Friday, December 26, 2014

The Fatal Attraction of the Islamic State: The Curious Cases of the Returnee, Self-indoctrinated and the Lone-Wolf

Alvite Singh Ningthoujam, 
Research Associate, VIF

The news of the four Indian youth from Kalyan joining the Islamic State (IS) in July 2014 became a major concern to the newly-elected government in New Delhi. This was one of the first instances which exposed the probable involvement of Indian Muslims with this dreaded outfit. In a way, the attraction and influence of the IS in South Asia has been evidenced by such activities where many radicalised youths have shown their allegiance and support to the Sunni militant group. Apart from India, the tentacles of the IS have spread to other countries such as Pakistan, Maldives, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. There have been increasingly IS-related activities inside these countries, which are either in the form of ideological support, hoisting of flags, graffiti, distribution of pamphlets and departure of young boys for Iraq and Syria.

The growth of the influence of the IS is attributed to its effective recruitment process using some of the most famous social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, various chat rooms and websites. These tools, till today, are continuing to play their role, enticing radicalised minds and terror outfits from across the globe.

At the moment, a new trend of ‘self-radicalisation’ is emerging. Without any direct involvement of the IS fighters or any other terror groups, they spread the extreme ideologies of such outfits often with the help of social media. This is going to be a major issue that would be difficult to tackle in the days to come.

The Case of a Returnee :

In India, ever since the news broke out about Muslim youth travelling to Iraq and Syria to fight for the IS, the security establishment inside the country have been exploring the reasons for the attraction of IS among a section of the Muslim community. The social and educational background of these people surprised the security agencies. This is because most of them did not fit the normal profile of people who usually take to terrorism. None of the four boys who travelled to the conflict zone were from the deprived or discriminated section of the society, and they were well-educated. Further, they were not unemployed. For instance, Arif Majeed, who returned to India in late November 2014, was an engineering student before he fled to join the IS. “Dissatisfaction” with the ways how the IS fighters treated Majeed was the probable reason that might have forced him to come back to India.
The movement of radicalised Indian Muslim youth to West Asia to fight for the IS is not only on the ground of social marginalisation or economic deprivation. An active involvement of local people in the recruitment process is highly suspected. And, a robust online recruitment process has been instrumental in brainwashing the easily-susceptible youths towards joining the IS militants to fight in West Asia, and also to express sympathy and support for the group.

From the preliminary investigations which had been carried out by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), it has come to be known that Majeed’s attraction towards IS began with a brief chat in an internet chat room. Through this media tool, he established further contacts with a few people in Iraq. Hereafter, Majeed’s interest in the activities of the IS developed significantly. But to reach Iraq, Majeed had come up with the idea of using the pilgrimage route, which is very popular in India. As soon as he returned to India, Majeed, he was booked under “sections 16 (punishment for terrorist act), 18 (punishment for conspiracy etc), 20 (punishment for being a member of terrorist gang or organisation) of the Unlawful Assembly Prevention Act (UAPA) and section 125 of IPC which deals with waging war against any Asiatic country which has friendly ties with India.”

The ongoing investigations have revealed some of the previously-unknown facts about Arif Majeed’s actual tasks while staying in the IS camps, and importantly what this terror outfit is actually doing. One of the surprising revelations was Majeed’s admission that he was given a very insignificant task of “cleaning toilets” and other menial chores such as “providing water” to those who were deployed in the battlefields. These activities had diminished the importance of his role in the IS, but the investigators anticipated more extreme activities that might have been performed by the arrested Indian youth. The bullet marks on Majeed’s body further raised suspicions about his possible involvement in fire fights. During further grilling of Majeed, he had spilled the beans about the training he received while handling sophisticated weapons such as AK-47 and rocket launchers. Then on, the security agencies took his association with the IS with utmost seriousness. In one of his answers, Majeed mentioned about 20 Indian youths who are believed to be fighting either in Iraq or Syria, and this has concerned the security officials who are following the events in West Asia, and those tracking down the Indians involved with the IS. It has now become imperative to find out if there is anyone from the Indian expatriate community in the Persian Gulf countries who could be assisting in the movement of youths from India to join the dreaded outfit.

The Indian investigators have been able to garner important information about IS’s recruitment policy of Indian youths as well other aspects of the outfit. Apart from the effective role of the internet while enticing the Indian Muslim youths, Majeed also disclosed about how the IS conducts some of the most inhumane crimes such as rape and execution of people with “impunity.” Furthermore, the IS considered the Indian youths too feeble to be fighting, as a result, assigned the aforementioned menial jobs. The IS fighters, according to Majeed, are not “religious warriors” but “mercenaries.” Apart from these revelations, what has triggered a serious alarm within Indian security establishments is the potential “plans” the IS has for the country. There are suspicions that Majeed had been released by the IS not just because he was deemed to be unfit to take up arms and fight, but to spread the extreme ideology propagated by outfit inside the country.

It has been already argued that the impact such returnees could leave in India would depend on how far they have been indoctrinated by the IS during their stint either in Iraq or Syria. Along the course of the investigation, security agencies have confirmed their worst fears as Majeed disclosed about trainings he received for suicide bombing as well. He even tried to blow himself up using an explosive-laden vehicle, an attempt that remained futile. This is the extreme form of terrorism that the IS militants could induce on such young fighters from countries outside West Asia. Such revelations have also given an idea about the kinds of extreme tasks that are given to these young fighters. It is also very probable that Majeed might have agreed to become a suicide bomber just because he wanted to prove to his leaders that he had the qualities in him other than that of a toilet cleaner.

It becomes apparent from Majeed’s account or experience of the extremities in nature of both his tasks dictated by the IS fighters. Moreover, the negligence and lack of medical support upon incurring a serious injury is particularly disturbing. These anguished disclosures should serve as a reminder once again and provide ample reason to deter and divert any thoughts that the sympathiser and supporters, who harbour the notion of enlisting oneself, just as Majeed did, to this terror outfit.
There are also reports that the Kalyan boys had been brainwashed by a few local clerics (from Maharashtra). This is in addition to the contacts they made with people connected with the IS. In a report published recently, one Mumbai-based “religious cult, Islamic Guidance Society” (IGS), with the involvement of a few of its members, was believed to have arranged the departure of Majeed and his three friends to West Asia. The probable role, including the funding, that could have played by this institute is being investigated. Apart from IGS, another organisation is also suspected to have been involved in the radicalisation process, and that is the Anjuman –I-Islam's Kalsekar Technical College located in Panvel (in Mumbai). NIA and anti-terrorism squad (ATS) in Mumbai are probing the role of these educational establishments.

In a country with a significant Muslim population, the alleged involvement of people and educational places in radicalising young people is a worrisome factor. Such practice could go in favour of not only IS but other terror outfits operating in and around the country while garnering support for their destructive activities.

As the NIA-led investigation exposed some horrifying facts, India now has a huge task of preventing the growth of radicalism inside the country, and to stop further movement of suspicious characters to countries such as Iraq and Syria. It is imperative that efforts should begin from grassroots level. For instance, the mushrooming of religious learning places, with extreme radical ideologies, needs to be checked. This would need an involvement of local populace and Muslim Ulemas with strong condemnations of the radical Islamic ideologies propagated by the IS or any other extremist groups. Along with this, a dimension that needs to be scrutinised thoroughly is the composition of people that go to West Asia for pilgrimages, particularly, to Iraq. This is going to be an arduous task, particularly, to single out suspicious characters when Indian pilgrims to Iraq usually touch 25,000 to 30,000 every year, comprising a sizeable youths under the age of 30. However, steps have been taken by Iraqi government-organized agencies such as Alshaya Nasser Travels by advising “tour operators not to accept passports from applicants who are single, under 30 and unaccompanied by family members.”

Issues of Self-indoctrination and Lone-Wolf Attacks: Influenced by the IS

The continuing trend of educated Indians expressing sympathy or support for the radical ideology of terror outfits such as the IS is extremely dangerous. For this, such people do not have to go to Iraq or Syria to fight along the IS fighters but they could influence other like-minded fellows. This phenomenon of “self-appointed propagandists” that is developing inside the country cannot be ignored. The social media has become one of the most important instruments in spreading the ideology of the IS as well legitimising its activities. The arrest of Mehdi Masroor Biswas, a 24-year-old engineering executive with an Indian multinational company, is believed to be one such case of “self-appointed propagandists.” His Twitter handle by the name @Shami Witness reportedly had about 17,700 followers. In addition to this, two thirds of the foreign fighters reportedly followed his account. After his IS-related activities were exposed by the British Channel 4 News, there was speculation that he was one of the biggest online recruiters in India for this terror outfit.

It is evident that there is a support or sympathy for the IS in India. Mehdi has mentioned that he “he didn’t like to be a foot soldier but wanted to be in the top layer, as a strategist.” This fits in well with the belief that the IS fighters mostly prefer other foreign recruits who are fit for battle fights, and Indians to be used for menial jobs as mentioned above. But such radicalised and educated Indians, mostly from the IT sector, could be helpful in spreading the IS influence with the use of social media. His style of operating the account in disguise might have already influenced those people who would like to propagate extreme ideologies of the IS.

