Thursday, January 30, 2014

Challenges Before The Post 2014 General Election Government

Dr M N Buch, 
Dean, Centre for Governance and Political Studies, VIF

Towards the end of May 2014, India will have a new government and a new Prime Minister. In his speech on the eve of the Republic Day 2014, the President made three significant remarks which every Indian must bear in mind. He warned against what he referred to as "populist anarchy". He also said that a political party and a government must promise only that which it can deliver. The President's third comment was that the people of India should vote sensibly so that the new government is stable and can take those decisions which lead the country on the path of development.

I consider Shri Pranab Mukherjee's advice to the nation to be of essence because today we are witnessing a disastrous competitive populism in which every party is vying with the others to make announcements which, if actually implemented, would pauperise the whole country, make us bankrupt and thus make the government totally incapable of providing even the minimum services to the people. Almost as a continuation of immediate expediency and irresponsible populism is the plethora of promises made by the political parties to the electorate, raising expectations and, on failure to deliver, wondering why the people are annoyed. Such wild promises actually retard all progress because they create a conflict between that which is possible and the impossible which has been promised, prevent the drawing up of a rational schedule of priorities, making it impossible to take policy decisions and, because of clash of interests, result in spasmodic, knee-jerk implementation and, in the ultimate analysis, a paralysis of government. As a corollary to this is the fact that the uncertainty of the situation prevents a coalescence of parties, a fractured mandate and the emergence of small interest groups which work against the national interest. This has been the situation in India ever since P V Narashima Rao lost the election and we entered an era of unstable coalitions where immediate local interests completely overwhelmed the national interest. That is why the President's speech on the eve of Republic Day was a clarion call to the nation to return to reason and eschew divisive politics.

The new government will face formidable problems when it comes to power. Will the mandate be clear or will it be so fragmented that there will be difficulty in forming a government which can work? This issue is extremely important because a fractured verdict forces the President into a corner where he has to appoint a Prime Minister and ask him to form a government. Whom should the President invite when there is no clear cut majority? My personal view is that we need some amendments in our Constitution to deal with a contingency which has now become almost a norm in India. One amendment would be that in such a case the President should summon the House, lay down the parameters and then ask the assembled members to give their preference for who should be invited to form the government. The assembled members should be deprived of all means of external communication, should be held incommunicado and not allowed to meet any outsider. The members should remain so locked up till they arrive at a consensus on who should be appointed Prime Minister. The Prime Minister would then be a consensus candidate.

A few more amendments are also needed. A motion of no-confidence should not be allowed to be moved for the first two years of the five year term of the legislature. An official bill, if defeated in Parliament, should not be deemed to be a vote of no confidence during this two year period. If the budget is defeated then the previous year's budget should be deemed to be the current year's budget so that government does not come to a halt. This would ensure that there is an adequate vote on account to permit government to function normally, though no new schemes or initiatives could be launched. The two year moratorium on a vote of no confidence is suggested so that the government has at least this period to stabilise itself and win the continuous confidence of the House. If, thereafter, a government does not stabilise, then the government in a state must be conducted for the balance of the five year period, which is the full life span of the House, through President's rule. At the Centre, there can be no President's rule; government for the balance period should be through a caretaker government, but which is empowered to take all the decisions which a fully elected government is competent to take. This will deter frequent elections, make it possible to hold elections simultaneously for Parliament and State Legislatures and, perhaps, force the parties to become more responsible and thus obviate both the President's rule and a prolonged caretaker government.

Would this impinge on the democratic right to be ruled by an elected government? Prima facie yes, but when we look at the history of coalition governments in India, both at the Centre and in the States, we find strange permutations and combinations taking place by what can at best be termed political horse trading, but which at worst can be termed outright purchase through bribery. Can such a government be considered to be democratically elected, especially where legislatures have changed sides and no longer represent the will of the voter who has voted not only on the basis of candidate preference but also on the basis of party preference? Such a situation does not equate to democratic government and, perhaps, President's rule or a caretaker government might in fact be more democratic and certainly it will be more decisive. In fact the first challenge before a new government would be to ensure that it commands the confidence of the House in such a way that it can deliver good government without having to pander to the baser greed of highly selfish little groups whose objective is self promotion rather than good government.

