar Patrika, Jagaran, Malayala Manorama, Zee and Bhaskar group.

It is possible to visualize three types of accumulation of ownership interest in the media: cross-media ownership across the various carriers such as television, radio or print; consolidation, including vertical integration among media operations of content, carrier and distributor within a media segment such as television or radio; and market share dominance in a given geography within each media segment.

In the diverse cultural, lingual and social settings in our country, it may be difficult to visualize conditions of media dominance leading to market monopoly.

However, there are already at least six states where a single media house has a clear and growing dominance. These are media groups that are emerging as national conglomerates. They are all in the news business as well as in entertainment, media distribution and network business. They own newspapers, magazines, radio, cable TV and television channels, to name their key businesses.

The latest development of purchase of The Washington Post in the US by Amazon is an instance of the emerging threats and interests of powerful groups in vibrant media organisations.

Most media companies in India and abroad are integrating vertically to sell cross-media, often acquiring or building multimedia platforms. News Corp.’s Star TV India and Sun TV Network Ltd, Zee group and others already own DTH and cable distribution platforms. Star’s cross-media India operations include television channels, Internet offerings, radio, mobile entertainment and home video (incidentally, 11 cable distribution companies provide some 400 television channels in India).

Sun Network has 14 TV channels in four states, cable assets, four magazines, radio stations and two newspapers. In Tamil Nadu, the dominance of Sun in cable and satellite TV (channels and distribution network) and now in the DTH market is quite visible. Sun TV and Jaya TV have evolved as rivals not only in the business sector but also the political set up as they represent two important political parties in the state.

In Andhra, dominance of Eenadu group was challenged by YS Rajashekhar Reddy’s Sakshi – a television channel and some magazines. Some years back some of the news channels of Eenadu group despite bearing the name have changed hands. Some of these have been taken over by TV 18 group.

In India, there is no general policy on ownership and cross-media restrictions, as far as restrictions between print and electronic media are concerned. However, the restrictions for different segments within the broadcasting sector are dictated by the policy framework for each segment, such as DTH guidelines or FM radio policy.

It is indeed time to debate regulatory issues for cross-media ownership and, in the absence of an independent media regulator, the TRAI discussions have long-term implications for the critical and booming Indian media industry, says P.N. Vasanti, Director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization, Centre for Media Studies.

The Hyderabad-based Adminstrative Staff College of India (ASCI) in its 200-page report has pointed out that there is “ample evidence of market dominance” in specific media markets and argued in favour of an “appropriate” regulatory framework to enforce cross-media ownership restrictions, especially in regional media markets where there is “significant concentration” and market dominance in comparison to national markets (for the Hindi and English media). The government sat over the report for three years till the parliamentary standing committee pulled it up.

Paramita Das Gupta of ASCI named Sun TV, Essel Group, Star India, and Reliance ADAG as the top houses with large-scale horizontal and vertical cross media ownership, while five other major groups owned the largest number of TV and radio channels.

She referred to the Broadcast Services Regulation Bill 2007, and wondered how the government had arrived at the figure of 20 per cent cross-media ownership.

In India, there is proliferation of publications, radio stations, television channels, and internet websites. It ensures one thing - plurality, diversity, and consumer choice. There were over 82,000 publications registered with the Registrar of Newspapers as on 31 March 2011. There are over 250 FM (frequency modulation) radio stations in the country (and the number is likely to cross 1,200 in five years) – curiously, India is the only democracy in the world where news on the radio is still a monopoly of the government.

The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has allowed nearly 800 television channels to uplink or downlink from the country, including over 300 which claim to be television channels broadcasting “news and current affairs”. There is an unspecified number of websites aimed at Indians.

But number of registration and domination is not the same. The media scenario is dominated by less than a hundred large groups or conglomerates, which exercise considerable influence on what is read, heard, and watched, says Guha Thakurta. One example will illustrate this contention. Delhi is the only urban area in the world with 16 English daily newspapers; the top three publications, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times, and the Economic Times, would account for over three-fourths of the total market for all English dailies.