The possibilities of lone-wolf attacks by self-indoctrinated people should not be downplayed. The recently-concluded Sydney hostage crisis is a good example although it is not related with the IS. This particular incident should, however, be an eye-opening for India. The law makers and the security agencies should be cognisant of the fact that the face of terrorism has changed, and the lone-wolf attack is one emerging phenomenon. As a result, India should have a mechanism to face this menace.


Given the nature of Indians who are involved with the IS-related activities, it is clear that it is not only the people from socially or economically marginalised sections of the society who are attracted towards the path of terror. The support exhibited by educated upwardly mobile people with good jobs is an alarming trend.

As the IS continues to spread its propaganda with the help of social media and internet, it is imperative to establish a strong cyber monitoring mechanism. The online campaign for IS needs to be tackled. There should be a robust cooperation between the social media firms and security agencies. In the past, there had been problems between these establishments on issues related to sharing of information. But considering the current dire situation, such issues can no longer be taken lightly and cooperation and coordination between all the stakeholders is inescapable..

An important step that has been taken up by India is the imposition of ban on the IS. Further, the government is likely to set up a committee, to be constituted by India’s National Security Advisor, to enhance the cyberspace monitoring. This is a significant measure initiated by the Ministry of Home Affairs, whereby the committee would implement and execute policies depending on the nature of cyber threats. There should be no further delay in executing these plans. Otherwise, a catastrophe cannot be ruled out in India.

India-Korea Relations in the Asian Century

Perhaps the most notable development in world affairs today is the dawn of Asian century. If the 20th century was dominated by the rise of US and trans-Atlantic relations , the global centre of gravity is invariably shifting to East Asia in the current century. However, much of the discourse on the region tends to focus overwhelming on the phenomenal rise of China and to a lesser extent the emergence of India. It is argued that these two countries, possessing largest population bases, and thus huge markets, would be at the centre of much of what is happening in East Asia. Three centuries back before the launch of colonialism together the two countries constituted some 50 percent of global GDP and, if the present trends were to continue, by 2050 their combined output is likely to be at around 40 percent.

In PPP terms, China’s economy is already the world’s largest and India’s the third largest. By 2008, China had emerged the largest manufacturing nation and in 2012 it became the largest trading nation in the world. Despite slowdown in the last couple decades, Japan continues to be an economic powerhouse with mammoth private financial assets at around US$ 14 trillion (as of December 2014) and a GDP of over $5 trillion. More importantly, it is still a leader in several niche advanced technologies and continues to be the single largest source of FDI in East Asia.

With its huge human resource base, a massive demographic advantage, and strong hold on certain niche areas such as information technology and pharmaceuticals, India is forecast to emerge as a major economic growth driver in the coming years. The region already holds more than half the world’s foreign exchange reserves and accounts for nearly a quarter of financial assets. It has logged double the average world’s growth rates and indications suggest that buoyant outlook will continue for the foreseeable future. Indeed, most credible studies have forecast that Asia’s share of global output will increase from 27.7 percent in 2010 to 52.3 percent by 2050.

No question that China and India dominate much of the discourse on East Asia, but it would be foolhardy if we fail to acknowledge the fact that the entire East Asian region, comprising more than half of the world’s population, is on the rise. Indeed, a large number of small and medium countries have a pivotal role in making the East Asian region economically the most vibrant in the world. Countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan have emerged as major capital surplus countries and their economic roles are rapidly expanding. Of the total of nearly $7 trillion foreign exchange reserves held by the East Asian countries, the above four countries alone have nearly $1.5 trillion though their combined population is just about 85 million.

On the other hand, East Asia is also facing the most testing times politically. The breakdown of the cold war bipolar order has thrown up uncertainties and the region is witnessing unprecedented developments such as the rise of Asian powers, which are not only becoming more assertive but are also redefining their roles. The robust US military presence in the region is in no doubt but it is no more the sole determinant regional security architecture. Concomitantly, the region is also witnessing fundamental shifts in maritime environment including the emergence of new major maritime powers, maritime boundary disputes becoming highly contentious, and several looming non-conventional maritime threats. Bouts of tensions among neighbours are rising concerns about regional peace and stability.

Against this backdrop, the issue that has not received much attention is the potential cooperation that India and Korea can forge even while New Delhi intensifies its multifaceted engagement with East Asia. Perhaps we in India need to keep in mind that, when most countries were indifferent after market reforms were introduced in the early 1990s because of its poor infrastructure and notorious red tape, South Korea was willing to take risks by investing especially in the manufacturing of automobiles and consumer durables. Despite all odds, it managed to create a niche for its products. These two have also signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in 2010. The bilateral trade increased to over US$16 billion in 2013 but it is nowhere near the targets set under CEPA of $40 bn. by 2015. Indeed, the current bilateral trade is miniscule compared to South Korea’s trade with China, which was about 230 bn. Similarly, Korean investments in India, which cumulatively stood at $3.5 bn. by 2013, constituted just 2.5 percent of its overall overseas investments. In fact, Indian companies have invested nearly $ 3 bn. in Korea. It needs serious introspection as to why India managed to attract so little Korean investment.

Besides further strengthening economic relations, to build a solid Strategic Partnership (agreed during President Lee Myung-bak’s visit in January 2010), India and Korea have to undertake concerted efforts to broad base the relationship. The interactions or exchange of views on issues of common interest and concern, especially at the Track II level, are minimal. One such area is the emerging East Asian security and the likely order that might come about where both have high stakes and hence exchange of views and coordination of policies become crucial.

Two, both are actively involved in several regional multilateral mechanisms, both security and economic related. As East Asia enters an uncertain era, multilateral frameworks can play a critical role in dispelling misunderstanding and mitigating concerns. Three, at the bilateral level, India and Korea can forge close defence links and promote security cooperation. India and South Korea have been conducting naval exercises since the signing of the 2004 as part of an agreement. At the first-ever talks between the two defence ministers during the Korean defence minister’s visit in May 2007, it was further agreed to qualitatively augment defence cooperation, to include regular naval drills and high-level defence exchanges. The 2010 Strategic Partnership agreement envisaged to cover a range of activities including setting up of a joint commission of foreign ministers for annual security dialogue, defence exchanges, greater cooperation between the navies and coast guards in areas pertaining to the safety and security of international maritime traffic, etc. However, the progress so far seems to be tardy. Unfortunately the deal for the supply of Korean mine countermeasure vessels has been scrapped for various reasons, which is a setback for defence ties.

The other area that has huge potential is civilian nuclear cooperation. Now that South Korea has emerged as a leading supplier of advanced civilian nuclear reactors, time has come for India and South Korea to reinvigorate the 2011 nuclear cooperation agreement and to undertake some tangible initiatives. Unlike Japan, which has reservations because India is a non-NPT state, Seoul has no such problems.

Now that the Modi Government has launched a new phase of engaging East Asia called “Act East”, New Delhi must realise that South Korea is a key cog in this. Unless a comprehensive relationship encompassing various dimensions is built, the India-Korea Strategic Partnership will remain incomplete.

G V C Naidu is Professor at the Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, JNU

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Security Trends in Jammu and Kashmir: A Year of Uncertainty Awaits

Lt General S A Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM (Bar), VSM (Bar), 
Visiting Fellow, VIF

The current scenario in Jammu & Kashmir is drawing attention towards some ongoing imperatives. First, the assembly election results are a reflection of uncertainty on the political front with clear dividing lines between the Valley and Jammu region ; the government formation is still some distance away and will be a manifestation of whether national interest or narrow interests will prevail. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his usual decisive way, has clearly pointed towards national interest being supreme, indicating his preference for a dispensation which supports effective governance and inviolability of India’s claim over the whole of J&K. Second, is the situation in Pakistan where rationalists expect a change of heart after the horrendous Peshawar massacre and thus possible curbs on the Punjab based anti-India Jihadi groups. That nations do not change long standing strategic focus on the basis of temporary emotions, especially when they follow irrationality as a policy, has not sufficiently dawned on the rationalists.

Third, there is a clear message from the elections; that rebuilding the flood devastated Jammu and Srinagar regions has to be a priority even as development and governance become the main issues. Clearly the Prime Minister’s message has gone down well and a hope has emerged. Four, whichever way one wishes to read the large electoral turnout across the State, there is a clear move away from support to violence although separatist trends continue to persist, especially in the Valley region. Five, the Uri Fedayeen attack on the Army signifies that the Jihadi groups are not dead and gone and indeed can temporarily hold sway in the most unexpected areas. The security space in J&K yet needs the Army’s strong presence to ensure stability even as the Army struggles to refine its concepts and doctrines for the conflict resolution stage which seems to be upon J&K. Lastly, the LoC which was active for most of the second half of 2014 threatens to remain in contention as a major symbol for demonstration by Pakistan that it remains a major stake holder even though its hold over separatism has diluted.

