Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pak Peace Talks With Taliban: Is There A Method in Madness?

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

The more you think about it, the more it confounds: Pakistan government’s peace dialogue with the Taliban. Look at it from a logical, if also conventional, standpoint, and it appears as though the Pakistani state has entered into a desultory dialogue with the Taliban which will ultimately crash on the rocks of reality. It would, however, be stretching the limits of incredulity to think that in reaching out to the Taliban, the Pakistan government is utterly unmindful of the pitfalls of dialoguing with the Islamist terrorists. Unless it is somebody’s case that the current dispensation is only interested in making its pile while serving out its time, there has to be some method in the madness. There are broadly three, maybe four, possible explanations – Simplistic, Delusory, Sinister and Labyrinthian – for this madness of going out on a limb to hold peace negotiations with the Taliban.

The simplistic explanation, one which is also quite common in the public debate in Pakistan, is that this is merely a gambit. The Taliban are being given a long rope with the conviction that they will over-reach and make unreasonable and unacceptable demands. This will pave the way for creating the elusive national consensus and provide justification and legitimacy to launch a full scale military operation aimed at eradicating their base, eliminating the bulk of their force and expelling them from Pakistani territory. Swat is often held out as an example where first a peace deal was negotiated and after the Taliban breached the red lines laid down in the agreement, a massive military operation was launched with the media whipping up a ‘national consensus’ in its favour.

The problem with ‘National consensus’ is that, more often than not, it is something of a red herring. It is brought into play more to avoid doing something rather than to facilitate some action. Swat operation was, in this sense, more of an exception. The simple fact of the matter is that forging a ‘national consensus’ on the question of a military operation against the Taliban is practically impossible because the naysayers are unlikely to ever come on board. There have been many occasions in the not so distant past where the national mood appeared to turn against the Taliban, but their supporters and sympathisers did not switch sides. Their arguments might have not have got much traction but yet they held on to them. The failure of the State to follow through with the narrative it was trying to build, once again created the space where the Taliban line started finding takers. What is more, if 50000, and counting, deaths is not enough of a justification to launch a fight to the finish against the Taliban, then merely reneging on an agreement is hardly ever going to serve as a legitimate casus belli. Therefore, the simplistic explanation isn’t robust enough to make sense of Nawaz Sharif’s peace tack.

The delusory explanation started being peddled mostly by former soldiers and their mouthpieces in the media after ‘targeted’ strikes from the air by Pakistani forces in retaliation to terror attacks on security personnel. According to this, the recent bombing runs by fighter jets and helicopter gunships on Taliban targets (aided by ‘indigenous drones’ which, it is claimed, are equipped with intelligence gathering capabilities comparable to US drones) have acquainted the Taliban with the immense firepower that the Pakistani state will bring to bear against them. This has forced them to sue for peace. The purveyors of this explanation buttress their argument by pointing to the stories of widening cleavages within the ranks of the Taliban between those in favour of talks and accommodation with the Pakistani state and those against having any truck with it. The Delusionists also claim that not only are the Pakistani Taliban are not receiving any support from the Afghan Taliban, they also fear that once the latter start controlling territory in Afghanistan, they will be left to fend for themselves. Another new element that is supposed to have injected a sense of urgency among the Taliban to seal a deal are the reports of an understanding having been reached between the Americans and the Pakistan Army to act in concert for a ‘hammer-and-anvil’ operation against the Pakistani Taliban. With an adverse politico-military situation looming, the Taliban are doing the smart thing by trying to strike a deal on favourable terms with the government. For its part, the government is also keen to settle matters without having to use military force.

The trouble with the delusory explanation is that it is based more on wishful and fanciful thinking rather than on hard facts and harsh ground realities. For one, there is no real evidence that the Afghan Taliban have either severed or are likely to sever their links with their Pakistani associates. For another, there is no sign of war fatigue among the Pakistani Taliban. They have neither suffered any debilitating loss in the airstrikes nor do they have any dearth of new recruits joining their ranks. If anything, their network, influence and strike capability inside Pakistan has only increased. There is nothing on ground to suggest any real squeeze on their finances. Most of all, while there could be an element of self-aggrandizement motivating the Pakistani Taliban leadership, the real driving force behind the Taliban is the messianic and millenarian religious zeal to which no counter narrative has been created. Casualties in Taliban ranks, therefore, are only of academic interest and not of any real military value. It is precisely for this reason that laying too much reliance on the efficacy of airstrikes in bringing the Taliban to the talks table is akin to missing the woods for the trees. Air power has been used by Pakistan in many areas and there have been the usual bombastic claims of dozens of casualties caused in these strikes, especially in Orakzai agency. And yet, despite scores of air strikes, large parts of Orakzai remain out of the control of the Pakistani state. As far as the North Waziristan Agency (NWA) is concerned, the concentration of Islamist militias in towns of the agency might have led to some initial successes in these air strikes. But chances are that the Taliban would have already adjusted to this tactic and taken counter measures.

Clearly then, if the Taliban are far from being worsted, either ideologically or militarily, it follows that they have no pressing compulsion to strike a peace deal with the authorities, unless of course it is to gain some tactical advantage. A deal serves their purpose only to the extent that it gets them time and space which they can use to consolidate their control over areas they are holding, extend their influence in new areas and sow further divisions in the ranks of their adversaries who even today are split on how to deal with the Taliban. With their allies, if not principals, the Afghan Taliban, expected to establish their “Islamic Emirate” in at least the south and east of Afghanistan post the ISAF withdrawal, the Pakistani Taliban will no longer need North Waziristan as their ‘base camp’ (ironically, a term Pakistanis loved to use for the state sponsored terrorists groups that were operating in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir!). The Delusory explanation, therefore, doesn’t hold much water and is only an exercise in self-deception.

The Sinister explanation is that the peace dialogue is part of the denouement, or if you will a wrapping up, of the double game that the Pakistanis played after 9/11 against the Americans. In other words, this is the endgame in the playbook by which the Pakistani military fought its shadow war against the US-led ISAF in Afghanistan for more than a decade. The corollary of this explanation is that what the rest of the world saw as a blowback of the strategy of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy was brushed aside by the top echelons of the military and intelligence establishment as nothing more than collateral damage, a small price to pay in pursuit of a larger strategic objective viz. defeat of the US-led West and ensuring domination over Afghanistan for purposes of achieving ‘strategic depth’.