From the time when the Narasimha Rao Government started dismantling excessive control of the state over the economy, India had a welcome surge of growth and development. Normally growth is judged by the rate of GDP growth and this was reasonably healthy for several years. In fact after China we had the highest rate of growth globally and this gave us and the world a false feeling of India at last breaking through the barriers which inhibited growth. What we failed to appreciate is that our growth was very heavily based on the strength of the tertiary sector, which itself is tied to the global demand for such services. Information technology based growth is what we promoted, but there was no simultaneous increase in the size, efficiency and the productivity of the secondary sector. By contrast, China vigorously pursued the secondary sector route to development and in the process built up a huge manufacturing sector which has flooded the world with goods and heavily tilted the balance of trade in China's favour. Because goods become obsolete very quickly China has also invested adequately in research, development and innovation. It has enhanced the skills of its workforce and has made rapid strides in technology. India leads in software development but the hardware on which the software is applied comes from China. Therefore, the new government will have the challenge of how to build the secondary sector in India so that manufacturing becomes the main employer and thus encourages skill development. It is the secondary sector which provides the maximum employment in long term.

Sixty per cent of the land area of India is arable compared with only 10% of China. Our inflation is not so much manufactured commodity driven as it is agriculture produce driven. The green revolution proved that India can produce enough to feed our people. But we have never leveraged the enormous potential of agriculture and horticulture to give us production levels which will give adequate food stuff at lower prices, while at the same time become the raw material for agro industries which add value, gainfully absorb the surpluses, pass money back to the producer through bulk purchase and value addition, provide employment in agriculture, transportation, agro industry and an enormous service sector which through banking, technology and machinery inputs, extension services, gives knowledge of scientific agriculture and financial support which would bring exponential increase in productivity, while creating vast number of jobs in the secondary and tertiary sector which supports agriculture. How to achieve the goal of using agriculture to bring prosperity to India, especially rural India, will be the real challenge which the new government will have to face. In the process the government will have to take a good, objective look at populist schemes, including subsidies, employment programs which do not create permanent assets and gimmickry which is aimed at vote bank politics rather than the need to bring prosperity to the rural people.

The social sector is a curious by paradoxical one which in education and health care has a pyramid which at the apex gives institutions of excellence equal to the best in the world, but with an enormous base of education and health care institutions which are worthless. How can one build a good Indian Institute of Technology, Science Education and Research, Information Technology or Business Management on a foundation of schools which impart no education whatsoever? How can we build an All India Institute of Medical Sciences or a super specialty hospital whose foundations and whose feeders are the extremely miserable primary health centers? Education and health care begin at the level of the individual house and child and if the institutions which impart education at the village level or provide health care at the primary centre level are of a certain acceptable standard, then the edifice of higher education and higher healthcare will be sound. How to achieve a massive surge of quality education and healthcare at the primary level will be a massive challenge to the new government.

The energy sector, irrigation and construction of infrastructure of roads, railway lines, airports etc., the building of adequate civic infrastructure including water supply, drainage and sewerage present major challenges, but in order to achieve success there one needs good government. Good government means laws, rules and regulations which have as their objective the service and welfare of citizens. This is as true of regulatory legislation as it is of development legislation. Good government means decisiveness in decision making, a strong will to ensure efficient administration which delivers good government and a system whereby decision making and implementation are so open that citizen participation becomes easy. Law and order, the protection of human rights, greater productivity, more gainful jobs and equity in distribution are all a part of governance and efficiency in these sectors is essential for good government.

Corruption has become a major issue in India and the Aam Aadmi Party, which is in power in Delhi, has come out in favour of a strong measure of probity and simplicity in public life. People in Delhi have responded favourably to the possibility of the new party tackling corruption and bringing governance to the door step of citizens so that they can get their just dues. Unfortunately, this party is not facing up to the other challenges posed in this paper, partly because being in government is still strange to it, partly because it did not anticipate that it would come to power and partly because it is still in an anti-establishment agitation mould.

A major challenge is how to ensure that government becomes an instrument to preserve and strengthen secularism and to use government as a vehicle to carry the message to our people that is the very plurality of India, the diversity of people, ethnicity, culture, language and faiths which give us unity. Secularism goes beyond merely maintaining communal peace and enforcing law and order. It means inclusiveness in which no one is “the other”. The Sanatan Dharma and faiths such as Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism which have emanated from it demand such inclusiveness because to Sanatan the world is the “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or one single family.

Politics, unfortunately, has fragmented society on lines of religion, caste, class, region, language, ethnic groups and even sub groups. The use of caste or religion to appeal to voters to vote enmasse for a particular party, the arousing of base religious or similar passions, the violence thus instigated are all aspects of communalism. We shall then have to carry the definition of communalism beyond Hindu vs Muslim and view all divisive politics as communal and fissiparous. The present danger to secularism cannot be faced unless we accept this much wider definition of communalism and then gird up to control it. Why not make 2014 the year in which India really faced up to the menace of all communalism and then moved towards a truly secular republic?
For the elections of 2014 what one wants to know from all political parties is how they will go about the business of governance keeping the above challenges in mind. I, for one, am sick of political rhetoric. Can we, for a change, get politicians talk rationally and with horse sense and tell us how they will tackle the questions of government in such a way that the President's advice becomes the key stone of our future politics.