Given these trends, how would the security scenario pan out in 2015 even as a new government of any political dispensation takes charge? What would the challenges for this government be, particularly on the security front? Interestingly, the concept of a secure J&K seems to be veering around the more comprehensive meaning of the term ‘security’ which in effect means strengthening governance and facilitating the public to lead a normal life with full aspirations just like any other part of India. In any coalition alliance, the contentious issue of AFSPA would become a bone of contention if different stand points exist. However, the larger question of the necessity of the Army’s presence in the hinterland to ensure the sustenance of gains towards greater stability will remain a major question which any political dispensation will have to tackle. The Centre with the advice of professionals is unlikely to compromise on this issue for the larger good of the security of the State. It may so evolve that with the elections behind them, the political class within J&K may put emphasis on development right from the outset and avoid involvement in emotive issues such as AFSPA which tend to divert agenda.

In any case, the Army will have to, in the light of the incidents at Chhatergam and Mohura (Uri), temper itself a little more to calibrate its operations in such a way that while ensuring its own security and preventing terrorist effectiveness, that the civilian space in the hinterland is more noticeably yielded. Professionals within the Army’s leadership will have to work overtime to send home the message to its rank and file and yet be seen to be sufficiently offensive in outlook. Professional Armies do not take kindly to curbs on their concept of operations but these have to move with the times and be a part of the overall national strategy and not one in isolation. There is a need for greater education of the rank and file of the Army on what constitutes a winning strategy; mindless violence and dominance is counterproductive and the Force Ethos has to involve greater trust for decisions of its own hierarchy. Never has the challenge for the Army been greater because efforts towards the last mile achievements in counter militancy campaigns tend to lead to overkill.

Two other aspects should dominate the security scenario. First are the LoC and the Jammu IB sector. The Centre and the State should not be surprised or perturbed by an expected ratcheting of violence in these areas. The ceasefire is effective only in patches. With Pakistan and the Jihadi groups unable to raise the level of violence inside J&K and under pressure internationally, it is the LoC and IB which will become symbols to showcase the continued interest. 2015 is likely to witness a significant shift towards violence on the LoC and its vicinity. Secondly, the increasing trends towards radicalization of youth and the power of social media to do that will need to be within focus of the intelligence agencies. If Pakistan and the Jihadi groups cannot dominate or exploit the physical space of the hinterland, they will attempt to do so by calibrating the psychological space in the hinterland and the physical space on the LoC.

Moving away from the military oriented aspects, the development agenda will need to translate into effective programs, suitably monitored from the Centre in a landscape where corruption, lack of will and inefficiency have ruled the roost. The closeness of the political dispensation in the State Government to that at the Centre will no doubt help but the Prime Minister’s words need to be given due credence whereby national interest will apply to all aspects of governance. Besides this, strengthening of the political outreach of the political parties achieved to a much higher level in the elections will need to be maintained. However, the disturbing trend is the hit that Panchayati Raj has taken with the targeting of sarpanches in various districts of the Valley. Sooner than later, the much ignored aspect will need focus. Lastly, those who have the good of J&K and an abiding interest in the Prime Minister’s mission of national interest at heart have to realize that without promotion of amity between Jammu and the Kashmir regions, the state and its people will never exploit the emerging peace dividend. There can never be a permanent state of alienation if strident efforts are made towards integration and rapprochement. Development and reconstruction of the effects of disaster are the identified vehicles for stability which both segments of the state have to adopt by putting aside their differences and perhaps allowing business, education and tourism to become the glue against the divisive factors of faith and ideology. That is the challenge after the turbulence and excitement of a truly momentous election is behind us.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Abe’s Re-election and India-Japan Relations

Dr Harinder Sekhon, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

Shinzo Abe’s decisive victory in the mid term polls on December 14 augurs well for the future of India-Japan relations. Diplomatic ties between India and Japan that have seen an upswing over the past two decades are slated to assume even greater significance in the coming years. While Prime Minister Mori and Prime Minister Vajpayee laid the foundations for a robust partnership between India and Japan, many factors have contributed to this, the main being the changing strategic balance of power in Asia-Pacific due to China’s rise and domestic economic challenges that have bound both India and Japan to examine ways of fostering economic interdependence through bilateral and multilateral trade security agreements.

Japan has steadily come to occupy an extremely significant place in India's foreign policy and economic calculus and is one of the main pillars of India's Look East Policy. The great bonhomie between Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Abe is well known and Japan was the first bilateral visit by Modi outside India’s immediate neighbourhood. Modi and Abe, through their chemistry have been able to establish a new era in relations between both countries. Critical areas where the interests of the two countries converge include the economy, education, science and technology, maritime security, proliferation of nuclear weapons, cyber security and space cooperation.

In their Joint Statement1 in September, the two Prime Ministers pledged to “realize the full potential of India - Japan Strategic and Global Partnership for continuing progress and prosperity for their people and for advancing peace, stability and prosperity in Asia and the world. Elevating the relationship to a Special Strategic and Global Partnership, they called their meeting the dawn of a new era in India - Japan relations.”

The Fact Sheet titled India and Japan - Partners for Common Development, 2 on economic initiatives between India and Japan, enumerated a number of proposals to be carried forward between the two countries. But, given the security architecture in the Asia, defence and security matters received more attention. Defence cooperation between India and Japan is strong and the trilateral Japan-India-US Malabar exercises and the Okinawa exercises between India, Japan and the US along with Singapore and Australia are progressing well.

In particular, the recent developments in Japan’s policy on transfer of defence equipment and technology are a positive outcome. This fits in with India’s own “Make in India” policy announced by Modi. There is a lot that can be done by identifying specific areas for joint production and making relevant policy recommendations to respective Governments. India and Japan can specifically explore working together in cyber security and the maritime domain – where the Indian Navy is in need of urgent modernization and Japan has the expertise in shipbuilding. Talks are at an advanced stage amongst the Joint Working Group3 on cooperation in US-2 amphibian aircraft and its technology, and if this happens, it would mark Japan's first overseas military sale in nearly 50 years.

While the recent India-Japan bilateral discussions focused more on defence and security issues, Modi also sought increased investment from Japan which is India’s fourth largest foreign direct investor. The Indian Prime Minister invited Japanese attention to stepping up cooperation in infrastructure development in India and it is hoped the two Governments will move forward together in this critical area.

India has increasingly begun to realize the benefits of foreign investment, trade, and economic integration, and a development oriented Indian Prime Minister has taken definitive steps to not just “Look East” but “Act East” by following a more vigorous policy to improve economic and strategic relations with Southeast Asia, Japan, and even China. According to Sheila Smith, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, "Modi went to Tokyo with a very clear message for Japanese businesses that he was going to address the country's labyrinth of regulatory and tax complications that get in the way of foreign direct investment, which the Japanese business community has scratched their heads over for a long time."4 The challenge now is for Modi to overcome domestic bureaucratic constraints and move forward on the vision he has articulated for India’s growth.

The task is not easy and Modi now must walk the talk and implement the steps that will both revive India’s economic fortunes while “simultaneously bolstering its defences and strengthening its strategic partnerships with like minded states, thereby promoting regional stability and blocking the rise of a Sino-centric Asia….This dovetails nicely with Abe’s soft nationalism, market-oriented economics, and new Asianism, seeking close ties with Asian democracies to create a web of interlocking strategic partnerships.”5

Trade links between India and Japan grew due to common underlying facets, commonly referred to as the three “Ds” – Democracy, Demography and Demand. But a lot more needs to be done in this sphere and hopefully trade will grow further.6 For Japan and India, Asia’s second and third largest economies, a trade figure of merely $ 15.8 billion in 2013 is extremely inadequate and both have a lot of ground to cover, considering that Japan is an extremely important FDI investor in India. But in the past couple of years, owing to India’s economic slump and a policy paralysis at the political level, Japanese investments in India tapered off and Japanese firms have invested more in newer emerging markets like Vietnam and Indonesia.7

But this will change as there is a complementarity between the economic and security interests of both countries. Modi and Abe, with their respective “Modinomics” and “Abenomics”, are both equally committed to ASEAN. Like Modi, Abe also gives priority to economic issues and the Japanese economy has to show signs of revival if Abe is to succeed politically. This was the reason for the mid term elections that Abe called this month. According to all reports, while Abe has won with a clear majority, there will be pressure on him to deliver on the economic front and ensure that the country comes out of recession. A low GDP growth rate of about 2% and a decline of 0.50 percent in the third quarter of 2014 over the previous quarter is not a very comfortable situation to be in.

To tackle domestic economic challenges, Abe is likely to increase the private consumption tax on rich Japanese tax payers gradually as one of the measures to revive the economy and prove that his policy (Abenomics) is doing well. Hiking the consumption tax is needed to make sure a good and firm social security system can be created and sustained. That is why Japan implemented the first round of the consumption tax of 3 % in July 2014.8 Abe’s plan is to raise it once again next year, and take it to 10 percent by 2016 in the hope that the economic environment would be more stable with Japan no longer in a deflationary state. The ratio of job openings to job seekers reached the highest level in two years, and for the first time in 15 years, incomes also went up. But it is still a fragile situation and can spin out of control if the economy does not revive to more reasonable levels.