Caught with a very weak hand after the 9/11 attacks, the Pakistanis played along with the Americans but kept their jihadist assets intact. As was to be expected, they couldn’t quite communicate or disclose their game plan to all the jihadists. As a result they lost control of some jihadists who felt betrayed by the ostensible shift in the policy of the Pakistani establishment. Some of these terror groups ran amok and turned their guns on their patrons. While the damage these people caused was quite substantial, it also gave the military the plausible deniability it so badly needed to successfully play this double-game. The icing on the cake was that playing the victim not only allowed the Pakistan Army to get away scot free, it also opened the floodgates of economic and military assistance. Basically, the Pakistanis got their cake and ate it too. Even though some of terror groups went ‘rogue’, many of the main players like Mullah Omar and the Haqqanis understood the intricacies of the Pakistan policy and were left completely unmolested. The ‘rogue’ militants, a.k.a. ‘bad Taliban’, were occasionally targeted when they over-reached or breached certain red-lines. At the end of the day, however, the military establishment considered many of these people as ‘misguided’ and therefore ‘redeemable’. Why else would the former ISI chief call the TTP Emir Baitullah Mehsud ‘a patriotic Pakistani’ and the current Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar, declare in the National Assembly that ‘majority of the Taliban were not enemies of the country….most of their groups had no animosity to the state of Pakistan’.

Now, with the Americans on their way out, the time has come to fold up the game and the dialogue with the Taliban is part of that process. The idea is to settle the matters inside Pakistan and use the Islamist storm troopers for the purpose they were created – the conquest of Afghanistan. To be sure, there will be some recalcitrant groups who will not accept the overtures of the government. These outliers will be ruthlessly eliminated; all others will be accommodated. If this ‘sinister’ explanation has any substance, it means that notwithstanding all the doomsday day scenarios being painted by analysts and observers within and without Pakistan, the Pakistani establishment still has a reasonably firm grip over the situation and is now on the cusp of achieving a great victory over the West.

The biggest trouble with this explanation is that it assumes that the genie can be put back into the bottle. The Taliban have got a taste of power as well as a sense of the weakness of the Pakistani state. There is every chance that their ambitions and their objectives have far outgrown the role that the Pakistani establishment had reserved for them. More importantly, just as the Pakistanis played a double-game with their American patrons, the Taliban could well be playing a similar double-game with their Pakistani patrons. If indeed this is the case, then the dialogue will not go very far and its breakdown will be the beginning of the unravelling of the Pakistani endgame.
The final explanation is quite Labyrinthian in its scope and character. The dialogue is a big gamble that Nawaz Sharif is taking not for any other reason but for the simple fact that there are no good or viable options on offer. It is a long shot aimed at gradually bringing things back to normal and snuffing out the Taliban threat to the state with patience and perseverance in order to bring a paradigm change in the objective conditions that gave rise to or added fuel to the flames of jihadist activity. Elements of this argument that follows have been made by various people in responsible positions in Pakistan, but no one has really articulated it in a structured manner.

The bottom line of this argument is that the Pakistani state is in no position to defeat the Taliban, militarily or ideologically. Launching a military operation against the Taliban will not solve the problem because it won’t win the peace. Rather it will enmesh the military in a quagmire which will only worsen the existential crisis of the state. The dilemma is that while the Pakistani state cannot fight, it also cannot give up without a fight, a fight that in any case it is unlikely to win in a meaningful way. Therefore, it is imperative to think of an alternative strategy, which has an outside chance of working, albeit in the medium to long term, and the dialogue is a critical part of this strategy. There are two components of this strategy. The first component applies to the trans-Indus belt i.e. FATA and to an extent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pashtun areas of Balochistan; the second one applies to the cis-Indus belt i.e Punjab and Sindh and to an extent the Baloch belt of Balochistan.

In FATA and other pockets of the Pashtun belt, a new reality has emerged in the form of a new elite that has arisen by force of arms and by killing most of the old elite – Maliks, Sardars and Elders. Most of this new elite never counted for much in the past because they belonged to the lower and lower middle class. Someone was a driver, someone a bus conductor, chair-lift operator, gym instructor, tailor, iron-smith etc. But as Taliban commanders and cadres, they have become empowered. Their ideological motivations aside, this new elite cannot be wished away, much less exterminated. The emergence of this elite is not a new phenomenon. In this turbulent region, every time there is destabilisation or unrest, a new elite emerges. When the British moved into this area, a new leadership emerged from among those who resisted the British – some of them going on to form their own Kingdoms, Swat being one example. The British accommodated these people and worked out an arrangement with them under which they were given titles, subsidies and privileges in exchange for accepting a loose control by the Raj over these areas. There were occasions when some Tribesmen would get restive and the Raj responded with punitive expeditions. The rules of the game were however accepted by both sides. The arrangement worked until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the entire region got destabilised and the old system broke down.

Through the dialogue with the Taliban, the Pakistan government is probably recognising the new reality and adjusting to it. As far as FATA is concerned, Pakistan has always had a ‘one country two system’ model– the normal Pakistan law did not apply to FATA which is still governed under the Colonial FCR. There is therefore no reason why the same model cannot be tweaked by making the TTP and other sundry Islamist warlords - the new Maliks and Sardars in the areas they control and putting in place a legal framework that satisfies their Islamist agenda. In other words, impose Shariah (the Taliban version) in the areas they control. Alongside put in place a system of subsidy to bribe and buy these people and give them an incentive to limit themselves to these areas. There will be howls of protest from the liberals in Pakistan, but they can be ignored since they are now merely a fringe group. With the Afghan War 2.0 winding down, the withdrawal of the foreign forces will remove the casus belli which according to many Pakistani analysts lit the fires of jihad.

A radically different approach based on massive development programmes will be followed in rest of Pakistan. To a great extent, this can only work if the first component of the strategy is successful. Assuming that FATA settles down and violence levels are significantly reduced, Nawaz Sharif thinks he will be well placed to usher in a burst of economic activity by attracting foreign investment, providing an environment for domestic investment to pick up and getting huge amounts of assistance from friendly countries. The Economic Corridor project – rail, road and pipeline network from Gwadar to Xinjiang funded by the Chinese – is part of this plan, as are the power plants, industrial parks etc. which are being envisaged. While Asif Zardari planted the idea of a ‘Marshall Plan’ of $ 100 billion to pull Pakistan out of the rut in which it finds itself, Nawaz Sharif hopes to be the person who actualises this idea. Senior ministers are bandying figures ranging from $20-$50 billion of investment in the next five years. Already the Saudis are opening the purse strings and have ‘gifted’ $ 1.5 billion to Pakistan. There are reports that other Gulf states are going to follow. The multilateral financial institutions – IMF, World Bank, ADB and IDB – have also opened the tap of funds. The Americans might not give much post 2014, but they are indicating that they will facilitate the flow of funds. The Europeans are also making encouraging sounds with the British taking the lead in pumping in money. The Chinese are busy signing MOUs on a variety of projects (though it must be said that most of the MOUs that the Chinese have signed in the past haven’t really taken off). The Japanese are showing interest in funding some mega projects.