Shinzo Abe’s India Visit – Hits and Misses

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

Much has been achieved during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s current visit to India and much has not. In reiterating a clear intention to strengthen bilateral ties, the visit has been a success, though in breaking new strategic ground concretely, the results could have been better.


Honouring Abe as chief guest at our Republic Day celebrations was politically significant. Such invitations are either intended to convey a desire to forge closer ties with a country or to indicate that relations had already reached a high level of entente. In other words, either an investment in the future or a celebration of success already achieved. Abe’s visit would fall in between these two categories.

The joint statement mentions the resolve of the two leaders to jointly contribute to peace and stability “taking into account changes in the strategic environment”- an indirect reference to the strategic issues raised by China’s rise and its increased assertiveness, as no other change in this environment has occurred that would disturb both India and Japan.

No doubt both countries are Asian democracies that share the values of freedom, democracy and rule of law, a feature of particular importance for Abe. But then, India and Japan have been liberal democracies since decades, without this providing a political glue all these years. If today there is a felt need to highlight this shared attachment to liberal values, it is to differentiate themselves from China’s authoritarianism. Uniting on the basis of universal values of democracy avoids the impression that the two are coming together on any explicit anti-China platform.

The issues thrown up by China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, the Senkaku imbroglio and the ADIZ announcement could not have been ignored in the joint statement. They find indirect mention- the most that could be done realistically- in a reference to freedom of navigation, unimpeded commerce and peaceful settlement of disputes according to international law, as well as the importance of freedom of overflight and civil aviation safety.

Abe’s ambition to loosen some defence related constraints imposed on Japan after 1945 has found endorsement in our PM’s appreciation of his “Proactive Contribution to Peace” regionally and beyond. This boosts Abe as Japan manoeuvres against mounting Chinese pressure. In this broad context, the decision of India and Japan to institute a dialogue at the National Security Advisers level and their determination to “further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation” becomes significant. So does the satisfaction expressed with the regular trilateral India-Japan-US dialogue, the resolve to increase the frequency of bilateral naval exercises, and, most notably, given our reluctance on this score until now in deference to Chinese sensitivities and our aversion to be seen as drifting towards “alliance” configurations, to invite Japan to participate in the next multilateral “Malabar” maritime exercise. Japan’s offer to sell its US-2 amphibious aircraft- an important political step no doubt- is deficient from India’s viewpoint in that it is being offered as a civilian aircraft and not a military one because of Japan’s policy of not exporting military equipment.


The opportunity of Abe’s visit was missed for signing the civil nuclear agreement. The officials of the two sides have again been directed to “exert further efforts” towards an early conclusion. The Japanese demand that India yield more to it on the “nonproliferation” front that we have yielded to the US is both unreasonable and unrealistic. India yielded as much as it could politically to the US - the lynchpin of international nuclear sanctions on us- for a bilateral civilian nuclear deal as well as an NSG exemption for which the US lobbied with several recalcitrant countries, including China. Japan is not required to change the international nonproliferation paradigm for us; it has only to overcome some domestic resistance to the India deal. We have already reached an agreement with Canada on some issues raised by Japan, even though Canada has been particularly difficult with us on nuclear issues because of its grievance that it was its transfer of nuclear technology that enabled India to conduct a PNE in 1974. That solution is available. Abe’s commitment to support India’s full membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement is, of course, to be welcomed.


The joint statement omits any mention of space cooperation- a strategic lacuna. Both India and Japan have great strengths in space technology, as demonstrated in India’s moon and Mars missions and Japan’s participation in the International Space Station. India’s launch capabilities and Japanese robotics can be imaginatively married in some eye-catching space mission, without the MTCR impediment.

Investment, finance and technology, central to the bilateral relationship, form the hard core of the joint statement. Bilateral currency swap arrangements, generous Official Development Assistance, additional loans for the Delhi Metro, the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor, the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, IIT Hyderabad, the planned Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor, a joint feasibility study for a high speed Mumbai-Ahmedabad railway system, cooperation in energy-efficient and energy-saving technologies, an India-Japan ICT Comprehensive Cooperation Framework, a possible Japanese Electronic Industrial Township in India, Japanese investments in National Investment Manufacturing Zones, the rare earths project, cooperation in advanced technologies, all figure in the joint statement.

Some statements made during the visit stand out because of their great import. Our Prime Minister’s affirmation that “Japan is at the heart of India’s Look East Policy” gives a new geopolitical meaning to this policy, initiated when Japan was not a part of India’s calculus. Prime Minister Abe’s remarkable statement that “the relations between Japan and India have the greatest potential of any bilateral relationship anywhere in the world” speaks for itself.