Similar is the situation Kolkata which is dominated by Telegraph, Ananda Bazar Patrika, (both ABP group, which has partnership with the Star News), Times of India, Pratidin and Vartaman. Chennai has The Hindu, New Indian Express and some Tamil papers. Mumbai has Times of India, DNA, Free Press Journal, and Marathi papers.

Every other region has one or the other group that dominates certain geographical areas.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT, headed by Congress MP Rao Inderjit Singh, noted that the issue of restrictions on cross-media ownership “merits urgent attention” and needs “to be addressed before it emerges as a threat to our democratic structure”. It urged the Ministry to “formulate” its stand on the issue in coordination with the TRAI “after taking into account” international practices.

Indeed, it is so important as Kuldip Nayar said sometime back. He says, “A reader may be shocked to know that the news he avidly reads is paid for. His frustration and helplessness are heightened because he does not realise which part of the story is news and which part is fake.” Nayar was speaking in terms of the violation of editorial standards by the Bennet Colman group, which “does not bother the Jain brothers because they treat the profession as an industry to earn money. They feel proud that they have torn ethics into tatters and have still remained the No. 1 newspaper in India. Not only that, they make more money than probably any other newspaper in the world. The great Rupert Murdoch's empire is 20 times bigger than the Times of India. Yet he earns less profit”.

Media is beset with problems and blatant violation of norms. Working Journalists Act that governs the wages and service conditions of journalists and newspaper workers as well as ensures freedom to the journalist has become a virtually a dead law. The government never tried to enforce it. Media remains the worst employer.

However, as we have seen, the large conglomerates of the Indian media are usually groups that own different companies. This allows them to have controlling stakes both in broadcasting and distribution by acquiring licences under their different subsidiary companies, thus totally bypassing current restrictions and defeating the purpose of their existence in the first place.

In a scenario like this, imposing curbs is a complex task.But it is not insurmountable. The US forced Rupert Murdoch to abide by the restrictions. Most other countries in the world, including the United Kingdom, France, and Canada have such provisions. The UK swooped down on Newscorp for malpractices.

While TRAI is making a feeble bid, it remains to be seen how much it succeeds. For the functioning of a vibrant democracy, cross-media ownership remains a threat. It needs to be checked. Stringent norms are the need. But would it ever happen amid divergent interests of the people who own the media and also those who have enough clout to influence those who are in power. The nation would be watching the developments with baited breathe.
But there are reservations also whether TRAI, which has an entirely different mandate should be entrusted with the job or not. Disagreeing with the current demands of the telecom regulator, Rohit Bansal, CEO and Co-Founder, India Strategy Group, Hammurabi & Solomon Consulting remarked, “Conceptually, I don’t see the legal basis in the reference made to TRAI. Since when is it in TRAI’s jurisdiction to be sitting in judgement over media ownership?”

Bansal further asked, “These messiahs of ‘plurality’ cannot see an elephant in the room called the internet – the mother of ‘plurality’ among print, television, radio, broadcast distribution platforms, smart phones and the social media? If they do, how about eschewing the smokescreen of ‘plurality’ and setting the telecom terrier tilting at owners of the Internet!”

Meanwhile, supporting the regulator’s move, John Thomas, Former Editor, Operations, Vijay Times Bangalore said, “TRAI’s notification is a positive step in establishing transparency in the system. Because the media publishes news, and the same may be taken as a product if a media company has an interest in any corporation. I believe that in a step ahead, even journalists should declare their interests in the form of equity shares in any company so that a reader knows that the publisher or writer of this particular issue has an interest in the sector.”

(The author is National Secretary with the Indian Media Centre)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Will China Checkmate India on Chabahar? Printer-friendly version

Radhakrishna Rao, 
Visiting Fellow, VIF

In a development that could very well upset India’s geo-strategic apple cart, China is making deft and vigorous moves to woo Iran to accept its offer of US$80-million to upgrade the Chabahar port located on the coast of Gulf of Oman, off the Strait of Hormuz. Perhaps it could be a well thought out move on the part of China, which through its “string of pearls” strategy is busy expanding its area of influence across the Indian Ocean region, to keep India away from the project and slowly intrude into the Indian geo-political space in Tehran. A toehold in Iran could drive China to cast its “net of influence” far and wide, across the West Asian landscape, with serious consequences for the American presence in this oil rich part of the world.