If all this money starts flowing in, Nawaz Sharif calculates that it will provide such a massive fillip to economic activity that it will keep the people occupied gainfully and profitably and wean them away from being attracted to Jihad. This is a narrative that Pakistanis have often sold to the gullible West, which has readily lapped it up without ever questioning why even when the Pakistan economy was doing well the people were attracted to radical Islam. Be that as it may, once the cis-Indus region starts booming, it will naturally start having an impact on the trans-Indus region and slowly but surely the Pakistani state will be able to turn things around, extending the writ of the state in areas where it has vanished and at the same time moderating the extremist ideology which has taken root in many sections of society. There would of course remain those elements who, intoxicated by Jihadist fervour, might suffer some withdrawal symptoms and need their jihadist fix. For them, the Nawaz Sharif government could find new battlegrounds – Syria being one possibility, Kashmir being another and hotspots around the world where these guys could peddle their jihadist wares. As for the rest of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif could always bring in legal and constitutional ‘reforms’ that conform to the Islamic laws that many of the mullahs are demanding.

The way Nawaz Sharif would see it, this plan is the best shot he has under the circumstances. Given that the policy menu that is on offer has only a series of bad options ranging from outright surrender to total war, this labyrinthian approach is probably the best of all the bad options. If it works, there is a very good chance that all will be well; if it doesn’t, then what will happen is something that would have happened in any case without this plan. But clearly, there are huge problems in this plan which raises serious doubts about its ever working. The first problem is that it doesn’t take into account the nature of the beast, i.e. the Taliban or the radical Islamists. These people cannot be confined to a small geographical area where they can do what they feel. By definition, they see the world as their playground because Islam, according to them, cannot remained confined to man-made borders. Therefore, it is natural for them to export their brand of Islam beyond the areas they control. Second, the assumption that the government can buy and bribe its way out of this problem is quite iffy. The Taliban have no dearth of money even now. Their smuggling, kidnapping, extortion rackets and the charities that fund them generate enough for them to keep going. Then there is the ever present danger of demands arising from rest of Pakistan to impose the same Islamic system and the cosmetic or even substantial ‘reforms’ that Nawaz Sharif might bring in to appease them will never be enough because competitive Islamism will come into play. Finally, Pakistani policymakers and analysts often brush under the carpet the inconvenient fact that Talibanisation of FATA did not start post 9/11 or even around 2004 when the army moved into the area.

While radical political Islam made an entry as a result of the Afghan war against the Soviets, Talibanisation started soon after the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996. Inspired by the success of the Taliban, small groups started erupting all over FATA declaring themselves to be local Taliban. Many of these groups later coalesced under the umbrella of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. Therefore, merely the exit of the foreign forces isn’t going to remove the fundamental cause that gave rise to this phenomenon, even less so considering that the Afghan Taliban are expected to start holding sway over large swathes of Afghanistan. The fact that the Taliban successfully resisted the most powerful military force and forced it out will serve as a shot in the arm of their local affiliates. What is more, if indeed the Taliban control all or parts of Afghanistan, they are unlikely to forget the unstinting support that their associates in Pakistan gave them. Nor are they likely to forget the treatment many of them received at the hands of their Pakistani intelligence handlers.

Elements of all the four explanations outlined above would probably be factors that would be guiding the stock that Nawaz Sharif has placed in the store of a dialogue with the Taliban. At the same time, he would also be conscious of the problems and pitfalls that lie in the way and the very real possibility that despite his best efforts to avoid an outbreak of hostilities, the Pakistani state might have to wage a war to the finish with the Islamists. If things start spiralling out of control, Nawaz Sharif will probably opt for targeted and surgical operations in the first instance. But these are unlikely to help very much one way or another in stopping the haemorrhaging that is pushing the Pakistani state towards complete collapse. At the end of the day, if the Pakistani state, as it is currently constituted, has to survive, it will have to bring out all the elements of its national power to launch a ‘Total War’ on the Taliban, and the sooner the better because the more the delay, the more difficult it become to win this war. The big question is whether it is already a little too late. 

Ukraine Crisis: The Chinese Stand and Lessons for India

Monish Gulati


As the conflict in Ukraine refuses to abate, it continues to raise fears of triggering yet another confrontation between the Cold War era adversaries – the US and Russia - in a geopolitical tussle for dominance in Europe. There is also the possibility that Ukraine itself could descend into civil war; analysts ponder to which past moment of history will the country seek to repeat: the 1968 model, when Soviet troops invaded former Czechoslovakia to put an end to the Prague Spring; or the 2008 scenario, when Russia intervened in Georgia on the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Ukraine with its 45 million residents has deep geopolitical, ethnic and economic fautlines.1 While the economically weak regions in the west are bastions of nationalists, Ukraine’s major companies, like its steel mills, ship and turbine building are located in the east and are dependent on the Russian market. One narrative on the protests in the independence square in Kiev states that far-right nationalists and fascists have been at the heart of the protests and attacks on government buildings. The most active of the groups has been reported to be the rightwing Svoboda or “Freedom” Party which in the 2012 election took 10.45 percent of the vote and over 40 percent in parts of the western Ukraine. It currently has 36 deputies in the 450-member Ukrainian parliament. The latest source of tension in the region is the autonomous Crimean peninsula, which was first transferred to Ukraine in 1954, and now its parliament has just voted to be independent from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian crisis has turned out to be a severe test for global governance norms and institutions on the issues of democracy, public will and territorial sovereignty. India would draw several pointers for its foreign policy as the US, EU, Russia play out the geopolitical chess. As the situation unfolds in Ukraine, it is the Chinese position and the dynamics of China-Russia relationship that would be keenly watched by India to derive implications for its bilateral standoffs.

India’s Position

For months into the Ukraine crisis, India had remained noncommittal and no statements were forthcoming from the government. The only indication of India’s position came from a ‘tweet’ by the External Affairs Ministry (MEA) spokesperson, which read “We are closely watching fast evolving situation and hope for a peaceful resolution.” The silence was broken on 6th March after statements from both the MEA and the National Security Advisor (NSA).

The statement by MEA expressed India’s concern at the escalation of tension in Ukraine and called "for a legitimate democratic process to find full expression through free and fair elections that provide for an inclusive society."2 It added that India stood for sincere and sustained diplomatic efforts to ensure that issues between Ukraine and its neighbouring countries are resolved through constructive dialogue. However, the response of the NSA, who said, "There are legitimate Russian and other interests involved and we hope they are discussed and resolved,” was more indicative of India’s tightrope walk between deep historic ties with Russia and the Indian commitment to the inviolability of national sovereignty.

Chinese Reaction

The Chinese position on Ukraine has been gleaned by China watchers from two telephone calls, a newspaper editorial, and two foreign ministry briefings. It has left the analysts divided and China’s position declared as being of “studied ambiguity”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted on 4th March by the official Chinese media as telling Putin during a telephone call that the present situation in Ukraine was highly complicated and sensitive and that China supports proposals and mediation efforts of the international community that are conducive to reduction of tension. Russia should work towards a political settlement of the issue so as to safeguard regional and world peace and stability.3 Earlier on 3rd March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had discussed Ukraine on telephone with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi and claimed they had “broadly coinciding points of view” on the situation in Ukraine.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said on 3rd March that "China upholds its own diplomatic principles and the basic codes for international relations, which have also been implied on the Ukraine issue," Qin said China has taken the historical and contemporary factors of the Ukraine issue into consideration and that there were reasons for the situation in Ukraine.