President’s Warning Shot – Voters Must Take Heed

Dr. A Surya Prakash, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The Indian President’s speech on occasions like the Independence Day and the Republic Day is seen by people as something of a ritual that the Rashtrapati performs year after year. This is so because what dominates these speeches is dull, uninspiring prose packed with officialese and platitudes. Far from connecting with the people, these speeches only end up emphasizing the disconnect between the Head and State who lives in this grand palace which majestically overlooks Rajpath, and the Aam Aadmi (the common man).

But, President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the nation this Republic Day was distinct. It had the stamp of a person who has rich political and administrative experience, is deeply worried about India’s welfare and democratic well-being and has no qualms about calling a spade a spade. More, importantly, it was strongly rooted in the country’s contemporary social, political and economic reality, was non-partisan and contained a very strong message for the country’s electors who have to make an all important decision in May, 2014.
As stated earlier, every one of Mr.Mukherjee’s predecessors has delivered these customary speeches that are religiously broadcast by All India Radio and Doordarshan, but few, if any have ever had the gumption to speak on behalf of the people and to honestly reflect the mood of the nation, even if it means hurting the incumbent government or the coalition of parties that are currently in power. The Rashtrapati showed that he had his finger on the pulse of the people and was aware of the growing sense of hopelessness among the citizenry when he said “we do feel angry and rightly so, when we see democratic institutions being weakened by complacency and incompetence. If we hear sometimes an anthem of despair from the street, it is because the people feel that a sacred trust is being violated”. He then turned to the one big issue troubling all Indians – corruption – and spoke on behalf of every citizen when he said “If Indians are enraged, it is because they are witnessing corruption and waste of national resources. If governments do not remove these flaws, voters will remove governments”.

That the President had chosen to speak his mind became obvious when he talked of the dangerous rise in hypocrisy in public life. Obviously referring to the reckless promises that politicians make in order to garner votes and the terrible implications that these promised freebies have on the economy and the finances of governments, he said that elections do not give any person “the licence to flirt with illusions”. “Those who seek the trust of voters must promise only what is possible. Government is not a charity shop. Populist anarchy cannot be a substitute for governance. False promises lead to disillusionment, which gives birth to rage, and that rage has one legitimate target : those in power”.

The President has warned that this rage will abate only when governments deliver and that those in office must eliminate the trust deficit between them and the people. They must also understand that every election comes with a warning sign: “Perform or Perish”.

Never before has a President cautioned politicians about the consequences of public rage as he has done in his recent address. Though many feel that his reference to “populist anarchy” is particularly directed at the Aam Aadmi Party, it would be unfair to think that the President operates on such a small canvass. Obviously, the President is troubled by the tactics of the Delhi Chief Minister, who prefers street agitations to a decent day’s work at the Secretariat. But, there are many others politicians who have infringed age-old rules of governance in this country. One has to only look at the reckless populism of the Manmohan Singh Government at the Centre or the Akhilesh Yadav Government in Uttar Pradesh or the Siddaramaiah Government in Karnataka to realize that the AAP is only the new kid on the block. There are older, much seasoned players who have taken to this dangerous path to garner votes and brought about terrible economic consequences for the nation.
Further, never before has a President displayed such bluntness in analyzing a contemporary political situation in the country. Mr.Mukherjee, it would appear, has done this because of several reasons. First, he is deeply disturbed by the sloth, inefficiency and corruption that is now all pervasive and is now clearly eating into the vitals of the country’s democratic system; Second, unlike many of his predecessors who read out speeches drafted or approved by the government of the day, the President has chosen to speak on behalf of the people, rather than on behalf of “his” government; Third, going by the overall tone and content of the speech, it is obvious that the President is troubled by the prospects of yet another fractious mandate and its implications for the nation and for the survival of the democratic system itself. Therefore, he has chosen the right occasion, just three months prior to the Lok Sabha poll, to warn all citizens of the consequences of a fractured mandate and appealed to them to vote for stability.

That the President is distressed by the prospect of political instability is obvious when he says the coming election is a momentous one. It is not just another year and another election. He says “2014 is a precipice moment in our history. We must re-discover that sense of national purpose and patriotism, which lifts the nation above and across the abyss”. He has also spoken about the urgent need to provide jobs and opportunities for the youth. But says a fractured government which is hostage to whimsical opportunists will be an “unhappy eventuality”. He warns that in 2014, such an eventuality could be “catastrophic”. Therefore, he tells every voter: Don’t let India down.