From building the deep sea ports and launching satellites to constructing all weather highways and putting in place telecom networks, China has become a “partner in progress” for many countries in the Indian Ocean region. Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh are among the Indian neighbours where an impressive “Chinese presence” has become a fait accompli. In the context of the administrative control of the Gwadar port located on Makran coast, overlooking the Arabian sea, in Pakistan’s sparsely populated and restive Balochistan province, passing on into the Chinese hands, Chabahar has come to assume immense strategic and economic significance for India. Clearly and apparently, India’s participation in Chabahar port development could, to some extent, work as a counter-poise to the advantages that China could derive from managing Gwadar port.

Gwadar port, which stands out as a vibrant symbol of strategic partnership between China and Pakistan, could very well give China an easy access to the key energy markets in the Middle East. Further, it could also provide China a convenient access to the warm waters of Indian Ocean and a listening post near the Strait of Hormuz. Incidentally, about 20% of the world’s petroleum and 35% of the petroleum traded by sea pass through the Strait of Hormuz, described as one of the world’s busiest and most strategically located sea lanes.

As part of the ambitious US$18-billion economic corridor project connecting Kashgar in China with Gwadar, it is planned to build a pipeline as well as road and rail links that will involve engineering of around 200-kms of tunnels across the treacherous mountainous landscape. The road link will involve upgrading and realigning the strategically located Karakoram highway. Kashgar is located in China’s disturbed western Xinjiang province where Muslim Uighur separatists are quite active.

Of course, the Gwadar-Kashgar pipeline may help China reduce its dependence on Malacca Strait in so far as transporting oil from West Asia is concerned. Further, it could help meet a part of the energy needs of the Western parts of China. More importantly, this pipeline makes a strategic sense for China in terms of strengthening its long term energy security. On another front, in order to bring down its reliance on the Strait of Malacca for transporting crude, China has invested heavily in building an oil and gas pipeline in Myanmar. As things stand now, China is expected to overtake US as the world’s largest crude importer in 2014.Currently,three fourth of China’s crude import from Middle East are channelled through the Strait of Malacca which is vulnerable to piracy and geo political uncertainties. But then the economic corridor project is still at a conceptual stage and it would be sometime before it gets going. However, both the countries, while highlighting the economic importance of the project, have downplayed its strategic aspects. Meanwhile, reports emanating from Beijing quote Chinese Government officials as saying that security concern could hinder the 2000-km long economic corridor project.

On their part, US security analysts believe that China could very well make use of its control over Gwadar for furthering its military interests. In the ultimate analysis, there are many strategic gains that China can derive from the port with particular reference to protecting its long term interests in the Indian Ocean region in addition to ensuring its energy security. Significantly, Gwadar is located just 72 nautical miles east of Chabahar. However, the daring pre dawn attack on a check post of coast guards near Gwadar in late July has exposed the vulnerability of the port to the prevailing volatile conditions in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province. This attack is believed to be the handiwork of the banned militant group, Balochistan Liberation Front.

Though the development of the Chabahar port has been on the agenda of India-Iran bilateral discussions since 2003, the political leadership in New Delhi was far from serious about Indian participation in this vital maritime project from which India can stand to make substantial gains. After sitting on this project proposal for nearly ten years, the ruling elite of the country has suddenly realized the vital importance it holds for country’s long term geo political interests. This appears to be a sequel to Chinese move to edge out India.

Of course, India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid during his visit to Teheran earlier this year had driven home the point that India could provide upto US$100-milliion assistance to upgrade the port. About the project, Kurshid had this to say, ”The two sides have pushed for transit pact between India, Iran and Afghanistan which would help India get access to the land locked and resources rich countries in Central Asia. We are going ahead with the Chabahar project. Cabinet has already cleared it”. As things stand now, Iran is yet to give its final clearance for the Indian investment in project. However, political observers are clear in their perception that India should seek fast track negotiations with Tehran to pave the way for the Indian participation in the up-gradation of this port. This could prevent China from upstaging India.