China’s ‘fine balancing’ has been justified on the grounds that denouncing Putin’s decision to send troops to Crimea would impact the partnership between Beijing and Moscow. Worse, standing against Moscow would mean China was supporting the position taken by the West—which could be taken as implicit support for the Ukrainian protestors. China is distrustful of “colour revolutions,” including Ukraine’s own “Orange Revolution” of 2004 as it considers the “colour revolutions/springs” as instigated by Western nations to oust unfriendly regimes. Given the circumstances, China seems to have gone as far as it can, when it abstained during the UN Security council resolution on Crimea; which not surprisingly was vetoed by Russia. However, Chinese tacit support for Russia has not come easy.

Principle of Non-Interference

The non-interference principle has served China well in diplomacy to justify its inaction in many international crisis situations from Sudan to Syria to North Korea and at the same time allowed it to take an anti-West position. China expects that the principle in turn would apply to its internal affairs, particularly the provinces and autonomous regions with restive minorities along its periphery which associate more ethnically/ culturally with China’s neighbours.4 However, support to Russia would violate China’s principle of non-interference and possibly set a precedent of China’s support for military intervention outside a country’s recognised borders—which goes against all China’s instincts, given its own issues with Tibet and Xinjiang provinces. 5

China’s relationship with Russia also has an underlying sense of competition, particularly for leadership in Central Asia, and a historical lack of trust among many within the broader citizenry of each country. Moreover, in 2008, during the Russo–Georgia conflict, Moscow failed to obtain support from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes most of the Central Asian republics. China then had remained silent, not expressing support for either side.6 Letting Russia have its way appears to undermine China’s interests in Ukraine.

Chinese Interests in Ukraine

There is another narrative on China’s balancing act on Ukraine; its commercial and non-traditional security interest. As Voice of America reports, China has strong business interests in Ukraine which would be compromised by overt Chinese support for Russia.7 Ukraine is a major source of arms and armament technology for China and a growing partner in China’s global quest for resources. China recently inked a deal to farm three million hectares of arable Ukrainian land over the span of half a century. Under the initial agreement, worth $1.7 billion, with KSG Agro, Ukraine's leading agricultural company, 100,000 hectares will be leased to Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC), a Chinese quasi-military organization, also known as Bingtuan. The leased farmland in the eastern Dnipropetrovsk region would be cultivated principally for crops and raising pigs and the produce will be sold to two Chinese state-owned grain conglomerates at preferential prices. The project will eventually expand to three million hectares.

As part of the same deal, China’s Export-Import bank has given Ukraine a $3 billion loan for agricultural development. XPCC also intends to help build a highway in Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea as well as a bridge across the Strait of Kerch. Ukraine is one of the world’s leading exporters of grain, and is hoping to increase production in coming years. Ukraine’s plans for its agricultural industry, coupled with China’s need to increase grain imports, will make Kiev an attractive target for increased economic cooperation with Beijing.8


Alyssa Ayres at the US-based Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) has drawn out some lessons from the Ukraine crisis. First, she highlights the importance of establishing strong “rules of the road” which are effected through functional regional institutions to resolve differences between countries. Referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), she says Russia’s approach on similar issues/ differences with NATO member countries in the region has been more appropriate and balanced unlike in the case of Ukraine, possibly because it is not a member of the NATO. Yet the concept has its limitation as the thought of the likely NATO reaction did not deter Russia from moving into Crimea. Nor did fear of possible alienation from the G8, or condemnation from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) appear to have any restraining effect either.

Second, the Ukrainian events accentuate the shortcomings of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and its vulnerability to use of veto power by the permanent members. Consequently EU and US have been compelled to explore other persuasive and punitive responses centred on national visa policies, economic and trade sanctions etc.9

China, a permanent member of the UNSC, over the last few months has increasingly pushed to test established global norms with regard to resolving territorial disputes as well as demonstrated an inclination to challenge the regional order. US in its pivot to Asia finds itself balancing stable US-China relations on the one hand, and the imperative to uphold the credibility of US deterrence in the face of rising concern amongst its allies on China’s ‘creeping expansionism’, on the other. Analysts warn that US will struggle to maintain this precarious balance and Chinese interests may dominate Asia in the future.10

China would be mindful of the fact that it too at some point in future could be the target of Western sanctions. Therefore, it would watch closely the drama over Ukraine and Crimea and the West-Russia confrontation to expand its portfolio of strategic options. China in this regard would also value its strategic collaboration with Russia to jointly counter Western interference.11
On 8th March on the sidelines of the National People's Congress (NPC) session, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told media persons, on the issue of territorial disputes that ”We will not take anything that is not ours, but we will defend every inch of territory that belongs to us".12 Referring to the strained Sino-Japanese relations over the islands in the East China Sea, Wang said, "On the two issues of principle, history and territory, there is no room for compromise." This was the second time within few days (the other being in case of Ukraine) that China had used “history and territory” together to justify aggressive measures to resolve long standing territorial disputes. It is this kind of posturing that would give strategic analysts in India goose bumps, especially after the recent stand-off on territorial issues.

While the Indian approach on China has been to engage, compete and cooperate in the shared periphery and in the world, India would take certain pointers from the Ukraine crisis with respect to its prospective interactions with China. India would be conscious of the degree of consensus and cooperation Russia and China have shared on ticklish issues concerning Syria, Libya, Iran and now Ukraine. Also the fact that this understanding has included deliberations at the UNSC and that Russia may feel obliged to reciprocate Chinese support in the future. This may compromise Russian support to India during a Sino-Indian standoff. Also defence purchases which have been the mainstay of Indo-Russian partnership has been on the decline while India’s purchase of US weapons and equipment has seen a significant upswing.
India would watch the effectiveness of non-military coercive measures being deployed by EU and the US against Russia and at the same time being aware that similar measures if ever used against China would be appreciably less effective, given China’s economic staying power. Also despite the fact that Russia’s economic clout is relatively diminished compared to that of China, US is struggling to find support for its economic sanctions outside the EU. Even within the EU, dependence on energy imports from Russia, is making the implementation of non-military coercive measures that much more difficult.

India would also the seek greater and stronger partnerships on China’s periphery and in regional cooperation frameworks such as the ASEAN, BIMSTEC etc. Strategic partnerships with countries like Japan which may walk the extra mile during a crisis assume importance.

The crisis in Ukraine is not likely to go away in a hurry. Its impact on global security structures, the dynamics of US, EU, Russia and China relations and the growing Russia-China strategic partnership are the issues that India would be keenly watching.