By saying all this, the Rashtrapati has echoed the concerns of 1.3 billion citizens, and shown that he is in touch with the Aam Aadmi and that he will speak his mind on behalf of the Aam Aadmi, irrespective of what it does to a few individuals holding public offices. He has sound advice for the Aam Aadmi as well. He says, democracy is like the physician who heals himself. It has the “marvelous ability to self-correct” and therefore, 2014 “must become a year of healing after the fractured and contentious politics of the last few years”. One only hopes the electorate will value the sage counsel of Mr.Mukherjee next May and give India “mukti” from the unstable and corrupt politics of the last decade.     

Japan’s New Defence Guidelines and India

Brig (Retd) Vinod Anand, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

As part of ongoing efforts to further strengthen Indo-Japan relations, Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera visited India in early January to discuss cementing of military ties. The visit comes close on the heels of China’s declaration of a new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over East China Sea which has implications on Japanese sovereignty over Senkaku/Diaoyu islands that are bone of contention between Tokyo and Beijing. India has also been at the receiving end of China’s assertive policies along the disputed Sino-Indian border. In fact, PLA made fresh transgression across the Indian border in Chumar area in the first week of January. Thus both nations have common goals in ensuring that China is restrained from aggressively pursuing its interests at the cost of other nations. While Japan has an alliance with the U.S. to address its security concerns, Tokyo has also been seeking stronger defence relationships with countries like India and others in the Asia-Pacific.

Japan is also in the process of shedding its pacific outlook and is revitalising its defence capabilities. In mid-December 2013, Japan came out with a new National Security Strategy (NSS), a National Defence Programme Guidelines (NDPG) and a much improved Five Year Midterm Defence Programme (2014-18) which indicated that Japan was firmly moving away from its pacifist constitution. In its documents, Japan has expressed concerns over the changing strategic and security environment. Tokyo is strengthening its alliance with the US and has supported America’s rebalance strategy. On the other hand, there is also thinking amongst America’s traditional allies like Japan as to how far the US would go to help them if there is hot conflict with China. Thus, there is a move to strengthen Japanese Self Defence Forces (JSDF) as part of internal balancing. In effect, this would supplement the American capabilities to meet the challenges of Anti Access and Area Denial strategies. And therefore enhancing its defence and security relationship with countries like India and those part of ASEAN are designed to maintain a strategic equilibrium in the region.
Because of convergence of their interests, India, Japan and the U.S are also engaged in trilateral dialogue to work towards peace and stability in the region. In fact, well before the unveiling of the American rebalance strategy, there was a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue initiated between US, India, Japan and Australia in 2007 and a joint naval exercise was also carried out off the shore of Okinawa in that year. Viewed by Beijing as some sort of a concert of powers being formed against China, the level and scope of the joint exercise invited a diplomatic demarche from the PRC. Australia under pressure disassociated itself from the initiative. But later Australia has corrected its policy and seems to be aligning again with the U.S. and Japan. India had clarified its position that the exercises were not designed against any country and has been following some kind of a middle path since then.

Besides strengthening its alliance with the US, Japanese security strategy talks about ‘strengthening cooperative relations with countries with which it shares universal values and strategic interests such as Republic of Korea, Australia, the countries of ASEAN and India’. India is considered as being geo-politically very important especially by virtue of its location, its economy and demographic strengths. Strengthening bilateral relations with India in a broad range of areas including maritime security is one of the cornerstones of the Japanese new defence strategy. It also talks about strengthening trilateral frameworks like Japan-US-India grouping.

Japan’s new NSS indicates that in its efforts of ‘Proactive Contribution to Peace’, it is willing to participate in joint development and production of defence equipment and other related items. Clarifying some of its earlier reservations on the issue, the NDPG states “While giving due consideration to the roles that the three Principles on Arms Exports and their related policy guidelines have played so far, the Government of Japan will set out clear principles on the overseas transfer of arms and military technology, which fit the new security environment.” This in effect means that Japan would be ready to export weapons if it contributes to peace. Evidently, this new guideline is a major departure from the policies it pursued till now. This aspect is very important from the Indian point of view as relaxing of curbs on exports of defence technology and weapons and possibilities of joint development in defence industry would offer tremendous potential for Indo-Japanese defence cooperation which could be strategically and economically beneficial to both sides.
Japan’s midterm defence plan caters for over 240 billion US dollars to be spent over next five years which would largely add to its air and naval capabilities as also would go towards improving the cutting edge of its land forces. Enhancing its military capabilities is obviously being done as a response to the increasingly aggressive behaviour of China in recent times. The Japanese defence budget during its defence plan period is of course much more than India’s likely defence budget for the next five years but less than what China is expected to spend in the same period. Acquiring improved intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities besides a robust command, control and information networks would be essential elements of modernisation of JSDF.