But then USA has all along been hostile to the Indian proposal of joining hands with Iran for this maritime project. Unfortunately, India’s track record in standing up to the US “political pressure and psychological intimidation” is far from impressive. As such, in the backdrop of the Chinese move to corner India, New Delhi should be driven by its own domestic compulsions and interests and get the decks cleared for Indian participation in Chabahar port development without any loss of time. There is no need for India to buy the American argument that Iran should be isolated for its nuclear weapons development programme.

Meanwhile, in Tehran, in early August, the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani while addressing the Majlis (National Parliament) stated that if the West wants an “adequate response” from Iran, it should not speak the language of sanctions but that of respect. There is no denying the fact that Iranian economy has suffered heavily due to US and European sanctions and threat against the countries that continue to do business with Iran.

But the grim ground reality is that the routine trade between India and Iran have been affected by payment issue following sanctions. The recent visit of an Iranian business delegation to the tea gardens in north east India has raised the hopes of exporting an “appreciable volume” of high end tea varieties to Iran. As it is, early last year, the powerful American Jewish Committee had told the Indian Ambassador to USA, Nirupama Rao, that it was “deeply troubled” by the recent reports of India’s efforts to intensify trade relations with Iran” at the very moment when the US and fellow democracies are applying new economic pressure to persuade Tehran to halt its nuclear programme.”

In May this year, Hassan Nourian, Consul General of Iran in Hyderabad, had observed that the bilateral trade between the two countries is poised to cross US$25-billion within four years. ”We have already entered the second year. Currently, most of the exports from Iran to India are primarily based on oil and petroleum products. To effect this, both have encouraged focussing on non oil exports from India in order to strike a balance between the two countries,” he said. Following sanctions, the annual Iranian crude import by India valued at US$15-billion is being paid for in the Indian Rupee. However, the annual Indian export to Iran is pegged at around US$2.5-billion per annum. It is planned to boost this to S$4-billion.Even with this figure, it means a surplus credit balance of US$11-billion in favour of Iran. How to offset this huge trade imbalance happens to be the crux of bilateral trade discussions between the two countries.

There is no denying the fact that Indian investment in Chabahar is important for India to protect its “business and commercial interests” in the landlocked Afghanistan as Pakistan has denied India transit access to Afghanistan through its land route. It is planned to construct a railway network connecting Chabahar with Zahedan in Afghanistan. Moreover, the port is already linked to the city of Zarang located in south western Nimroz province of Afghanistan. This road link can serve as India’s entry point to Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond. Indeed, Chabahar could invest India with ability to move quickly goods and supplies and if necessary even defence personnel straight to Afghanistan through Iran which assumes significance in the backdrop of US and allied troops planning a phased pull out from the war torn Afghanistan. Of course, India should nudge Iran to agree to the idea of moving military forces to Afghanistan through Chabahar. But this would again be subject to Iran getting some long term strategic benefits in such an arrangement. However, India is yet to take up this issue with Iran.

Chabahar has been designated as a Free trade and Industrial zone by Tehran. It has also been described as Iran’s best access point to Indian Ocean. Iran has already spent US$350-million on the development of this port. Without doubt, Indian participation could help the port, which because of the sanctions, has not been in a position to corner the business in proportion with its potential, to earn more revenue from catering to the Indian needs on a variety of fronts. India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed an agreement to give Indian goods heading for Central Asia and Afghanistan preferential treatment and tariff reductions at Chabahar. With many of the Indian enterprises keen on entering the lucrative mining sector of Afghanistan, Indian participation in Chabahar project could prove a win win deal for India Inc.

As it is, India’s growing role in Afghanistan focuses on the plan to extract iron ore from the mountain ranges at Hajigak, located about 100-kms to the northwest of the capital city of Kabul. According to Ali Jalali, a Professor at the US National Defence University in Washington and a former Afghan Interior Minister, Indian and Chinese investment will be a major contributor to Afghanistan’s stability as the US is preparing to withdraw its main combat forces between now and 2014.”

On another front, India and Iran are also discussing building a gas pipeline between the two countries along the bed of the Arabian Sea to bypass Pakistan using Chabahar port. Rattled as it is by India’s drastic reduction in purchase of its oil, Iran deemed it prudent to offer India oilfields on lucrative terms along with a proposal to route the gas through the undersea pipeline. Of course, in the wake of sanctions, New Delhi has difficult times paying for the imported Iranian oil in foreign currency. Further, there is also difficulty in getting ships to ferry oil along with the insurance cover.

As it is, India was forced to pull out of Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project on account of a variety of factors including security issues, differences over pricing as well as US pressure. The security concern stemmed from the fact that the pipeline will pass through Balochistan where Baloch separatists and Islamic radical outfits could pose a threat to the safety of the pipeline. But then a section of strategic analysts hold the view that India’s withdrawal from this vital energy pipeline project was a sort of geo-political blunder as India lost an opportunity to create a new equation in the region.

As envisaged now, a consortium with state owned JN Port and Kandla port on-board, is likely to take up the development of Chabahar port. The Indian side is proposing a phase wise development of Chabahar on long term operations, maintenance and transfer basis spread over 60-90 years. Iran has successfully positioned Chabahar as the focal point for development of the east of the country through expansion and enhancement of transit routes among the countries situated in the northern part of the Indian Ocean and Central Asia. But then as is the case with Gwadar, Chabhar too could face a threat from Sunni Baloch insurgents who have no love lost for the regime in Teheran.

For quite sometime now, India has been more than keen on getting a convenient access route to the landlocked Afghanistan through Iran. And in this quest lays the importance of Chabahar for India. By all means, Chabahar is the best option left for the country to reach Afghanistan in a hassle free manner .Indeed, India, Iran and Afghanistan are now edging closer to concluding a transit treaty that would facilitate easier linkage between India and Afghanistan through Iran. As it is, both New Delhi and Kabul are keen on ending their dependence on Pakistan for transit. Both India and Iran have agreed that “the project would provide connectivity with Afghanistan and provide an impetus to Afghanistan’s economic development.”

Going beyond Indian investment on the development of Chabahar, Iran has also made a proposal to India for joint investment and production sharing contract for oil exploration. Indeed, this offer has tremendous strategic significance from the point of view of ensuring Indian energy security. But then New Delhi will have to devise ingenious ways and means to circumvent sanctions if it wants to participate in the Iranian oil exploration venture. For the energy deficit India, collaboration with Iran in the area of oil and petroleum cannot but be a positive development.

By all means, India’s interest in developing strategically important south eastern Iranian sea port of Chabahar as well as New Delhi’s craving for better bilateral relations is seen as a positive step towards regional cooperation and economic gains for the participating countries. India’s construction plans for Chabahar port could also be viewed as reviving of old links and building new bridges of friendship through collaboration. While Iran is all set to derive benefits from positioning Chabhar as a logistical hub and a potential alternative to Bandar Abbas, for Afghanistan, Chabahar could be an alluring alternative to the dependence on Pakistan’s Karachi port for carrying out its international trade. In the ultimate analysis, it is advantages all the way from the Chabahar project for Afghanistan, India and Iran.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

India’s Dialogue with Pakistan a Trap

Kanwal Sibal, 
Dean, Centre for International Relations and Diplomacy, VIF

Our response to the killing of five Indian soldiers last week by the Pakistanis inside our Line of Control has again shown our inability to deal effectively with the dual issue of dialoguing with Pakistan and scotching the terrorist threat from it.

The issues are closely inter-linked as using the arm of terrorism against a neighbour is not how a normal state conducts itself. To believe that such a state can be persuaded through political talks to give up a lever that it uses to further its strategic goals is not realistic. It will change its conduct either if the cost of use becomes too high or if it achieves its objectives.