Another tricky element of Abe’s attempts at introducing structural reforms to lift Japan’s economy out of its “deflationary malaise” is his decision to join the US led Trans Pacific Partnership being negotiated between the United States and eleven other countries in Asia. Abe announced in March 2013 that Japan—which accounted for 14 percent, or $146 billion, of U.S. goods trade with TPP partners in 2012—would seek to participate in the TPP negotiations. This was met with wide spread opposition by various Japanese groups especially the agriculture lobby. The agriculture industry has argued that this vital sector would take a hit from foreign competition due to the removal of tariffs and other protective measures on imports that would be ruinous for the Japanese farmer. Some Japanese health-care providers have also voiced concerns that Japan's national health insurance system would be adversely affected as Japanese citizens would be compelled to buy foreign-produced pharmaceuticals and medical devices.9

Despite these domestic apprehensions, Abe is of the opinion that in the long run it would be to Japan’s advantage if it was fully integrated into an Asian multilateral trade facilitation channel. India, too, faces similar predicaments at bilateral and multilateral trade fora like the WTO and efforts by the US to get it to agree to a Bilateral Investment Treaty.

There is plenty that binds the leaders of Asia’s two most prominent democracies together. Besides their common economic objectives and goals, both India and Japan, through greater strategic cooperation, are seeking to evolve an effective yet peaceful strategy to counter an increasingly assertive China in the region. The China factor further incentivizes India and Japan to cooperate in many ways and according to Modi, “write a new chapter” in India-Japan relations, while Abe said that their bilateral ties have the “most potential in the world.” Both leaders have displayed political sagacity and a strategic vision to create a strong partnership and it is in the mutual interest of both countries to build upon this promising start.
  1. For details, see documents.htm?dtl/23965/Tokyo_Declaration_for_India__Japan_Special_Strategic_and_Global_Partnership, Tokyo, September 1, 2014. Accessed on 18 December 2014.
  2. Available at, accessed on 18 December , 2014.
  3. Referred to in the Modi-Abe Joint Statement, see foot note 1.
  4. Nyshka Chandran, “There’s More to Modi-Abe Ties than China, September 2, 2014, available at Accessed on 18 December 2014.
  5. Brahma Chellaney, “Narendra Modi: India’s Shinzo Abe,” The Diplomat, May 16, 2014. Available at, . Accessed on December 18, 2014.
  6. Based on an interaction with Japanese Delegation from the JIIA, Tokyo, at the VIF, December 8,2014.
  7. Michael Schuman, “Why India’s Modi and Japan’s Abe Need Each Other – Badly,” TIME, September 2, 2014.
  8. For details, see Backgrounder of the Council on Foreign Relations, available at Accessed on 18 December 2014.
  9. Ibid.

Published Date: 23rd December 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Elections in Sri Lanka and Evolving Relationship with India

Brig Vinod Anand, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

The coming elections for the Presidency in Sri Lanka have heightened the political activity. President Mahinda Rajapakse is seeking a third term based on the 18th Amendment to the Constitution (carried out in 2010 to overcome the two-term limitation for a President) that had been objected to by the Opposition parties. The Opposition parties have thrown up a joint candidate Maithripala Sirisena (who was General Secretary of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party and has now defected to the opposing side) to present a unified front in order to defeat Rajapakse. Two other cabinet ministers have also joined the opposition. This only shows the level of resentment even within the ruling party to the present dispensation which to all accounts is being controlled by one family. Rajapakse government has been termed as corrupt and authoritarian by the opposition.

In a recent online survey carried out 52% of the respondents selected corruption while 21% selected the economy, 19% selected constitutional reform and balance chose human rights as the major issues in elections. The survey also opined that if the Presidential election is to be held tomorrow, majority of respondents believed that Maithripala Sirisena would win. Only 23.94% believe that President Rajapakse would win. Many of the political leaders from the ruling party and the opposition have crossed over to the other side but the opinion-poll says that the opposition’s common candidate has benefited the most.

Srisena has also promised cleaning up government corruption and full implementation of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations as suggested by the UN Human Rights Commission besides repealing the 18th Amendment. By all accounts, there is a viable opposition even while Rajapakse remains confident that he will come out as a winner. However, it is expected to be a close contest. There is also the question of executive Presidency which the opposition parties have resolved to abolish. But then the question of whether executive Presidency should continue or not has been part and parcel of Sri Lanka’s politics for long with both sides favouring it or going against it as is politically expedient to them at a given point of time. The possibilities of violence and fraud during elections cannot be ruled out given the total control on the polity and power by the present government. Rajapakse had used money and muscle power and the government machinery and distributed favours to defeat Sarath Fonseka in the 2009 presidential election.

India would be naturally interested in a free and fair poll that reflects the wishes of Tamil majority areas in North and East of Sri Lanka. The possibilities of Bodu Bala Sena (a radical Buddhist outfit) being utilized by the current dispensation to improve its electoral prospects in certain areas cannot be ruled out. There are also apprehensions that Rajapakse government may indulge in malpractices in Tamil majority areas because of their antipathy to the current government and concomitant lack of support. Devolution of powers to Tamil areas had been promised by Rajapakse but he has not delivered. India has been insisting on Rajapakse that he should implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which mandates devolution of powers to the provinces. There is also the question of human rights violations in the closing phase of civil war in 2009. There is a view that an opposition victory might be able to address these issues positively.

Ethnic issue has been one of the contentious issues in the bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka. India has indeed been the most important external actor in the Sri Lankan ethnic issue that was determined by its geo-strategic interests, internal political factor and as a regional power, apart from its desire to find a permanent settlement to the ethnic conflict in its neighbourhood. India has been caught in a ‘dilemma’ of finding a solution meeting the sentiments and rights of the aggrieved Tamil community, but without affecting the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. New Delhi has been encouraging Sri Lanka to reach an accommodation with the main Sri Lanka Tamil political group, the Tamil National Alliance on the issue of devolution of power to Tamil majority areas in North and East.
With the military defeat of the LTTE in 2009 that put an end to the three decade long conflict, conditions were created to work towards peace and prosperity. Presently, New Delhi’s broad concerns are resettlement and development of and bringing a lasting political settlement of the ethnic issue in the long run. India has been implementing developmental assistance projects for the Internally Displaced Persons and disadvantaged sections of the population in Sri Lanka. Despite ups and downs in relations on the ethnic issue, cooperation in economic and cultural fields improved tremendously over the years. Economic relations especially received big boost after entry into force of a bilateral Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement in March 2000. In few years, India became Sri Lanka’s largest trading partner, and Sri Lanka, India’s largest trading partner in South Asia. Sri Lanka has also been a priority destination for India’s Foreign Direct Investment. The estimates are that bilateral trade could be doubled to 10 billion USD from the current levels of 5 billion in three years or so. The question of Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) has been pending since 2009 as Sri Lanka feels that existing FTA needs to become more effective before progressing to CEPA.

The aspect of increasing presence of extra-regional powers like China with strategic objectives has created some complications in the evolving Indo-Sri Lankan relations.

The docking of Chinese submarines in September and October this year in Colombo (the second one Changzheng 2 is nuclear powered), despite some reasoning offered by the Chinese, have created strategic concerns for India. Chinese naval ships have also docked at the container terminal of Colombo raising apprehensions. While Sri Lanka has readily joined China’s New Maritime Silk Route initiative because of possible commercial benefits, India is still weighing the benefits or otherwise of this new initiative and its strategic connotations.

Response from Sri Lankan side has been that their government was fully aware of India’s security concerns and it will not do anything to undermine India’s security concerns. Seemingly intractable issues over many decades have been solved through negotiations between the two countries. Sri Lanka’s leadership feels that their security and prosperity is tied with that of India. Although the three decades conflict has been brought to an end in 2009, yet Sri Lanka’s security concerns regarding residual elements of LTTE and its supporters (Tamil diaspora and Tamils of Tamil Nadu) remain because they still have some foothold inside and outside Sri Lanka. Thus, according to Colombo, their security also gets impacted in the same manner as on India. They also feel that with a strong Modi government at the Centre, the problem of coalition compulsions could be overcome and India’s approach towards Sri Lanka would not get affected by domestic politics. However, looking at the issue from New Delhi’s perspective, no Indian government can ignore the sentiments of Tamils both in Tamil Nadu and in North East areas of Sri Lanka.