Cyberspace and outer space have been considered as two vital areas where JSDF’s response and capabilities would be strengthened. China has been very active in cyber space wherein besides some other nations India and Japan have been at the receiving end of cyber attacks originating from China. However, mission definition of JSDF in case of a cyber attack is very limited and has not been well defined; for instance, the military is not charged with responding to cyber attacks on critical national infrastructures like in other countries. Further, PLA’s anti-satellite capabilities not only make US satellite networks vulnerable they also pose a challenge to Indian and Japanese space assets. Though India already has an ongoing cyber security dialogue with Japan as part of 2+2 framework which includes a Foreign Secretary level Dialogue and the Defence Policy Dialogue, there is a need for India to expand its engagement with Japan for exchange of cyber and space technologies to address mutual security concerns.

India has been looking forward to acquiring ShinMaywa US-2i amphibian aircraft for the Navy to strengthen its naval aviation arm. In fact, during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan in May 2013, a Joint Working Group to explore the modalities for cooperation on the US-2 amphibian aircraft had been established. It needs to be remembered that Japan has a well-developed fighter aircraft production and technological base. The last F-2 aircraft was delivered to JSDF in 2011 but the capabilities available can be exploited for joint production development and export. Provided that possible Japanese reservations could be overcome based on the new NDPG, India should explore cooperation in this area. So far Japan has been keen to sell the aircraft to India but as indicated to Japan during a Joint Working Group Meeting in December 2013, New Delhi is keen to manufacture the aircraft jointly. Further, there is considerable scope for joint research development in high end technologies in both civil and military arena.

In addition, for the first time, a bilateral Joint Naval exercise between the Indian Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force was carried out in June 2012 off the coast of Japan. And another joint naval exercise was carried out in Bay of Bengal in December 2013. Increasing frequency of joint naval and maritime exercises is part of the Japan’s NDPG and strategic outlook. Even the Coast Guards of the two countries have been carrying out joint exercises to improve interoperability and address security challenges to maritime security. These areas of defence cooperation were further discussed during Itsunori Onodera’s visit. India supports the principle of freedom of navigation though the seas and cannot but be in agreement with the principle espoused by Onodera that “no country should unilaterally change the status quo”.

Since 2008 when the joint declaration between Japan and India on defence and security cooperation was signed, the strategic relationship has grown multifold. In end November and beginning December 2013, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited India signifying the close relationship between India and Japan. Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera visit is a precursor to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coming visit to India as a Chief Guest for the Republic Day parade on January 26, 2014. Both India and Japan share the same democratic values and common political, economic and security concerns. Japan’s new thinking on defence issues provides a stronger platform for India and Japan to pursue their common strategic interests. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Afghanistan: Can India and Pakistan work Together?

Lt General (Retd) R K Sawhney, Distinguished Fellow, VIF
Sushant Sareen, Senior Fellow, VIF

With the US drawdown (perhaps even complete withdrawal) from Afghanistan looming large over the horizon, there is growing pessimism (a lot of it unwarranted) over the prospect of the Afghan state’s ability to survive without the crutches of foreign security forces. Clearly, the impact of any collapse of the Afghan state as a result of ceaseless onslaughts by Islamist radicals (the Taliban/Al Qaeda combine) will not remain limited to Afghanistan. If anything, a destabilised Afghanistan will severely destabilise the entire region. Countries like India and Pakistan are very likely to be buffeted by developments in Afghanistan. This is one of the main reasons that has given rise to talk among academics, think-tanks and policy wonks about the two countries which most fear the fallout of Afghanistan descending into chaos working together to ensure that such a catastrophe doesn’t occur. While on a theoretical plane such cooperation between India and Pakistan might sound like a great idea, on a more practical level, the possibility of such cooperation is nothing but a pipedream.

Much of what has gone wrong in Afghanistan is the result of Pakistan trying to compete with, counter and check India and to now expect it to change tack and cooperate with India at this rather late stage is quite unrealistic. Apologists for Pakistan and Western academics who discovered the Afpak region only after 9/11 often dumb down the spectre of instability in Afghanistan by attributing it to “the hostility between India and Pakistan” which according to these people “lies at the heart of the current war in Afghanistan”. Equally egregious is the peddling of the illogical theory that the road to Kabul passes through Kashmir. Obviously, the purveyors of such specious theories deliberately try to pin some, if not most, of the blame on India for Pakistan's malignant acts against Afghanistan.

By equating India’s benign and beneficial development oriented involvement in Afghanistan with Pakistan's malign and destructive interference in Afghan affairs, a disingenuous attempt is made to draw some sort of moral equivalence between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan, blithely ignoring the fact that India has no, repeat no, interest in making Afghanistan a proxy battlefield against Pakistan. The same however cannot be said for Pakistan which has not only used Islamist terror networks to target India in Afghanistan but has forged its entire Afghan policy with an eye on denying India any presence inside Afghanistan. If therefore a proxy war is being fought inside Afghanistan, it isn’t India that’s fighting it but Pakistan and to club the two countries together is nothing but a travesty.