Pakistan will, therefore, not cease supporting terrorism unless we impose costs on it or offer it concessions. If we conclude that we cannot force Pakistan to stop terrorist activity against us and that we have no choice but to talk to it, hoping that it will control the jihadi groups in the country’s own longer-term interest, then we play into Pakistan’s hands, leaving it to decide how and when it will deal with the issue based on its internal and external calculus.

The composite dialogue is therefore a political trap for us, as Pakistan views it as a platform to constantly press us for concessions without needing to make any of its own, particularly as we appear unduly anxious politically to keep the dialogue going.

Our appeals to Pakistan to cease support to terrorism for the dialogue process to succeed lack logic. Pakistan actually believes that because we cannot handle terrorist pressure externally as well as internally because of our divided polity, we cling to the dialogue option and seek accommodation with it.

We are in confusion when we say that we can make progress in settling our differences only in an atmosphere free from violence. Are we implying that we are holding up progress in some areas because Pakistan is not suppressing terrorism as we want?

What “progress” will we offer on Kashmir to satisfy Pakistan? Will we withdraw from Siachen if Pakistan controls jihad against us? Will we accept the Pakistani position on Sir Creek? Will we accept its case on the Wullar Barrage and our hydroelectric projects on the western rivers allowed by the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT)? What progress can we offer on nuclear matters?


In reality, if no progress is being made on our differences it is because Pakistan is fixated on obtaining concessions from India rather than making any of its own. On Siachen, they want us to basically accept that we are occupying territory that is rightfully theirs and vacate it. Apart from lack of strategic equivalence in the scope of the withdrawals, the reality is that even what Pakistan is currently holding is strictly illegal because we consider the whole of the erstwhile state as legally ours. Pakistan should in the first instance end its cartographic aggression by showing the cease-fire line correctly as ending at NJ9842 and not extended to the Karakoram Pass. Pakistan should also be required to remove the presence of China as an intruding third party in POK, consistent with its claim that J&K is “disputed” territory.

On Sir Creek, Pakistan should accept the median line as the border in accordance with international law rather than insisting on a one-sided solution. On water related issues, it should cease to further vitiate the atmosphere by accusing India of diverting water in violation of the IWT which is in fact is exceptionally generous to it. In the nuclear field, apart from increasing its holdings at a break-neck pace, it is introducing tactical nuclear weapons in the sub-continent and dangerously lowering the threshold of their use.

On trade, Pakistan has yet not moved to grant India MFN status stalled since December last year, even though it is obliged to grant it under international trading rules. If it does so eventually, it will be because of its economic woes rather than as a goodwill political gesture. On our side, were Pakistan to cease violent activity against us, an area in which we could contribute to “progress” would be people to people contacts.


It is time that we released ourselves from the diplomatic straitjacket of the composite dialogue. On all the agenda items, barring terrorism, Pakistan seeks concessions from India. We are exposing ourselves to blame for being rigid if no progress is made, with some of our own commentators joining Pakistanis in faulting us for not culling the so-called low hanging fruit such as Siachen and Sir Creek. On terrorism and trial of those responsible for the Mumbai attacks, our demands have become ritualistic through fruitless repetition and Pakistan ignores them. Worse, we have allowed

Pakistan to put us on the defensive on the issue by tagging the Samjhauta Express incident to the issue of terrorism.


We had a confused response to the recent border incident because of concern that holding the Pakistan army directly responsible would have jeopardized the resumption of the composite dialogue and the meeting of our Prime Minister with his Pakistani counterpart in New York next month. We have lost our margin of manoeuvre by investing too heavily in the policy of holding a broad-based dialogue with Pakistan despite its truck with terrorism. The Pakistani premier is pressing for the composite dialogue as it serves Pakistan’s interests well, the onus of making progress having been heaped on India’s shoulders. We should reverse the burden and ask Pakistan to deliver concretely on terrorism before we resume a process that has produced virtually nothing for years.

Prime Minister Sharif should put his money where his mouth is to inspire confidence.