Further, in so far as China’s activities in Indian Ocean are concerned, the Sri Lankan interlocutors emphasise the point that Beijing also needs to secure its SLOCs against piracy. Location of Sri Lanka makes it a hub of communications in the Indian Ocean and it is inevitable that ships from different countries would use its ports. However, it is incumbent on Sri Lanka to ensure that such activities do not affect India’s security. Further, the balance of power has shifted to Asia and both China and India will play a major role in the Indian Ocean. Thus, in Sri Lanka’s perspective, China will use Indian Ocean more frequently and this can’t be avoided in the same manner as India would need to expand its activities in South China Sea and Pacific Ocean. No single country can meet the threats to maritime security and this is reflected in a number of joint naval exercises being held in Indian and Pacific Oceans.

On the other hand, Indian interlocutors feel that sending of submarines is not necessary for anti-piracy or any other connected maritime security operations; submarine operations are meant for projection of power into Indian Ocean.

Further, despite India’s presence in Sri Lanka’s infrastructure, the Chinese investments have triggered India’s security threat perceptions. Balancing a larger neighbour by inviting outside help is a game that is played by the smaller neighbour. It is happening all across SAARC and it is no wonder that Sri Lanka is also doing it. Colombo was also in favour of granting full membership to China in SAARC. Obviously, such a step would have affected the centrality of India in this regional multilateral organization.

It also needs to be remembered that during the civil war that ended in 2009, China and Pakistan had provided weapons and other defence equipment to Sri Lankan armed forces while India had only given defensive systems to them in their struggle against the LTTE.

Further, while China has been voting against UNHCR resolution against investigation of human rights violations committed by Sri Lankan armed forces in the last stages of the civil war, India has voted twice in favour and has once absented itself during the UN vote. Though China and India might have their own logic for such action, nevertheless this has had an impact on India-Sri Lanka and China dynamics.

In so far as US and European Union are concerned, they account for two-thirds of Sri Lankan exports. However, Rajapakse’s stance on human rights issues and accountability etc. are not helpful in strengthening their relationship. The US and EU continue to sponsor UNHCR resolutions against Sri Lanka and have called for investigations and holding of war crime trials. In fact, Sri Lanka’s relations with Western powers have deteriorated over the years.

Notwithstanding the likely results of forthcoming Presidential elections in Sri Lanka, India needs to strengthen its defence and economic relationship with Sri Lanka. India’s record in implementing projects in Sri Lanka has not been good; as pointed out by Sri Lankan interlocutors in a recent interaction. New Delhi needs to be nimble and agile while executing infrastructure projects, they felt.
(This is largely based on interaction with experts and scholars from Pathfinder Foundation, Sri Lanka with VIF Faculty and additional independent inputs)

Published Date: 22nd December 2014, Image source:

Friday, December 19, 2014

How the Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan is being Funded?

Gaurav Dixit

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its latest Afghanistan Opium Survey 2014 suggests that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has hit an all-time high in 2014. It was estimated at 224,000 hectares in 2014, a 7% increase from the previous year, surpassing the previous high of 209,000 hectares of poppy in 2013.

The international community is concerned about prospects of its impact on future funding of the Taliban, as the Afghans are growing more poppy today than at any point of time in modern history. The survey identified a clear link between insecurity and the rise in the opium cultivation, as the vast majority (89 per cent) of the opium cultivation is taking place in nine Afghan provinces in the southern and western regions, the most insecure in the country. The Chief of Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Spoko underlined that the narcotics trade not only poisons the Afghan financial sector and undermines the Afghan state's legitimacy by stoking corruption, but is also providing significant financial support to the Taliban.

The course of any insurgent movement is contingent upon a number of elements-primarily, the organisational strength, leadership and most importantly finance, besides ideology. At one level, all these factors are inseparably interlinked and determine the success or failure of the movement. The Taliban insurgency is one such movement posing a direct threat to the national security of Afghanistan. And the role of poppy cultivation and opium production in financing and sustaining Taliban insurgent movement in Afghanistan, cannot be ignored.

The insurgency and the opium economy

The Taliban movement in Afghanistan had never been short of sources of fund to budget its insurgency. These include donations from charities and individuals from Gulf States, Hawala networks, extortion, protection money from convoys seeking to resupply international forces in Afghanistan, smuggling of goods, and various other illicit activities like kidnapping. However, income from narcotics production and trafficking is the one of the biggest fund raising source for Taliban.

In 2000-2001, the Taliban had declared poppy cultivation illegal. Counter-narcotics expert Vanda Felbab-Brown explicates it as an attempt to appease the international community, to buy recognition as a legitimate government, boost opium prices, and possibly also consolidate its control over Afghanistan's drug trade. Since 2001, when Taliban government was ousted from power; Taliban promoted poppy cultivation and started levying a ‘tax’ on opium farmers. The income generation sources of Taliban are: money lending and charges on opium farmers, lab processing and trafficking and charges on protection and drugs transportation.

The highest poppy cultivating provinces in Afghanistan in recent years- Helmand, Kandahar, Farah, Nimroz and Uruzgan - are Taliban strongholds and also records high insurrectionary incidents. In these provinces, Taliban backed financiers provide money to the farmers to grow Poppy plants and, in turn, collect the harvest in many of the poppy growing Taliban provinces of influence. Gretchen Peter’s paper on How Opium Profits Taliban, points out to how the Taliban in rural areas collect Opium in exchange of commodities. They maintain warehouses where opium can be stored and withdrawn. Such warehouses, again, play an important role in hoarding and stockpiling opium in case there is excessive global demand for opium; by curtailing supply, they force the opium market to increase price, therefore collecting higher profit on opium supply. The Taliban don’t only collect tax on crop, but also collect protection charges from farmers to protect them from anti narcotics eradication programme.

The other source of income for Taliban is charging lab processing charges on many of the traffickers and processors in areas close to Pakistan and Iran. Many of the Taliban themselves operate processing business, collecting huge profit from the heroin processing units. The trafficking of large amount of opium along various porous boundaries of Afghanistan and neighboring countries needs armed escort services from Taliban.

In many of the areas, the corrupt government officials, intelligence, Taliban and traffickers facilitate drugs convoys. Everyone has their own share of benefits, as drug trafficking is the most important and cash rich activity in the whole series of opium economy. The Taliban are also paid in with other commodities like satellite phone, vans and bikes, which in turn is used by the Taliban insurgents in various attacks on State forces. As bulk of the opium are grown and processed in southern Afghanistan, smuggling and trafficking too begins from these areas. There are basically some fixed routes of trafficking of opium and heroin, which is smuggled through countries like Iran, Pakistan and various central Asian countries to markets in Europe and Russia.

The Future Scenario

Afghanistan is going through a complicated security and economic transition. The complete pullout of international forces and decline in aid is likely to produce a massive economic constriction inside the country that could further increase both economic and political instability. The U.N. has warned that the legal economy will continue to contract next year as foreign aid money continues to decrease, and that could motivate farmers to continue cultivating opium. Therefore, given the gloomy prospect for the legal economy, the lure of opium money will continue to boost opium economy.

The Counternarcotics Police of Afghanistan (CNPA) was established in 2003 as a special force element of the Afghan National Police (ANP) responsible for counternarcotics operations throughout Afghanistan. It is still in its nascent stage and lacks skills, motivation and resources to fight anti-state elements. Further, the forces are hampered by lack of fund, infrastructure and training, and are finding it hard to tackle opium production at provincial and local level.
Earlier, CNPA was working closely under the guidance of U.S. government institutions—Department of State (State), Department of Defense (DOD), and Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The drawdown of military personnel will also lead to scaling down of the civilian law enforcement officials which in turn will jeopardize the counternarcotics effort. It is expected that Taliban will witness organisational expansion and increase in numeric strength in the wake of coalition forces’ drawdown. It will try to regenerate its capacities and capabilities. The Taliban are likely to try to keep military pressure in rural areas, both in the provinces close to Pakistan border and also expand their control and influence in areas vacated by coalition forces. This will require huge amount of funding and financial capacity. Chances are that the Taliban will take advantage of the potential economic and security instability to generate maximum revenue from opium economy, further worsening the security condition.

Terrorism, narcotics and the instability are the elements that are chained up together in Afghanistan. For transforming Afghanistan from a nation in conflict to a nation in peace, the new government must accord top priority to counter-narcotics in the next few years. The onus of responsibility should equally be shared by the international community, as opium from Afghanistan is no longer a threat to the region, but has acquired international dimension. An unstable Afghanistan is a threat to global security and as such the problem needs engagement of various international governments and institutions.
(The author is an independent strategic analyst)

Published Date: 18th December 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Urgent Need for Steps to Make Nathu La Route to Kailash Mansarovar Safe for Pilgrims

R. K. Bhandari

India and China had signed a bilateral agreement on September 18 this year providing for for conducting the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Nathu La in Sikkim Himalayas in addition to the existing Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand.

Addressing the media after the signing of the MoU in this regard, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the new route offers many benefits. “It makes Kailash Mansarovar accessible by a motorable road, which is especially beneficial for older pilgrims. It offers a safer alternative in the rainy season, makes the pilgrimage shorter in duration and will enable a much higher number of pilgrims to go there,” he said.