  1. Prabhat P Shukla. The Stakes in Ukraine, VIF, March 06, 2014.
  2. Russian interests in Crimea ‘legitimate’: India, The Times of India, March 07, 2014
  3. Ibid.
  4. Shannon Van Sant. China Attempts to Strike Delicate Balance on Ukraine, VOA, March 04, 2014.
  5. Shannon Tiezzi. China Backs Russia on Ukraine, The Diplomat, March 04, 2014.
  6. Elizabeth C. Economy. China’s Soft “Nyet” to Russia’s Ukraine Intervention, CFR, March 05, 2014.
  7. Shannon Van Sant. China Attempts to Strike Delicate Balance on Ukraine, VOA, March 04, 2014.
  8. Shannon Tiezzi. China's Agricultural Deals with Ukraine in Jeopardy, The diplomat, February 28, 2014
  9. Alyssa Ayres. Ukraine’s Lessons for Asia, CFR, March 05, 2014.
  10. Benjamin Schreer. China’s rise: the strategic climate is getting colder, The Strategist, March 2014.
  11. Chen Xiangyang, Researcher & Deputy Director, Institute of World Political Studies, CICIR.
  12. Will defend every inch of territory, China warns neighbours, PTI , March 08, 2014.

(The author is an independent analyst based in New Delhi)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Creation of Telangana: Do Small States Pose A Threat to National Integration?

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

North India was under Greek rule in the form of a colony, whose Governor General was Seleucus Nicator. India was divided into little principalities or Janpads of which Magadh in modern day Bihar was probably one of the most prominent. Magadh had a sage, thinker, a political philosopher called Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, who had left Magadh for Taxila or, as it was then called, Takshashila, because he was persecuted in Pataliputra, the capital of Magadh. Presumably out of a feeling of revenge, but mainly because Chanakya was a great political philosopher, he took as his shishya, or student, one Chandra Gupt of the Maurya clan, whom he groomed to become the ruler of Magadh. When he succeeded in this, he proceeded to teach Chandra Gupt Maurya the art and science of government.

Chanakya well understood the need for a strong, unified, well organised state as essential to the integrity and security of the nation. Forcing the Greeks out of India was a matter of the highest priority, but Chanakya did not allow his student and young master, Chandra Gupt, to act impulsively in the matter. He advised him that for Magadh to be strong, it was vital that he bring all the Janapadas of Northern India under the umbrella of Magadh and then as a unified nation wage war on the Greeks. His strategy worked beautifully, Seleucus Nicator was defeated and Greek domination over India ended. The lesson for us modern day Indians is that only if India is strong and united can it unify and prosper as a nation. Otherwise, with its heterogeneity, its diversity, India can and in the past has broken into small units, thus making the nation vulnerable to foreign invasion. Successive waves of invaders, the Shakas, the Hunas, the Kushans, races of Turkic, Afghan, Mongol, Uzbek and Persian origin as also Anglo Saxon invaders have conquered India not because they were strong but because we were divided and weak. We also have a long history of treachery locally for personal gain, whether it was Ambi who sided with the Greeks against Porus, Jai Chand who sided with Mohammed Ghori against Prithviraj Chauhan, some of the rulers of Rajasthan and Gujarat who sided with Mahmud Ghazni in his attack on the holy shrine of Somnath or Mir Jafar, who sided with Robert Clive against Siraj-ul-Daulah. It is these traitors who have delivered a weak India to a foreign invader. The hidden Mir Jafars today include those who plead that Kashmir should be allowed to seek its destiny outside India, advocate that if the North East wants to break away why stop the people and even support Naxalite terrorism on the grounds that after all they are only protesting against what they feel is an unjust society. Now added to the list is those who use violence as a means of the creation of new States, of which the latest example is Telangana.

India has a long history of conflict between the concept of a nation State and the exact opposite which is fissiparous and which tends to divide. When the Centre becomes weak the constituent units first become autonomous and then eventually break away. That is what happened with the Mauryan Empire, the Gupta Empire, the Mogul Empire and, eventually, the India which the British had united and which they now vacated on 15th August 1947. In the Mogul Empire, for example, so long as the Emperor was strong, the Subedars (Governors) behaved. When there was a perception that the Emperor was weak, the Subedars began to flex their muscles. Aurangzeb was the last real Mogul Emperor and even during his declining years, the Deccan had begun to show signs of extreme unrest and the satraps had begun to assert their autonomy, if not independence. This is what the later Moguls inherited from Aurangzeb. By the time Nadir Shah attacked India, the Mogul Emperor existed only nominally and the Subedars went their own ways and increasingly the influence of foreigners such as the British, the French, the Portuguese and the Dutch grew. Whereas French and Dutch influence was curbed and reduced to a minuscule because of developments in Europe and the Portuguese never expanded beyond Goa, British control over India grew so much that by the time of the First War of Independence (which the British termed as the Sepoy Mutiny) in 1857, the British were virtually masters of India through the Governor General, nominally a servant of the East India Company but actually the representative of the Crown. In 1858 even that fiction was gone and Britain assumed direct control of the Government of India.

The British rulers firmly put down all regional resistance, made the country politically and administratively unified and established a nation State to which India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are heirs. It is this India minus Pakistan and Bangladesh that India inherited, but with a nascent problem of the possible effect on Indian unity subsequent to lapse of paramountcy by the British before they left. The possibility of declaration of independence by the Princely States was very real and had Sardar Patel not firmly intervened to first have the Instruments of Accession signed by the rulers and thereafter Instruments of Merger which incorporated the Princely States into erstwhile British India, the balkanisation of India would have been complete. Sardar Patel’s vision and firm resolve in action came from his deep understanding of the basically centrifugal, fissiparous tendencies of us Indians in which a firm hand at the Centre maintained both order and integrity of the nation and weakness inevitably led to fragmentation. The strengthening of centripetal forces which unified are evident in different parts of the Constitution, which need not be enumerated here, but it is also a cautionary signal that if these become weak then centrifugal forces will take over and India will break up.

This brings me to the events which have resulted in Parliament voting for the breakup of Andhra Pradesh into the two States of Telangana and remaining Andhra Pradesh. The history of how Andhra Pradesh came into being in 1956 after the reorganisation of Indian States is well known. The Madras Presidency was huge, embracing as it did both the Tamil and Telugu speaking parts of the Presidency and including Malabar District of Kerala. At that time, after the merger of Hyderabad into India, part of the Telugu speaking population of India dwelt in Hyderabad State, mainly the districts which formed what is now emerging as Telangana. Potti Sriramulu, the leader of the Telugu Movement for a separate Andhra Pradesh, went on an indefinite hunger strike which resulted in his death, Jawaharlal Nehru panicked, the States Reorganisation Commission was set up, it was decided to accept language as one of the major factors for determining a State’s boundaries and in the process Andhra Pradesh was born, consisting of the Telugu speaking districts of the old Madras Presidency and of the old Hyderabad State. Hyderabad ceased to be a State, Hyderabad city became the capital of the new State of Andhra Pradesh, the Marathi speaking districts of Hyderabad State were merged into Bombay State and later formed the Aurangabad Division of Maharashtra. The Kannada speaking districts of Hyderabad were transferred to Mysore, now Karnataka. The new State of Andhra Pradesh inherited the rich coastal region and the dry Rayalseema region of erstwhile Madras Presidency and the extreme Left affected districts of Telangana from Hyderabad State.

The Telangana region was highly exploited by an iniquitous zamindari system which existed in Hyderabad State and the misery of the peasant population led to heavy infiltration by extremist Communist forces, resulting in considerable violence. The Hyderabad State Government of the Nizam had banned the Communist Party in 1943 and this ban continued after the merger of Hyderabad with India. V. Nanjappa was sent as Special Commissioner for Telangana and he ruthlessly put down lawlessness in the districts of Karimnagar, Warangal, Nalgonda, etc. This is the area in which Naxalism also prospered, till the Andhra Pradesh Police through ruthless action suppressed it and forced the Naxalites to largely migrate to Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The resources of Andhra Pradesh were of a magnitude such that Naxalism could be handled. This was true of united Madhya Pradesh also and till Chhattisgarh was formed, Naxalism was very much under control. It is only when the Naxal affected areas of Madhya Pradesh became part of the smaller Chhattisgarh State that the problem magnified till it reached its present proportions of almost uncontrolled lawlessness.

What the new State of Andhra Pradesh also did was to enact and enforce land reforms which relieved the peasants of crippling inequality in the Telangana area. Firm police action provided the environment in which government could begin to function once again, but it is land reforms, development programmes and extension of economic opportunities which helped Andhra Pradesh to bring Left extremism under control.

Before discussing the merits or otherwise of the partition of Andhra Pradesh, which must be seen in the context of our history also, it is important to comment on the procedure adopted for passing the Bill regarding the partition of Andhra Pradesh by the Parliament. The formation of new States and alteration of areas and boundaries or names of States is governed by Article 3 of the Constitution. If a Bill is introduced in Parliament in this behalf, it is mandatory for the President to refer the Bill to the Legislature of the State concerned for expressing its views. The Andhra Pradesh Legislature overwhelmingly rejected the proposal, but Parliament went ahead with the Bill for breaking up Andhra Pradesh, totally ignoring the views of the State Legislature. Under Article 1, India is a Union of States and all the States are equal partners with the Centre in the Federation or Union. The State Legislature is a representative body elected by the people of the State which is a constituent of the Indian Union. Parliament, despite this, cavalierly brushed aside the considered views of a State Legislature on an issue pertaining to the very existence of that State. To vote into law a proposal to break up a State in an environment in which nineteen members of Parliament representing that State were not allowed to participate in the debate, in which all voice of reason is drowned in a cacophony of contradictory shouts and slogans, by not even subjecting such an important Bill to a public debate, Parliament has itself murdered the very democracy that its members have sworn to uphold. In doing so, it has worked in contradiction of every one of the nine pillars of the Constitution as given in the Preamble. They are the complete sovereignty of India, socialism, secularism, democracy and a system of government which is republican. Further they are justice, liberty of thought, equality and promotion of fraternity which assures the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation. By the manner in which Parliament acted, it is obvious that it has no respect for democracy. It does not believe in liberty of thought and expression because it has brushed aside the views of the people of Andhra Pradesh expressed through the State Legislature and by preventing nineteen members of Parliament from Andhra Pradesh from participating in the debate on the Bill, the proceedings become flawed. The Parliament has certainly not promoted fraternity, unity and integrity of the nation because by dividing the State, it has opened the flood gates for similar demands, the end result of which could well be the formation of such tiny States as Gorkhaland, Bodoland, etc. Not only would this lead to a conflict between people, it would also seriously jeoparadise the integrity of India with small little States, all highly parochial, pushing their own agenda which could even lead to breakup of the Union. Our past history reinforces views in this behalf.

The leaders of Telangana say that they are breaking away from Andhra Pradesh and not from the Indian Union and, therefore, why should there be any fear or insecurity for those who live in Hyderabad. It is pertinent here to draw their attention to the city of Mumbai where the Shiv Sena launched a programme of Marathi chauvinism which targeted all non Maharashtrian groups? It started with a movement to drive people from Udupi out of the city because it was felt that they monopolised the lower end of the restaurant trade on which some local anti-social elements had set their eyes. This escalated ultimately into a movement to drive all non Maharashtrians below a certain economic level out of the city, including those from U.P. and Bihar. The moneyed people, of course, were welcome. Mumbai city is a part of the Indian Union through the constituent State of Maharashtra, but are non Maharashtrians safe there? Mumbai was considered the most cosmopolitan city in India and if this sort of chauvinism can prevail there, why should Hyderabad be different? Will Telangana with Hyderabad not reflect itself in a hate Telangana movement in remaining Andhra Pradesh? If this is promotion of fraternity, then I see no difference between it and South African racism and Nazi pogroms against anyone they counted as being non Aryan. Perhaps the case is being overstated, but there is enough evidence from our history to suggest that this form of communal violence based not on religion but on community, language, region, etc cannot be ruled out.

All the new States which have been formed by dividing large States, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, the Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, etc., have, after a brief period of what seemed to be accelerated development, lapsed into what could be called the fruits of incestuousness. I call these States incestuous because in every one of them the same four or five families or groups successively enjoy power. All the maladies of interbreeding afflict these States as the personal interests of a limited number of politicians interact and interplay, resulting in poor government, extreme corruption, nepotism and now ultimate decline. It is a fact that village society, because of lack of diversity and of skills, tends to be ritualistic both in its arts and its life style. Urban society, on the other hand, because of diversity and heterogeneity, encourages hybridisation and the new vigour which comes with it. That is why in small States like Jharkhand or Haryana, the system has no access to diversity, rituals overtakes social behaviour, there is no innovation and, ultimately the common denominator is corruption and nepotism, together with downright bad government. Is that what one foresees for Telangana also?

I know that there are many votaries of small States. The advantage of large States is that because of their very diversity no single region within that State dominates. In united Madhya Pradesh, there was a balance between Mahakaushal, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Bharat and Vindhya Pradesh and every region has given Chief Ministers and top politicians in a state which was in equilibrium. The separation of Chhattisgarh has disturbed this balance in the State. Madhya Pradesh has lost but Chhattisgarh has not gained and, therefore, the overall position is negative. In any case, after the 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution, local government has become a part of the State fabric and, therefore, dealing with local problems is now within the domain of local government. With local government and the district administration being at the cutting edge of delivery of government to the people, the role of the State becomes one of policy making at State level and implementation of State level schemes. With this division of work, why do we need small States which, because of lack of scale, would not permit local government to flourish? The Centre, by and large, has the role of holding the country together, framing policy at national level, looking after the larger national interests of security and coordinating the activities of the States in such a way as to bring about national prosperity. In this kind of a set up, we need a strong Centre, large, viable, non-parochial States and strong administration at the level of District, the Tehsil or Development Block and the town or village.