While it is true that India has a vital interest in Afghanistan’s stability, security and independence, this interest is far transcends a desire to use Afghanistan to only poke a finger in Pakistan's eye, much less ‘encircle’ Pakistan and catch it in a ‘pincer’. If anything, India sees Afghanistan as critical for ensuring regional stability because an unstable Afghanistan will inevitably destabilise the entire region. Unlike Pakistan, India has imbibed this immutable lesson of history and is therefore committed to helping Afghanistan stabilise politically, economically and militarily. Ironically enough, this is also what is in Pakistan's interest because more than anyone else, it is Pakistan that will suffer the immediate fallout of any instability in Afghanistan. Indeed, over the last three decades, Pakistan has faced the brunt of the various wars that have been fought inside Afghanistan.

Although Pakistan publicly never tires of declaring its interest in a stable and secure Afghanistan, and professes to back an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-driven” solution, behind the scenes it has done its damnedest to undermine all that it so piously declares in public. The entire ‘strategic depth’ policy remains very much in place, if not in the strict military sense (which actually never made any sense in the first place) then at least in the politico-strategic sense. Cut through the clap-trap, and it is clear that the Pakistani concept of ‘strategic depth’ is essentially reducing Afghanistan into a sort of subsidiary alliance in which the foreign and security policy of Afghanistan is decided not in Kabul but in Rawalpindi. While Pakistan is trying to replicate the British Raj’s policies in Afghanistan, India wants to see Afghanistan re-emerge as an independent nation that is sovereign in all its decisions.

It is this quest of Pakistan to make Afghanistan a vassal state that is at the root of all the troubles in the region. In its maniacal desire to call all the shots in Afghanistan, Pakistan seems to have ignored the simple reality that it wields a certain natural influence in Afghanistan which emanates from geography (trade routes etc), ethnic overlap, and to an extent, common religion. No other country in the world can ever replace this influence, which can be exercised by Pakistan in either a benign manner or a malign manner. Unfortunately for Afghanistan, Pakistan has chosen the malign way to wield influence in Afghanistan. The single most destructive example of this malign influence is the export and imposition of Taliban, which is a Pakistani and not an Afghan product. Add to this the sowing of ethnic differences by pitting the Pashtuns against other smaller ethnic, linguistic and sectarian groups. Pakistan has buttressed the ethnic divide in Afghanistan by constantly harping on the need to ensure Pashtun dominance. Despite the ethnic tug of war for influence, resources, power in Afghanistan, the Afghans have a unique sense of nationhood wherein none of the ethnic groups talk of breaking up the country. Compare this to Pakistan where the fear of balkanisation along ethnic lines has remained an abiding fear. And yet, the Pakistanis have planted this virus in Afghan minds.

For their part, the Afghans know that the tyranny of geography forces them to accept a certain amount of Pakistani influence. This the Afghans try and balance by building relations with other countries like India and Iran. Pakistan needs to learn to live with this reality because Pakistan itself has done the same thing against India through its relations with the US and China. Because of the development work inside Afghanistan and the fact that India has never done anything inimical to Afghanistan, there is enormous goodwill for India among all Afghans. Coupled with the Afghan quest to balance Pakistan, the benign image of India (including its soft power) bestows upon it a certain level of influence on Afghan polity and society. And yet, this influence doesn't outweigh or undermine the influence, both natural and coercive, that Pakistan exercises.

Rather than deal with Afghanistan with a degree of assuredness that should come with its natural influence, Pakistan has tried to impose an imperial design, which it can neither justify nor sustain politically, economically or militarily. It is quite clearly unacceptable for any self-respecting Afghan to accept Pakistani diktat on how Afghanistan should conduct its foreign policy. What role India will play in Afghanistan and how deeply it will get involved in that country is something that the Afghan government and the Indian government will decide. Pakistan cannot have a veto on what India can or cannot do.

If there ever has to be any possibility of India and Pakistan working in conjunction to stabilise Afghanistan, then this will only be possible if Pakistan junks the concept of ‘strategic depth’ and lets Afghans decide their own future. What is more, as long as Pakistan's primary objective remains denying India any presence inside Afghanistan, there cannot be any way that the two countries can cooperate on Afghanistan. For this to happen, however, Pakistan needs to get over its obsessive insecurity and hatred of India. All of this is clearly a very tall order and unlikely to happen any time soon, certainly not before the pullout of foreign forces from Afghanistan. Therefore, instead of wasting time on pipedreams about working with Pakistan, India should do whatever it can to bolster the Afghan government against the forces of fanaticism and obscurantism that once again threaten Afghanistan. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

2014: A Challenging Year for Indian Foreign Policy

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

Our major foreign policy challenges are enduring and no dramatic change in our security environment is likely in 2014. Relations with Pakistan could actually worsen. Nawaz Sharif is focusing on Kashmir, knowing that it is a dead-end issue. His strong links with Punjab-based jihadi groups, the continuing grip of the Pakistani military on policies towards India, his adviser Sartaz Aziz’s new environmentalist twist that India vacate Siachen to cease polluting Pakistan’s waters, Pakistan’s prevarication on DGMO talks to end LOC firings, relegating the MFN issue to the back-drawer, are all negative portents.

Afghan Problem

Developments in Afghanistan can potentially worsen our security environment as the prospects of stability there are uncertain. US/UK efforts to accommodate the Taliban with Pakistan’s cooperation facilitates the latter’s re-entry into Afghanistan even though it is the most de-stabilisation factor there. This will strain our strategic partnership with Afghanistan, requiring us to re-write our plans for investment there and we will not obtain access to Central Asian oil and gas resources. Our security threat from extremist ideologies backed by Pakistani hostility will increase.

Hobbled China Policy

China is becoming more self-assertive with its growing economic and military power. Its conduct in the western Pacific signals that its seemingly softer posture towards us currently can turn harder if it suits its strategy. Its position on border differences remains intrinsically hard and border negotiations from progressing on equitable terms will be prevented. It seeks a stabilisation of the status quo which gives it freedom to nibble away at our territory in sensitive areas. Our military and infrastructure expansion plans are medium term and will not materially change equations in 2014. Our China policies are handicapped by excessive prudence, now influenced also by domestic economic lobbies.

Rifts in India-Us Ties

Improved India-US ties was an external gain in recent years but the difficulties in managing an unequal relationship and differences on key multilateral issues have exposed the limitations of forging real strategic ties. The prevailing view is that relations have already reached a plateau. US corporates, once the strongest proponents of stronger India-US ties, have become powerful critics of our trade, investment and tax policies. Our nuclear liability law has become a sore point, with the expanded defence relationship not satisfying those who expect greater returns from India for the nuclear deal. India is skeptical of the US re-balancing towards Asia and does not want to be caught in the uncertain outcomes of US-China rivalry in the background of huge mutual interdependence. These fault-lines will continue to test the resilience of India-US ties in 2014. Added to this is the current diplomatic wrangle over the deplorable treatment of a senior Indian diplomat in New York, which is symptomatic of the moral fraud and arrogance that permeates US handling of international affairs whose victims can be friendly countries like India too. The tide of antipathy towards the US in India’s diplomatic cadre is so strong currently that its after-effects will be palpably felt in our dealings with the US in 2014.


Our relations with Russia, too dependent on defence acquisitions while being stagnant economically, remain lop-sided. India’s commitment a strategic partnership with Russia remains strong but nourishing it is becoming difficult because even on nuclear cooperation issues our nuclear liability law is an obstacle. No new breakthroughs with Russia are visible for 2014. The European Union is a vital partner commercially, but the finalisation of the FTA with it in 2014 is uncertain. With individual European countries like France, UK and Germany, ties are stable and will remain so. The limited nuclear breakthrough between the US and Iran could, if it got consolidated in 2014, remove a major obstacle in the way of a normal India-Iran relationship, but the outlook is not certain.

Neighbourhood Issues

Our neighbourhood will remain problematic. Nepal is unable to settle down politically, giving the Chinese room for manoeuvre at our cost. The cracks in Bangladesh’s polity are becoming unbridgeable. Our inability to boost Sheikh Hasina politically with the Teesta Accord and the Land Boundary Agreement has been short-sighted. A pro-India political leader of a major Muslim country combating Islamism within is an exceptional phenomenon that we have failed to capitalise on, which we may rue if things go wrong for us in 2014 in Bangladesh. Sri Lanka has artfully pursued a policy of engaging us enough to blunt strong Indian reactions to the strategic openings it is providing China. Delhi is caught between domestic and external pulls on its Sri Lanka policy, to the detriment of our national interest. We have lost ground in the Maldives. 2014 does not offer hopes of improvement in our regional position.

If the opposition comes to power in 2014, the country’s mood may change, but how much improved sentiment will bring better external results is doubtful. Our adversaries are strong, our challenges are complex and our friends cannot be depended on beyond a point. We have to rely on ourselves, which is the logic of our strategic autonomy. For self-reliance and more effective external projection, we need better, more decisive governance, which our fractured polity does not guarantee us in 2014.