However, the bad news is that whereas China may be able to do its bit to take necessary steps to ensure the safety of the route before it opens, unprepared India may still be fighting with the systemic inertia to remove vulnerabilities for ensuring a hiccup free, smooth passage to the pilgrims, tourists and traders on its side of the border.

Of course, this bad news is somewhat obscured by another good news that by now we not only know the weak links in our chain of operation and what ails our disaster management systems, but additionally, we have also been repeatedly taught the do’s and don’ts of life by none other than the disasters themselves. Every now and then, we have passed through the tides of pain and suffering which are now so intense as to drive us to action. Nathu La, through which pilgrims will be able to reach Mansarovar next year, literally means a Pass with ears that listen. We too need listening ears without which the cries of those affected will continue to haunt us! It is therefore time to act.

Ordinarily hard core pilgrims are neither deterred by dangers that they might face when it comes to pilgrimage, nor do they fear the horror stories of disaster-inflicted death, destruction and sufferings, told to them by the previous generation. This is because they value faith, devotion, penance and salvation more than they fear death. It is the duty of the government, however, to protect the pilgrims from dangers of all shades and colors. According to a report in the News from China, September 2014 Issue, a total of nearly 70,000 Indian citizens have travelled to Tibet for pilgrimage in the past decade. The number of pilgrims has shot up from a mere 400 in 2003 to 14,084 in 2013, a whopping 35 fold increase!

Nathu La is already attracting tourists because of its fascinating altitude of 4310m, Tsomgo Lake, Baba Mandir and the fun of a handshake with the Chinese at the border fence. Once the route is opened for pilgrimage, the elderly and the sick will also not like to be left behind regardless of high altitude problems and dangers of which they may or may not be aware at this time. They will need acclimatisation, medicare and all kinds of support even in the normal times. In the event of border skirmishes and natural calamities, they will need much more than the so called preparedness. Even then a great majority of pilgrims may not get deterred by anticipated dangers, no matter how serious, because afterall, Nathu La had already been on the old Silk Road for trade between India and China, and it, even now continues to be one of the three open trading borders.1 Moreover, if Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi could reach Bhutan via Nathu La more than half a century ago, then why not the pilgrims now? The Nathu La route may have remained closed for over four decades after the Sino-Indian war of 1962 but India’s armed forces have always been there and trade through Nathu La has already resumed as far back as 6 July 2006. Further, widening of the Gangtok- Nathu La highway is presently in progress and, en route, the tourists are already benefitting from modern amenities such as the high altitude internet cafe and ATM machines. Where is the danger to the pilgrims and why so much fuss, then?

The danger is in the environmental fragility of the terrain, the high seismicity of the area, neglect of slope management, alarming proneness to rockfalls and landsliding, poor infrastructure and inadequacy of disaster prevention and management capacity. The promised motorable road would doubtless attract pilgrims of all ages and in turn increased tourist population leading to demand for more civic amenities, hotels, human settlements, hospitals, roads and shops. Being a strategically sensitive area, border skirmishes cannot be ruled out. Increased vehicle population will also show up at all narrow roads and result in road blocks. Enhanced border trade through Nathu La would further add to the pressure on the civil and military administration. Real cheers on the faces of the pilgrims, tourists and traders will therefore come only when all these issues are sorted out in good time.

Pilgrims, tourists and traders will have to be prepared to face low temperatures, bumpy roads in difficult terrain, and landslides enroute. Imagine, what might happen if late in the evening, a portion of road in front of a vehicle is lost in a landslide or blocked by a pile of boulders, with no one around to help? In such a situation, it may take hours for help to arrive and days before the road could be restored.

For travel to Nathu La, pilgrims will have to travel to Gangtok first and then take the Jawaharlal Nehru highway to Nathu La. Both these roads are full of landslides of every shade and description which is why the hardships and danger will literarily travel with them as co-passengers right from the start. My first encounter with the landslide at mile post 9 on the Siliguri- Gangtok road was in 1964 and the very same landslide continues to be in the news even today. Similarly, Gangtok-Nathu La road too has a number of active landslide spots of which mile 15 has been known to be notorious for years. Nathu La is just 62 kilometres away from Gangtok with two and a half hours of travel time, but the time one might actually take is always decided not by us, but by the trinity of landslides, bumpy roads and bad weather.

The history of landslides on Siliguri- Gangtok and Gangtok- Nathu La roads are as old as the roads themselves. In fact, several landslides appeared on these routes even before the roads existed and many more were added during the road construction. Not to speak of the historic times, as recently as on 30 May 2012, nearly 4000 tourists got stranded because of a landslide between Gangtok and Tsomgo Lake. It started at about 3pm and continued until 8 pm hampering the relief operations. Again, the spot was 15th mile stone. A few months later, in September 2012, a major landslide killed 4 people. In an incident, on 23 July 2014, 130 people were evacuated by the army when about two dozen vehicles on the Nathula –Changu road got caught in the landslides between the 15th mile and the 17th mile. The area is prone to the added threat of earthquake induced landslide because of the high seismicity of the area. The Sikkim earthquake of 18 September 2011 of magnitude of 6.8 had its epicentre only 68 kilometres northeast of Gangtok, and it was felt in the region.

Once the new route to Kailash Mansarovar is operational, the pilgrims may either continue to patronize the traditional route or take the new one depending upon whichever is safer and more convenient. We have experienced the joys and sorrows of the traditional route for decades. For those not familiar with the route, the starting point for pilgrims on the map of Uttarakhand is Dharchula. The route runs along Tawaghat, Gosku, Mangti, Jibti, Malpa, Garbayang, Lamahari and Budhi eventually leading to the Indo-China border at Lipu Lekh Pass. One has to then cross Takla Kot and Parkha to arrive at the Mansarovar Lake. This route is highly vulnerable to landslides.

When the great Malpa rock avalanche tragedy occurred on this route on 17-18 August 2014, nearly 210 people were killed including 60 pilgrims. The village Malpa was traditionally inhabited by tribal people, engaged in trade with Tibet, for generations. With the patronage of pilgrims, the route began to bustle with human activity, as a base camp. Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam established their cottages for pilgrims to halt and rest here. Public Works Department, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, and the local tribal people also put up their huts and buildings, on the bank of the river Kali. On the fateful night, a huge mass of rock got detached from the head region of the parent rock , broke into myriad of pieces, and eventually hurtled down the slope to bury the entire village under 5-15 thick pile of debris. The disaster management, apparatus broke into pieces as badly as the mountain itself.

If a particular route is troublesome, it is normal to look for an alternate route for safer pilgrimage. However, such projects demand definitive answers to the twin questions – Is abandoning of the troublesome route the only answer and how confident are we that new route is free from trouble and the remedy will not be worse than malady? After the Uttarakhand tragedy of June 2013, the old 14 Km long route to the Kedarnath shrine via Gaurikund and Rambara has been literally erased from our landscape forever by the joint action of men and nature. A recent media report suggests that several plans for the alternate route are on the drawing table. One possibility under consideration is of a 24 km long route from Sonprayag to Kedarnath at the higher elevations, skipping both Gaurikund and Rambara. The other possibility under consideration is to drive to Chaumasi on Kalimath-Kotma road from Guptakashi and trek 34 km via Kham Bugyal and Reka Bugyal. Yet another suggestion is to travel from Sonprayag to Gaurikund and thereafter trek 7km to Bhimbali, next 7km to Linchauli and take a helicopter or trek again a distance of 6km to Kedarnath. It is also reported that a task force has been constituted to ensure the completion of the project by April 2014 which is long gone.

The routes in difficult and fragile terrains are not decided by running a pencil over a map or by the known contours of convenience or by the Google map, or by setting unreasonable deadlines such as the above. It requires a well trained dedicated outfit with multi-disciplinary expertise, made accountable for the production of user-friendly, large scale multi-hazard maps. The mapping has to be done following a systematic process of spatial and ground surveys, investigation, and safety analysis with full awareness of the implications of climate change in the backdrop of the past history and future development programs. Currently, most of the hazard-mapping programmes are open-ended, more for testing latest GIS softwares and proving our own mapping skills rather than for projecting realistic hazard scenarios, making people aware of the hazards and forewarning them of impending dangers.
It is the obligation of the government to provide pilgrims user-friendly and reliable hazard maps and route-related information so that they can make informed choices. While we put our acts together to produce the first set of user-friendly hazard maps, the least we should do is produce user-friendly tourist maps showing all major old and new landslide trouble spots with clear statements on Do’s and Don’ts. The future lies in ruthlessly eliminating the sources of recurring hazard and zero tolerance towards mindless urbanization.

(The author is a Disaster Management Expert based in Delhi)

  1. The other two being Shipkila in Himachal Pradesh and Lipulekh in Uttarakhand

Published Date: 2nd December 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Israel and India’s New Government: The Military-Security Dimension

Alvite Singh Ningthoujam, 
Research Associate, VIF

India-Israel Ties and the New Government:

The bilateral relations between India and Israel, today, are going in a direction as expected by many ever since the 2014 election results were declared. The thumping victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), by defeating the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that governed the country for ten years, has ushered in a new level of engagements with Israel. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the military-security cooperation with Israel is witnessing a rapid enhancement. Simultaneously, cooperation in the fields of science and technology, water management and agriculture are also being given immense importance. On the economic front, both the countries are doing fairly well with the bilateral trade currently standing at US$6 billion.