Was Telangana born out of the greed for office of a few leaders or did it represent the voice of the people? K Chandrashekhar Rao, as the leader of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) which spearheaded the separate statehood movement, has let the cat out of the bag. Soon after the Bill was passed, he met Sonia Gandhi and Digvijaya Singh. It is reported that he has told them that if he is supported by the Congress in becoming Chief Minister of Telangana, he will deliver the parliamentary seats there to the Congress in the 2014 general election. Supposing he had been made Chief Minister of the united Andhra Pradesh, would he still have pushed for a separate Telangana? Telangana is the produce of greed, not need. Where this will lead the country one shudders to think.     

Yet Another Firm Step to De-criminalise Indian Politics

Dr. A Surya Prakash, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The Supreme Court took yet another firm step recently to cleanse politics and to de-criminalise the country’s legislative bodies when it directed trial courts hearing cases concerning corruption and serious offences against MPs and legislators in the states to complete the trial within one year of framing of charges. In an interim order, the Bench of Justices R.M.Lodha and Kurian Joseph said where sitting legislators are facing corruption cases and other serious offences, “the trial will be completed expeditiously on a day-to-day basis and in no instance later than one year from the date of framing of charges”.

This is the second major directive from the apex court after its path-breaking verdict in July, 2013 ordering disqualification of all MPs and MLAs soon after their conviction in heinous cases. Through this judgement, the court stopped MPs and MLAs from merrily continuing in office after filing an appeal against the lower court’s order as provided for in Section 8 (4) of the Representation of the People Act. The court struck down this provision in the RP Act, which had been grossly misused by elected representatives with criminal backgrounds. Exploiting the justice system which is painfully slow, legislators convicted of crimes like murder, rape and dacoity were known to complete their terms in Parliament and state legislatures, return to these legislative bodies when fresh elections were held and even hold key portfolios in the government at the Centre and in the states. All they had to do was to file a criminal appeal in a High Court within the stipulated time and the cases would drag on for 10 or even 15 years.

The mischief lay in Section 8(4) and this remained on the statute book for decades despite strong and persistent recommendations from the Law Commission of India, The Election Commission and a host of other commissions and committees including the National Commission Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC), which was headed by the former Chief Justice of India Mr.M.N.Venkatachalaiah. But the political class failed to heed to the suggestions and proposals for scrapping Section 8(4) because almost all political parties had legislators with criminal backgrounds and they did not want them to be unseated. Secondly, since criminal cases dragged on endlessly and the rich and powerful found a dozen ways to stall the trial in such cases, criminals roamed around the corridors of power and Parliament with impunity.

The Supreme Court struck the first major blow against criminal-legislators when it declared that Section 8 (4) was illegal. It said henceforth, upon conviction legislators would lose their seats. Lalu Prasad Yadav became the first politician to be hit by this ruling. He lost his seat in Parliament after this judgement although the Manmohan Singh Government was all set to bring in an ordinance to nullify the court’s verdict.

The latest order of the court directing that the trial in cases involving MPs and MLAs be completed within one year will have an impact on many persons with such background who are likely to contest and succeed in the coming Lok Sabha election. Although the distribution of tickets is still on, one can already see that a large number of persons with criminal records have been given tickets by many political parties including the Congress, the BJP, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. The trial courts are now mandated to complete the trials within one year. Therefore, all persons who stand accused of heinous crimes and who get elected to the new Lok Sabha will not have the luxury of seeing prolonged trials. Secondly, if they are pronounced guilty, they will immediately forfeit their seats in view of the Supreme Court’s Verdict last year.

One only needs to analyse the affidavits filed by candidates before the Election Commission at the time of filing nominations for elections to understand the extent to which our democratic bodies have become dens of criminals and the corrupt. Following the Supreme Court Judgement of July, 2013, the Association of Democratic Rights (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) conducted an analysis and came up with some shocking statistics. They said as per the affidavits filed by them, as many as 1460 of the 4807 sitting MPs and MLAs in the country (30 per cent) had declared that there were criminal cases against them. Of them, as many as 688 (14%) out of the total number of sitting MPs and MLAs had declared serious criminal cases against themselves. Further, ADR has found that 162 of the 543 MPs of the outgoing Lok Sabha (30 per cent ) had declared criminal cases against themselves of which 14 per cent of the MPs have declared serious criminal cases against themselves. Of the 4032 MLAs in the country, as many as 1258 (31%) from all state assemblies had declared criminal cases against themselves. Here too, 15 per cent of the MLAs from all state assemblies said that they faced serious criminal cases against themselves, according to this analysis by ADR.

Following the latest Supreme Court order directing speedy trial of such cases, ADR and NEW reported that the 162 MPs were involved in 306 criminal cases and that 76 of them stood charged with serious crimes like murder, attempt to murder and kidnapping. However, all these MPs were completing their Lok Sabha terms without hindrance because the cases were pending in court. These organisations said that some of these cases were pending for over 20 years. On an average, the pendency was for about seven years. They found a case of murder in which a member of the present Lok Sabha is an accused, dragging on for close to three decades while another murder case against an MP in Uttar Pradesh was in “progress” for 25 years. One case against an MP facing the charge of rioting and theft was on for 28 years. Providing a party-wise break up, the two organizations said that Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) MPs had 69 criminal cases against them followed by the BJP (55 cases), the Samajwadi Party (34 cases) and the Congress (30 cases). One MP belonging to JMM from Palamau, Jharkhand had declared 69 counts of serious cases against himself.

The court’s order last week came in the light of this frightening statistical analysis and the recent report of the Law Commission on Electoral Disqualifications. The Commission’s report on this issue was consequent to a direction by the Supreme Court last December. In this report, which was finalized last month, the Law Commission said that disqualification upon conviction had “proved to be incapable of curbing the growing criminalisation of politics, owing to long delays in trials and rare convictions. The law needs to evolve to pose an effective deterrence and to prevent subversion of the process of justice”. It therefore favoured disqualification of MPs and MLAs at the stage of framing of charges by the trial court. It said the stage of framing of charges “was based on adequate levels of judicial scrutiny, and disqualification at the stage of charging, if accompanied by substantial attendant legal safeguards to prevent misuse, has significant potential in curbing the spread of criminalisation of politics”.

Further, once the charges were framed and the legislators were disqualified, the Commission felt that the trial must be speeded up. It said for charges framed against sitting MPs and MLAs, the trials must be expedited so that they are conducted on a day-to-day basis and concluded within a one year period. It is of the view that if the trial is not completed within a year, the tainted legislator would stand automatically disqualified. Alternately, the rights, remuneration and perks of the MP or MLA could be suspended. The Commission also proposed some safeguards to prevent persons in power from filing false charges against political opponents in the run up to en election to the state assembly or parliament. It has also recommended enhanced punishment of two years in jail for persons who give false affidavits while filing nominations in an election.

This recommendation of the Law Commission must be seen in the light of the opinion of several other commissions and committees. For example, the Election Commission recommended 17 years ago that conviction by a trial court was sufficient to attract disqualification “and even those released on bail during the pendency of their appeals against their convictions are disqualified from contesting elections”. The NCRWC recommended that the election law be amended to bar any person charged with an offence punishable with imprisonment up to five years, from contesting elections to parliament and state assemblies. Further, it said any person convicted for heinous offences like murder, rape, dacoity and smuggling must be permanently barred from contesting elections. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Mr Veerappa Moily, a member of the Union Cabinet, recommended that Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 be amended “to disqualify all persons facing charges related to grave and heinous offences and corruption”, with the modification suggested by the Election Commission.

However, none of this had any effect on the political executive and the UPA Government made a futile bid through Law Minister Kapil Sibal last year to up turn the Supreme Court judgement which said convicted MPs and MLAs would stand disqualified even if they appealed against their convictions. The Manmohan Singh Government assured all political parties that it would amend the RPA Act, 1951 to help criminal politicians, some of whom were keeping the government alive through their support in the Lok Sabha. Sibal, who piloted this obnoxious piece of legislation even felt emboldened to advice the judiciary that it should be “extremely careful” while giving rulings because there was a negative perception in the country that all politicians were criminals and that the courts were enthusiastic to prove this to be right. Sibal also made the laughable claim that the political class was the most accountable class in the country and that the politicians were accountable to parliament, to the Election Commission, to the country and to the people.

Fortunately, no one is listening to Sibal’s rant against judges and on behalf of criminal politicians, least of all the judiciary. The Supreme Court, in its interim order last week on the PIL filed by Public Interest Foundation has partly accepted the suggestion of the Law Commission and ordered expeditious trial of cases pending against MPs and MLAs. Last year the court declared that legislators would stand disqualified once they are convicted by a court in a serious criminal case. The Law Commission is now suggesting that the disqualification should kick in the moment the trial court frames charges. We must now await the court’s final judgement in this PIL and hope that it will finally purge our legislatures of criminals.

Recent Trends in Vietnam-Japan Ties and Implications for India

Maj Gen (Retd.) P K Chakravorty


Japan has been an important trading partner of Vietnam from the 16th century. The port of Hoi An close to Danang in Central Vietnam was an important trading port and Japanese ships visited this location frequently to undertake trading activities. During the Second World War, Japan exercised control over this region and thereafter relations remained dormant up to 1972. Diplomatic ties were established on 21 September 1972, but active commercial activities between the two countries resumed only after the return of the Vietnamese Army from Cambodia in 1989.

Thereafter relations between the two countries strengthened with Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) resuming in full swing in the year 1992. Since then both the countries have left no stone unturned to enhance their relationship.

Recent Trends

As stated, the new chapter in Vietnamese Japanese relationship began in 1992. Vietnam became a member of the ASEAN in 1995. ASEAN and Japan established formal relations in 1973, which was formalised in March 1977.

Japan has consistently backed all the initiatives of ASEAN and in 1997 Japan became a part of ASEAN+3 along with China and South Korea. Further with the formation of the East Asia Summit in 2005, Japan and Vietnam became part of a larger organisation and currently both of them are active members. They also are official negotiating partners of the Trans Pacific Partnership which also includes the United States.

Japan has contributed immensely to Vietnam’s economic development. ODA contribution itself is more than $ 21 billion. Foreign Direct Investment by Japan in Vietnam translates into 2103 projects with a registered capital of $ 34.5 billion. More than 500,000 Japanese tourists visited Vietnam in the preceding year. The point to note is that both the countries are bonding very closely resulting in mutual benefit.

The current geo political situation presents us with a few hard realities regarding Asia Pacific. China has become the most dominant economic and military power of Asia. Great powers have great ambitions and China has stirred up issues regarding its claims on the islands of the East China Sea, South China Sea and along the Sino-Indian border. This has caused tensions between China on the one hand and Japan, Vietnam and India on the other. The United States with its pivot to Asia policy is attempting to rebalance her naval deployment by positioning six of her Carrier Battle Groups to be positioned in the Asia Pacific Region. Further the US is trying to form a tri lateral alliance between US, India and Japan. Meanwhile, Russia is also gradually entering this region, with arms supplies to China, Vietnam and India. In this situation, the US is looking for a more assertive Japan which could possibly handle security situations independently. This obviously calls for a stronger Japanese Self Defence Forces which can play an operational role in the Western Pacific. It is pertinent to note that due to economic reasons the US is reducing its Defence budget as also the manpower of her Army which would be below the strength that existed during the First World War. Accordingly it is obvious that Japan would have to a large extent resolve strategic issues in the Western Pacific using its Self Defence Forces with limited support from the US.

It is against this backdrop that one has to view Japan’s strategic relations with Vietnam. While Japan has issues with regard to Senkaku islands with China, Vietnam has disputes with regard to Paracel and Spratly islands with China. Militarily China is stronger than Japan and Vietnam. However, strengthened cooperation between Japan and Vietnam would enable them to strategically coordinate their activities resulting in a balanced approach from China. Vietnam and Japan have a strategic agreement since 2009 which is gradually being boosted by political leaders from both countries.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took over in December 2012 made his first overseas visit to Vietnam from 16 to 17 January 2013. As is well known, during his previous tenure in 2006, he had initiated a strategic dialogue with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung. He had clearly stated that the purpose of his visit was due to the common concerns of the two countries in the Asia Pacific region in the spheres of economics and strategy. On a lighter note, he also stated that people of both countries have common cultural traits like using chop sticks, eating rice as the main food and Buddhism. Currently the Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang is on a four day visit to Japan from March 16 to 19 at the invitation of Japanese Emperor Akihito. The visit is expected to further strengthen economic and strategic relations between the two countries resulting in greater synergy between these nations in the Asia Pacific.

Implications on India

Strategically the Asia Pacific region is extremely important for India. Japan and Vietnam are both strategic partners of India and play a critical role with regard to subsuming China’s assertiveness in the region. The growing strategic partnership between Vietnam and Japan is resulting in both countries re crafting their military strategies and enhancing their defence postures.

India has strong economic relations and strategic partnerships with both Japan and Vietnam. China has disputes with regard to the land border along India and is also engaged in creating a string of pearls by developing port facilities in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. There is a need for India to counter this move by intensifying strategic partnerships with Japan and Vietnam. This can be achieved by greater joint training at the individual and collective level between these countries. Joint trilateral exercises on land and sea would not only improve inter operability but also sensitise China on hard power capabilities of these countries. Further, economic cooperation can be enhanced to ensure greater Comprehensive National Power of the triumvirate.

To maintain strategic balance, the Asian continent must avoid an unchallenged economic as also strategic domination by China. The US is gradually rebalancing its assets to play a supportive role in the continent. To create stability there is a need for economic and strategic synergy between Japan, Vietnam and India. This would allow a stable Asia which can be free of Chinese assertiveness.


The current visit of the Vietnamese President to Japan is likely to strengthen economic and strategic relations between these countries. This is a step in the positive direction which must be utilised by India to strengthen the bond with these countries to stabilise the Asia Pacific. A strong trilateral relationship between the three nations would positively contribute to security in the region.

(The author was India’s Defence Attache to Vietnam)