Currently, Israel is the second largest arms suppliers of India with a bilateral arms trade over the last decade estimated at US$10 billion. Undoubtedly, defence cooperation has become one of the most important pillars of Indo-Israeli ties and it is likely to get further boost in the days to come. It has been almost six months since the BJP-led NDA government came into power and there have been visible improvements in this aspect of bilateral ties.

As in the past, the BJP-led government has already started initiatives to enhance defence ties with Israel. Meanwhile, Modi’s cabinet has a few ministers who are in favour of forging closer cooperation with Israel in all the sectors, and one of them is Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj who once called the Jewish state "a reliable partner."1 Just before the 2014 election results were announced, Narendra Modi was even referred to as "Israel's best friend in South Asia".2 This was mainly considering his long association with the Jewish state and its leaders. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had visited Israel in 2006. Gujarat has deep economic and trade links with Israel which has has invested billions of dollars for various projects in the state. In January 2013, Modi personally hosted the Israeli ambassador to India, Alon Ushpiz in his state, and discussed various avenues for cooperation. As a result, Modi has a fair knowledge and experience of dealing with Israel. The Israeli envoy expressed his full hope of realising the potential of India-Israel relations in various fields under the new government.3The overall impetus was given when the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Modi and congratulated the latter on his success in the national elections and pledged to deepen cooperation between the two countries.

Recent Developments:

A month after Modi came to power, India’s Defence Secretary R.K. Mathur paid a three-day visit to Israel from 1-3 July and discussed arms deals, including missile development programme, and also the procurement of two Israeli-made Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) for the Indian Air Force. Israel has endorsed its Iron Dome air defence system to India for protection against incoming long and short range missile threats. New Delhi, however, has not decided as yet on purchasing this anti missile system. During late 2012 and mid 2013, Indian armed forces had started discussing about this system and its suitability in the Indian context.

Further, both the countries have clinched two important arms deal, which had been delayed for several years due to various reasons.

The first breakthrough for the Modi-led government was the announcement to procure the much-needed Barak-1 missile, manufactured by the Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd (IAI). This is a significant step particularly considering the depleted defensive capabilities of Indian warships. With delivery scheduled for December 2015, fourteen ships that presently lack missile systems will be outfitted with the Barak-1. A little more than a decade ago, India and Israel defence cooperation had been plagued by allegations of bribery and allegations, pertaining to this missile system. India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) even conducted a probe into the deals with IAI and Rafael regarding the supply of these missiles. The deals were entered into by the then BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2000. Allegations of receiving kickbacks were levelled against several Indian officials, including the then Defence Minister, defence personnel and a few middlemen. It was only in December 2013 after a detailed probe that the investigation was closed by the CBI with the admission that there was no evidence against the accused.4

The final nod given by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) in September 2014, under the chairmanship of Modi, for the acquisition of 262 missiles5 has come as a big relief to the Indian Navy, given its rapidly dwindling stock of anti-ballistic missiles for its frontline battleships. The Indian Navy has been voicing concerns over its deficiencies, with ships operating without missile defence systems. The announcement of the procurement at a whopping cost of US$144 million is thus a welcome move.6 The clearance given to this stalled missile deal itself is an indication of India’s preference for Israeli-made missile defence systems. It is, at the same time, to be acknowledged that Israel has faced a stiff competition from other mega foreign arms vendors such as the United States (US).

The US factor in Israeli arms sales is not a new topic; it has been there ever since the latter has emerged as an important arms exporter since the 1970s onwards. Due to fears of competition, the US even scuttled Israeli arms exports to a few countries in the past in Latin America, Europe and Asia as well. In the Indian context, too, the US was trying really hard to sell its Javelin missiles manufactured by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Since the last one year, there had been a fierce competition between Javelin and Israel’s Spike Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM) produced by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. The US has made several efforts to tap the lucrative Indian defence market with the Pentagon even demonstrating its willingness to offer “groundbreaking” defence technologies to India, including helicopters and UAVs.7 There have already been discussions between the two governments for joint development and production of items such as drones and missiles. But what have remained as the constraining factor in enhancing their defence cooperation are the entrenched issues on military technology transfer mechanisms. It is because of this reason that India opted for the Israel-made Spike ATGMs.

During late-October 2014, after a prolonged delay, at a meeting of its Defence Acquisition Council, India finally decided to buy 8,356 Israeli-made Spike ATGMs and 321 launchers at a cost of US$525 million.8 The deal for this missile remained stuck since 2010. The Indian Army had conducted several rounds of trial on this system. This major breakthrough in India-Israel defence ties under the Modi government has come at a juncture when border tension with China, and skirmishes along the India-Pakistan border were on a new high. In the words of India’s new Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar, “National security is the paramount concern of the government. All hurdles and bottlenecks in the procurement process should be addressed expeditiously so that the pace of acquisition is not stymied."9
The Spike missile deal should not be looked only from the prism of an arms trade between India and Israel. It has sent out a strong message to other potential arms suppliers who are eyeing the lucrative Indian defence market that India not only wants finished products but is also interested in getting technologies for its defence indigenisation programmes. New Delhi decided against Washington’s offer for its Javelin missiles because the exact extent of the Technology Transfer to the Indian defence firm Bharat Dynamics Ltd was not clearly defined; the cost of the Spike ATGM was cheaper than the Javelin, and “cancelling the Israeli deal at the last moment would have sent wrong signals to the international community.” 10 The issue on technology transfer also assumes significance as the present government under Modi is promoting its “Make in India” policy, and defence production is well within this initiative. Israel, unlike the US, has agreed to transfer technologies and this is an important step in India’s military modernisation drive. From now on, it appears that India’s arms purchase will come along with the clause of technology transfer from the suppliers, and Israel would not be spared from this emerging trend. Considering this, Israel cannot afford to remain complacent in its arms sales to India. The Israeli defence industries, rather, should capitalise on the new opportunities provided by India to manufacture in the country under Modi’s project.

During 2013, Israel witnessed a decline in its arms exports worldwide with a value of US$6.54 billion as compared to that of US$7.2 in 2012.11 But with mega defence deals signed between Israel and a few Asian countries, the volume of the former’s arms exports could see a slight improvement during 2014. Moreover, in continuation to its military imports, India is considering to procure more Israeli-made Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) surveillance aircraft in a deal estimated to cost over US$1 billion. India had already purchased Phalcon AWACS in May 2009 and March 2010. Acquisition of this sophisticated system would further boost Indian Air Force’s (IAF) detecting capabilities of troop build-ups and movement of enemy aircraft along India’s frontiers. Now, if this deal gets clinched, then it is going to be a boom for Israel’s defence industries. The Asia-Pacific region was the main destination for Israeli arms during 2013, earning US$3.91 billion.

Apart from arms trade, India and Israel have also agreed to cooperate intensively on other military-security arenas. The seed for further enhancement of relations between the two countries was laid at the meeting between Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Modi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York during late-September 2014. This was the first meeting between an Israeli Prime Minister and his Indian counterpart in the last 11 years. Despite robust relations in areas related to defence, intelligence and agriculture, the political ties between the two countries have remained somewhat low-profile. After the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2003 to New Delhi, no other Israeli PM or any of their foreign ministers visited India in recent years. Likewise, from the Indian side, while no PM has ever visited Israel, the latest visit by a foreign minister to the West Asian nation was made by S.M. Krishna in January 2012.

Owing to various domestic pressures, particularly the presence of 175 million Muslim population in India, New Delhi is keeping its political ties with Israel a low-key affair. This reason was attributed for the delay in establishing diplomatic relations in 1992.12 Nevertheless, in order to add more vigour to the already-thriving relations, attempts have to be made unrelentingly to forge stronger political relations, and this would require reciprocal visits by both Indian and Israeli PMs and other key ministers, sooner or later. It is to be seen if Modi would create history by becoming the first Indian PM to visit the Jewish state. Modi was invited by his Israeli counterpart during the New York-meeting. Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged the significance of the Indo-Israeli ties by saying “sky is the limit” for its growth. While such breakthrough would take the bilateral relations to further heights, one cannot rule out, at the same time, serious backlash within India from those corners which are vehemently opposed to New Delhi’s continuing ties with Israel.

During the Modi-Netanyahu meeting, a wide range of issues, which are of mutual interests, were discussed. Netanyahu raised the issue of the Iranian nuclear programme, and both the leaders acknowledged the threat of global terrorism in their respective countries. Along with these, the need for further cooperation in the fields of technology, defence, agriculture and water management were emphasised.

For quite some time, India and Israel have been developing an interest to cooperate in cyber security areas. This is in the wake of ever increasing cyber crimes in both the countries. Being surrounded by hostile neighbourhoods, the need for cyber security framework for both the countries has gained immense importance. It is in this direction, the Israeli PM invited Modi to be a part of his project of national cyber defence authority.13 The project’s main objective is to create a link between the civilian and military authorities in both the countries. For India, the invitation from Israel has come at a time when it is striving to establish a strong cyber security defence system. Several concerned Indian establishments have begun efforts on setting up a cyber security framework. This is a potential area of cooperation between the two countries, and more headway is expected soon.

Further impetus to Indo-Israeli ties was giving by the three-day visit of the Israeli National Security Advisor Joseph Cohen to New Delhi in October 2014. This was a follow-up visit to the Prime Ministers’ meeting a month earlier. In his interactions with the Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and several other officials from the Indian External Affairs ministry, the visiting NSA expressed Israel’s willingness to cooperate with India in “all fields and at any level”. However, the agendas of the meetings concentrated on the situation in West Asia; terrorism and the threat it poses to both the countries; Israel’s view on Iranian nuclear programme as well as challenges that India and Israel share as two democracies in their respective regions, and solutions to those challenges.14

It is evident from the recent developments that both the countries are enhancing their cooperation on counterterrorism measures, apart from military trade. Given the emerging trend of terrorist activities both in West Asia and India, this dimension is definitely going to see significant cooperation between the two nations. India is likely to gain from Israeli expertise in counterterrorism measures along with surveillance skills at the borders (both land and sea). Israel is known for its excellent border protection technologies, and India has already used some of its equipments along the Line of Control (LOC) in Jammu and Kashmir. India has been a victim of not only cross-border infiltration but also seaborne intrusion, the 2008 Mumbai carnage being one such dastardly attack. It is in this regard that India is showing a great interest in acquiring Israeli border management skills.15

Potential Challenges:

India-Israel ties is not devoid of challenges. Immediately after it came to power, the Modi government faced the first heat from the opposition parties when the External Affairs Minister refused to discuss a resolution in the Rajya Sabha during the Gaza crisis. Prior to this, during the initial stages of the crisis, while expressing concern over the Israeli air strikes resulting in the loss of lives and damages to property in Gaza, India was also worried over the cross-border provocations by targeting parts of Israel with rockets. However, this balancing act was not appreciated by both Israeli and Palestinian diplomats in New Delhi who expressed their disappointment over India’s statement.16 Nevertheless, in view of the cordial relations shared by India with both the parties, Sushma Swaraj said, “Any discourteous reference to any friendly country can impact our relations with them”, and further reiterated India’s Palestinian policy that remains unchanged. The minister also mentioned the need to condemn the violence indulged in by both sides. However, New Delhi ultimately condemned Israel’s “disproportionate use of force in Gaza” at the UN Human Rights Council.17 India’s vote at the UN against Israel evoked several reactions: both criticism and appreciation.

India’s stand on the aforementioned crisis once again brought back to limelight how increasingly difficult a diplomatic tightrope it has to walk while maintaining a delicate balance between friendship with Israel and support to the Palestinian cause. It also reflects how domestic politics still influences New Delhi’s Israel or Palestinian policies or foreign policy in general.

Another major challenge which the Modi government would have to face from time to time is criticism about the burgeoning military-security relations itself. The enhanced ties came up for wide condemnation during the debate on the Gaza crisis. As in the past, the CPI (M) once again called upon the government to immediately halt India’s purchase of arms from Israel.18 This issue, however, did not lead to any major debate as Sushma Swaraj countered it by pointing out at how this left party, being in the coalition under the UPA-1 government, failed to stop the robust military cooperation between India and Israel. Nevertheless, India-Israel arms trade remains an important target-point for various left wingers and social activists in the country.

In the circumstances, dealings on matters related to military-security affairs are likely to be carried out cautiously though they would not be shelved. Fears are also being expressed in some quarters that close ties with the Jewish state, or an intensive military cooperation, could lead to the strengthening of radical Islamist movements and its support base in India. For instance, several Kashmiri citizens staged violent protests against the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza Strip. Simultaneously, there is a visible influence of the Sunni militant organisation, Islamic State (IS), on India, and the recently established Al-Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has vowed to target the country.

Prospects Ahead:

Despite the challenges, the prospects for increased cooperation between the two countries are bright. The bilateral relationship between the two will continue to be driven by these close defence ties and shared national security challenges. At this juncture when both the countries are facing heightened terror threats, cooperation to combat this menace will continue to remain as one of the biggest incentives to expand their military-security ties. The visit of the Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Israel, fourteen years after that of L.K. Advani in 2000 when he was holding the same portfolio, has opened more opportunities to strengthen the bilateral relations. Cooperation in counterterrorism is, for sure, going to be given an impetus. His meetings with high-profile Israeli leaders, including PM Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasised on strengthening India’s “very warm” ties with Israel. The increasing radicalisation of few Israeli-Arabs and Indian Muslim youth under the influence of the Islamic State (IS) is a common challenge faced by both the countries and this will drive their cooperation to new levels. Additionally, Indian PM, during his meeting with the former Israeli president, Shimon Peres, in New Delhi, “reiterated the strong desire of India to further expand and strengthen its relations with Israel both in traditional areas as well as in new areas of cooperation.”19

Further, there is likely to be an enhanced cooperation between the defence industries of both the countries. But this would depend on how successfully India could convince the Israeli arms industries to manufacture in the country by taking advantage of the “Make in India” initiative. India’s quest for its own technological advancement in the defence industry is an important push factor for the expansion of ties with Israel. The Israeli premier has expressed his country’s willingness to “discuss transfer and development of technologies with India.” In his words, “"Israeli industries, including the defence industries, could 'make in India' and thereby reduce costs of manufacturing products and systems developed by Israel." 20A few areas that are likely to see technology transfers are aviation security, border protection and water harvesting.

Amid these prospects, it should not be ignored that while India desires to have strong ties with Israel, there are several related political implications that the government needs to factor in along the journey. The sensitive nature of the domestic politics, particularly with the presence of a huge Muslim population which plays significant roles in India’s political set-up, will continue to cast its shadow on the government’s dealings with Israel. There would be inevitable opposition and pressures on the Modi government to scale down ties with Israel. It is, therefore, yet to be seen how successfully the present government would manoeuvre its policies towards Israel while tackling the challenges coming on its away. But a gradual process has been begun by the Modi government to engage very intensively both with the Muslim community in India and with the larger West Asian Arab countries. The recently-concluded India-Arab League meeting in New Delhi is one such important step.

  1. Marissa Newman, “India’s new foreign minister a strong fan of Israel”, The Times of Israel, 27 May 2014,
  2. Palash Ghosh. “Narendra Modi, Israel’s Best Friend in South Asia”, International Business Times, 17 March 2014,
  3. “With Narendra Modi as the new PM, India-Israel ties will improve, feels Alon Usphiz”, The Economic Times, 30 May 2014,
  4. Neeraj Chauhan, “CBI closes Barak scandal case for lack of evidence”, The Times of India, 11 December 2014,
  5. Rajat Pandit, “Modi govt clears long-pending case for Israeli Barak missiles for warships”, The Times of India, 26 September 2014,
  6. For a relevant reading, see Alvite Ningthoujam, “India’s Promising Israel’s Defense Ties”, The Diplomat, 9 October 2014,
  7. “US offers groundbreaking defence technologies to India”, The Times of India, 14 June 2014,
  8. “India chooses Israel's anti-tank guided missile 'Spike' over US' Javelin missiles”, DNA, 25 October 2014,
  9. Nigam Prusty, “India picks Israel's Spike anti-tank missile over U.S. Javelin – source”, Reuters, 25 October 2014,
  10. “India to Buy 8,000 of These Anti-Tank Missiles From Israel”, NDTV, 27 October 2014,
  11. Gili Cohen, “sraeli arms exports drop nearly $1 billion in 2013”, Haaretz, 7 October 2014,
  12. For a detailed analysis on India-Israel relations, see P.R. Kumaraswamy (2010), India’s Israel Policy, Columbia University Press: New York.
  13. Jayanth Jacob, “Israel offers India to join new cyber security body”, Hindustan Times, 29 September 2014,
  14. “Israel-India to Enhance Cooperation in All Fields”, News, Israeli Embassy, New Delhi,
  15. “India to seek Israeli expertise in managing borders”, DNA, 29 October 2014,
  16. Suhasini Haidar, “India’s stand leaves West Asian rivals disappointed”, The Hindu, 16 July 2014,
  17. “India Condemns Disproportionate Use of Force in Gaza: Full Statement”, NDTV, 24 July 2014,
  18. Anita Joshua, “India must halt purchase of Israeli arms: CPI(M)”, The Hindu, 24 July 2014,
  19. “Prime Minister Receives Former Israeli President Shimon Peres” , News Updates,6 November 2014, Prime Minister of India, New Delhi,
  20. “Israel positive about 'Make in India' campaign: Benjamin Netanyahu”, The Economic Times, 7 November 2014,

Published Date: 1st December 2014, Image source: