Friday, November 28, 2014

US Rebalance to Asia – An Assessment

Dr Harinder Sekhon, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

US President Barack Obama landed in Beijing on Monday for the APEC summit, the first of a series of summit and bilateral meetings with regional and world leaders. This visit comes at a time when a majority of Americans are despondent that the country's competitors around the world are swelling while the country's defence resources and the capacity to respond to global challenges shrink. US defence budgetary cuts to the tune of a trillion dollars for this fiscal further add to this mood. This gloom is not confined to the US alone but extends to the Asia Pacific as well where serious doubts exist about Obama’s commitment to his Doctrine of 2012 directing a strategic “pivot” or Re Balance to Asia as an important element of his grand strategy for the region.

While host China seeks to allay the fears of regional countries by organizing the APEC agenda around a “series of initiatives to nurture regional economic growth and connectivity, long-term progress in these areas will not be possible if China continues to assert unilateral claims to international waters and airspace in the South and East China seas -- and to back these claims up with the threat of force” by seeking to create “a sphere of influence that erodes the security and sovereignty of Japan and other neighbours”. There is apprehension that in East Asia, China seeks “to overturn the existing, pluralistic regional order and replace it with a Sino sphere imposed at least partly through force of arms”,1 as the US has been more occupied with developments in Ukraine and the Middle East. While those are serious issues that required immediate attention, the US must not lose sight of its long term and more serious challenge posed by a rising China in East Asia.

Strategic power plays in the Asia-Pacific region and the role of the two main players, the US and China, has emerged as one of the major drivers of international relations in the twenty first century. China’s rapid economic rise over the past two decades has “made it possible for China to increase its military capacity and ramp up its political role in the region and beyond.” While China has been at pains to insist that its rise will be peaceful, and “poses no threat to its neighbours or the existing international, political and economic order”, its rising assertiveness, more visible since 2010, is a matter of concern and compelled the US to re orient its policy towards the Asia-Pacific. In November 2011, Obama attended the East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia, the first for a US President, signifying a major shift in US policy to protect its strategic interests in Asia. Also in November 2011, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton published an article in Foreign Policy Journal titled, ‘America’s Pacific Century,’ clearly laying out the importance America attaches to Asia-Pacific. She wrote:
Harnessing Asia's growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama. Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia. Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress, whether through defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, countering the proliferation efforts of North Korea, or ensuring transparency in the military activities of the region's key players.
This reaffirmation of its attention towards the Asia-Pacific led to a strategic pronouncement of US policy in the form of the “pivot” or “rebalance” to Asia. While this policy was not new and was mainly a continuation and expansion of policies already undertaken by previous US administrations, Obama’s Doctrine had two distinct features. First, it was more comprehensive and included “all the necessary components of a strategy, namely, military, political, economic and ideological.” The second feature of Obama’s pivot strategy was that it extended the scope of Asia Pacific to include South Asia, particularly India, and linked the Pacific and Indian Oceans as one continuum in US grand strategy for Asia.2

The main objectives of the “Asia Pivot” were:

(a) Re-assertion of US interest in maintaining stability in the region through the prevention of regional conflict and flaring up of inter-state antagonisms.
(b) Maintain security of the global commons, especially the sea-lanes through which more that 50% of global trade and 70% of ship-borne oil transits.
(c) Create an enabling environment for further expansion of trade between the United States and East Asia and among regional states through bilateral free-trade agreements and the facilitation of a Trans Pacific Partnership.
(d) Though not explicitly stated, to keep a watch on Chinese activities and managing its role in the region by influencing the “terms of its admission and full integration within those regional and international regimes where the US is still the dominant actor.”
(e) To play the role of a benign and indispensable hegemon and thereby “acquire the leverage necessary to influence regional actors and their choices.”3

The US hoped to achieve its aims through a three - pronged policy of stepped up military deployment in Guam and Australia, trade and diplomacy. But the pivot’s emphasis on making the US military presence in the region more flexible, and putting measures in place for its rapid deployment caused concern amongst the Chinese. While the US insists that its strategic rebalance only seeks to “enhance regional stability for the benefit of all, rather than to contain or threaten China,” the Chinese see this move by the USA as an attempt to maintain its “hegemonic dominance, thwarting China’s rise and keeping it vulnerable”. This has further exacerbated regional tensions in East Asia where China has been more aggressive in recent months while the US has been busy elsewhere. These tensions focus on the Korean peninsula, the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, and have an important maritime dimension, leading to a high probability of war in the region. Besides Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines too feel vulnerable and have joined the effort to draw American attention back to Asia-Pacific.

Most countries view the US pivot strategy as more rhetoric than substance. Some nations feel there has been a significant change in US priority to Asia from the rebalance, though not necessarily much in the way of increased military presence, and that the signal sent in the region had been vital in reassuring some and, hopefully, deterring others. Others feel that there had been much less to it than meets the eye and that whatever steam it had originally has now dissipated (e.g. Obama’s West Point speech had omitted it altogether). But there could also be an important gap between reality and perception — whatever the actual substance, it has been seen in some quarters, notably in Beijing, as an exercise in US hard power, and even provocative, and produced a counter-reaction accordingly.

At a time when friends and allies of the US are expressing doubts about its commitment to its re-balance strategy, US Secretary of State, John Kerry sought to allay such fears and apprehensions. In a recent statement, he said, “The Asia Pacific is one of the most promising places on the planet, and America’s future and security and prosperity are closely and increasingly linked to that region.” Elaborating further, Kerry said, “President Obama’s rebalance towards the Asia Pacific and the enormous value that we place on longstanding alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines and our bourgeoning relationships with ASEAN and countries in Southeast Asia”4 would be a priority.

Kerry outlined four main aspects of the rebalance strategy: First, the opportunity to create sustainable economic growth, which includes finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which should not be viewed through the narrow confines of a trade agreement but also as a strategic opportunity for the United States and other Pacific nations to come together and prosper together. Second, powering a clean energy revolution that will help address climate change while simultaneously jumpstarting economies around the world. Third, reducing tensions and promoting regional cooperation by strengthening the institutions and reinforcing the norms that contribute to a rules-based, stable region. Fourth, create an environment that will empower people throughout the Asia Pacific to live with dignity, security, and opportunity.5

There is no doubt that US economic and political interests in the Asia-Pacific region are huge, and there is a demand for an increased US presence in, and strategic priority given to the region from many Asian countries. But the long-term question is whether the US has the will and the resources to keep up its effort against the background of the continuing rise of China and its own domestic compulsions. China has the potential to easily focus on dominating the region, without worrying too much about the rest of the world beyond its direct trade, investments and resource needs. The US would always have other priorities elsewhere and this is what worries many of China’s neighbours and why they are so hard to satisfy and reassure.

In this context, while China and the US are unlikely to be real friends and close allies for the foreseeable future, they could nevertheless work together closely on many issues, for example North Korea, climate and the environment, securing the global commons, etc. The US could view Chinese proposals for an inclusive economic agenda with a positive attitude as the alternative of constant competition and potential confrontation would be detrimental for everyone. According to the New York Times, “last month 51 top American business leaders, led by the U.S.-China Business Council, urged Mr. Obama to make the conclusion of a bilateral investment treaty by 2016 a priority in his meetings with Mr. Xi.”6 They propose that such a treaty would be beneficial for both countries. The US also needs to play a more positive role in improving the multilateral system, since ultimately a rules-based co-operative approach is in US interests as is a revitalized G-20.

Despite speculation in some quarters about US decline, it should not be viewed in absolute terms. The US possesses inherent strengths and great influence, which give it the ability to do worthwhile work globally. US soft power remains enormous though investing more in tools like diplomacy and overseas information capability, would be well worthwhile. The world still looks to the US to assume a leadership role but this should be exercised more as a team player and through partnerships and consultative leadership where possible, not from a “sole super-power” perspective. For this strategic perspective and strategic patience are needed more than ever. The US needs to think long-term and build the right fundamentals through clearer guiding concepts, principles, strategic priorities and goals.
The US should be bolder in its readiness to reform institutions, its own and the international ones. US consultative leadership is needed not only in the obvious political and economic areas, but on the major cross-cutting issues where progress remains so difficult, but equally important: climate change, cyber security, non-proliferation, macro imbalance. The rebalance to Asia remains vital, and should be pursued as a long-term goal. Helping respond to Chinese assertiveness in the region is necessary, but so is a co-operative US/China relationship. These are all challenging issues, as the US, has not been able to build a strong and dependable network of regional institutions and alliances in Asia as it has in Europe in the post World War – II period.

While the US should not hesitate to promote its values and principles, it has to ensure its own behaviour does not depart too much from those values and rules. To remain influential and relevant in the region, the US will have to naturally remain engaged with East Asian and South East Asian powers. But it will have to resist the temptation to claim for itself economic privileges, exemptions and political authority to act in an arbitrary manner just because it is the chief security provider. Ideas of US exceptionalism and lecturing others would need to be avoided while continuing with the effort to preserve a wide liberal, democratic base in the world.

The US referred to India as the "linchpin" of its rebalance strategy; and by virtue of its own strategic and economic interests in the region, India cannot remain unmindful of developments taking place in East Asia. While India is pragmatic and more inclined to safeguarding its national interest by following an interest-based policy rather than getting drawn into a strategic competition with China or become a security provider on behalf of the US, India will have to devise a long-term and effective strategy in order to emerge as a relevant player in East Asia. In recent months, India has strengthened its Look East Policy through bilateral and multilateral engagements with the smaller regional powers and ASEAN countries, thereby insulating itself from the risks of strategic competition or complicity between China and the United States, but a sustained involvement with this region is required.

  1. Daniel Twining, “An Asian post-election checklist for Obama, Nikkei Asian Review,
    November 5, 2014.
  2. SD Muni, Vivek Chadha, editors, Asian Strategic Review 2014 - US Pivot and Asian
    Security, IDSA and Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2014. p. 7
  3. For details see, Congressional Research Service, Pivot to the Pacific? The Obama Administration’s Re-balancing Toward Asia, March 28, 2012, and Mario Del Pero, US: Which Grand
    Strategy for Asia and China? ISPI Analysis No. 187, July 2013.
  4. Remarks on US-China Relations by John Kerry, US Secretary of State, at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, DC, November 4, 2014
  5. Ibid.
  6. Wang Dong, Robert A Kapp and Bernard Loeffke, Resetting US-China Relations, The New York Times, November 10, 2014. Available at:

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Vietnamese Economy and Current Cooperation with India

Maj Gen (Retd.) P K Chakravorty


The Vietnamese economy at the time of unification on 30 April 1975 was a highly centralised planned economy like the former Soviet Union. This underwent change with the introduction of Doi Moi in 1986. With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the economy transformed into a socialist market economy similar to Russia and China. Currently, Vietnam is a part of the global economy. Vietnam today exports agricultural and industrial products. In 1997, Asia faced a financial crisis which made Vietnam cautious in undertaking accelerated economic reforms. The turnaround came with the signing of the Bilateral Agreement with the United States (US) on 13 July 2000. This enabled Vietnam to trade with the US and Europe as also brought in Foreign Direct Investment from numerous countries, resulting in a high rate of growth and economic development.

In 2001, the Vietnamese Government approved a 10 year economic plan that enhanced the role of private sector, while reaffirming the primacy of the state. The rate of growth grew from 6% to 7% between 2000 to 2002. It is pertinent to note that the growth rate continued to increase and soon it was just next to China in this field reaching a high over 8%, thereby becoming the world’s second fastest growing economy. Simultaneously, investment grew three fold and domestic savings quintupled. On 11 January 2007, Vietnam became the 150th member of World Trade Organisation (WTO). The membership of WTO resulted in stiff competition which compelled the Government to deal sternly with non performing State Owned Enterprises resulting in privatisation of 30 to 50% of these enterprises thereby stabilising the situation reasonably. Vietnam with its high growth rate is moving on an upward trajectory.

Current Status

Vietnam is currently a part of the globalisation process and is a member of WTO, ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). The nominal GDP is $ 187.848 billion and converted to Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) works out to $ 509.466 billion. In the current year, the GDP witnessed a growth of 5.62%. The per capita income is $ 2073 as per nominal calculations and $ 5621 as per PPP. The GDP as applicable to sectors is as follows: Agriculture - 19.3%, Industry – 38.5 % and Services – 42.2%. The population by occupation is Agriculture – 48%, Industry -21 % and Services- 31%. The population below the poverty line is 10% and unemployment is about 2%.The main agricultural as also meat products are rice, coffee, rubber, cotton, tea, pepper, soya beans, cashew nuts, sugar cane, peanuts, bananas, poultry, fish and sea food. The main exports are clothes, shoes, marine products, crude oil, electronics, wooden products, rice and machinery. The total exports are about $ 128.9 billion. The imports are machinery and equipment, petroleum products, steel products, raw materials for clothing & shoe industries, electronics, plastics and automobiles. The total imports account for $ 121.4 billion. US is the highest export partner accounting for about 17.8% of the exports and China is the highest import partner accounting for 25.8% of the imports. The public finances are rated as stable and the Government has been taking corrective measures to keep the economy on course.

Economic targets for 2015

The eighth session of the 13th Vietnamese National Assembly commenced in Hanoi on 20 October 2014. The Prime Minister Mr Nguyen Tan Dung in his speech stated that despite a promising outlook for 2015, inefficiency, bad debt and domestic sentiment will moderate the growth rate. The Prime Minister set out a growth rate of 6.2% for 2015. He also emphasised that inflation will be maintained at 5% resulting in reduction of poverty by another 1.7 % and creation of additional 1.6 million new job opportunities. The rise recorded in recent months is driven by strong exports and a booming manufacturing sector.

Experts feel that to reach a growth rate of 6.2% there would be a need to boost investment to the tune of 33 to 35% of GDP. Further, Vietnam is pushing ahead with its plan of disinvesting its 1000 State Owned Enterprises. The Ministry of Planning and Investment was asked by the Government to withdraw its proposal for using the state budget to settle bad debt of State Owned Enterprises. It is estimated that the bad debt works out to $ 80 billion. Further, the Government wants to tackle corruption which exists in finance, banking, land management, natural resources exploitation and public investment. Despite these irritants, Vietnamese economy has stabilised. The forecasts predict that in the short run, Vietnamese economy will grow at a slightly slower speed and will accelerate to high growths in the long run once the shortcomings are addressed.

Current Economic Cooperation with India

India and Vietnam have been cooperating extensively in the economic field. India has offered Vietnam 18 Lines of Credit as on date. The Vietnamese Prime Minister recently visited our country on 27 and 28 October 2014.In the Joint statement issued by both the Prime Ministers, it was agreed that economic cooperation between both countries should be pursued as a strategic objective. They welcomed the strong growth in bilateral trade in recent years particularly after the India- ASEAN trade in Goods Agreement.

They also noted that the conclusion of India-ASEAN trade in Services and Investment agreement would further boost economic cooperation between India and ASEAN in general as also Vietnam in particular. They also called for closer Regional Economic Partnership Agreement (RECP).
Business leaders of both countries identified priority areas for cooperation. These included hydrocarbons, power generation, infrastructure, tourism, textiles, footwear, medical and pharmaceuticals, Information & Communications Technology (ICT), electronics, agriculture, agro-products, chemicals, machine tools and other supporting industries. They agreed to enhance bilateral trade to $ 15 billion by 2020.

The Prime Ministers reaffirmed the importance of investment for the growth of their economies. Prime Minister Dung welcomed Indian companies to invest in Vietnam and Prime Minister Modi invited the Vietnamese companies to join the accelerated economic growth programme ‘Make in India’ for establishing their industries in India. It was agreed that the Customs Cooperation Agreement and Maritime Shipping Agreement between the two countries be optimised to facilitate greater economic engagement.

Both the Prime Ministers welcomed the signing of Agreement between ONGC Videsh and Petro Vietnam for exploration of new oil and gas projects in Vietnam. Prime Minister Dung welcomed Indian Oil and Gas companies to explore new opportunities in midstream and downstream activities in the oil and gas sector in Vietnam.

It was a great step that the Vietnam Bank had agreed to the proposal to open a Bank of India branch in Vietnam. Further, to improve connectivity, Jet Airways is going to commence direct flights to Ho Chi Minh City from India with effect from November 2014.

Another area which will provide an impetus to our economic relationship would be the construction of a Thermal Power plant. Tata Power plans to develop US $ 1.8 billion Long Phu Thermal Power Plant in Soc Trang which is located in the southern portion of the country. An MOU has been signed in this connection in November 2013. Efforts are being made to expedite the commencement of construction of the project. All these issues will assist Vietnam in stabilising its economy and build its Comprehensive National Power.


The Vietnamese economy continues to grow at about 6% despite its problems with State Owned Enterprises. India and Vietnam have strengthened their economic cooperation over the last four decades that has been mutually beneficial which has, in turn, led to strengthening of their strategic relationship. Growing economies of both the countries offer several opportunities for India to enhance its investment and trade with Vietnam. There is an expanded scope for Indian companies to invest in Vietnam in a variety of sectors besides oil and the mineral sector. Investment and trade potential between both the nations is very large and has not been fully exploited. With Prime Minister Modi at the helm of affairs in India, it is time to impart momentum to India’s economic engagement with Vietnam.

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

Published date: 27th November 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Afghanistan Post-2014: The Pashtun Factor

Prabhat P Shukla, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

There is an effort among some western commentaries – taken up and amplified by the Pakistanis - to try and project the situation in Afghanistan as a proxy war between India and Pakistan. The drumbeat of this thesis grows as the draw-down of western forces from Afghanistan draws near. Such a view sounds strange to Indian ears, for we were labouring under the belief this last decade that it was a straight, though covert, fight between the US and Pakistan.

And that is how, moreover, people like Negroponte and Mullen projected it too – and you would expect them to know. However, it is important to understand the reality of what is happening in Afghanistan, and for that, the narrative must begin some decades back.

To anticipate the conclusions of this essay: one, the fight is not between India and Pakistan. Ever since 1947, India has kept out of Afghan-Pakistan affairs, and Afghanistan has kept out of Indo-Pakistan affairs.

Two, the fight is between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has its own logic, going back to the dispute over the Pashtun issue, with Baluchistan also steadily in focus. It has acquired an additional facet in recent years, since Afghanistan has no interest in becoming any other country’s “strategic depth” – indeed, deeply resents the idea, and rejects the Pakistani military push behind the concept.

Three, Afghanistan has become a battleground indeed, between Pakistan [aided occasionally by outside powers] on the one hand, and the USSR, the US, and Afghan nationalism by turns.

And four, and most important, there is a coded message behind this analysis. The message is that Pakistan is going to continue to meddle in Afghan affairs, and seek once more to inject the Taliban, in their newest iteration, into Afghanistan, and no one should oppose this. India is simply shorthand for the fact that all the neighbours of Afghanistan – Iran, the Central Asians, and countries like India and Russia – are concerned at the ceaseless sponsorship of terror and extreme groups by Pakistan. If they oppose Pakistan, that becomes a proxy war.

The Afghans themselves want none of this Pakistani interference, but that is also conveniently skipped over. The truth is, if Pakistan does not promote the extremist Islamic groups, there will be no push-back from the Afghans or anybody else; it is entirely emblematic that in all this lofty talk about avoiding a proxy war, the Pakistanis refrain from mentioning anything about their solemn, repeated – and repeatedly broken – promises of non-interference.

The history of the face-off is well-known: Afghanistan never accepted the Durand Line which divided Pashtun from Pashtun, and this was made clear to the British authorities from the 1920’s onwards. By 1944, when it was clear that the British were to withdraw from India, the Kabul authorities asked the British Government in London to allow the Pashtuns in British India to choose to accede to Afghanistan or opt for independence as well; instead, they were only given the choice to accede to India or Pakistan. The number of registered voters was a fraction of the total population, and even among them, the support for accession to Pakistan was barely above 50 percent. The hill tribes, who are in the centre of the fighting today, were not allowed to vote because they were not considered part of the administered territories.

Pakistan showed its militant colours within a few months of its independence – it sent “raiders” in September 1947 to the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir [violating the stand-still agreement it had signed earlier with the state] from the Pashtun areas. Already, as early as 1947, Pakistan was seeking to portray this operation as an Islamic campaign, a jihad. Afghanistan was opposed to the use of the Pashtun tribes for this purpose, and the Afghan ulema responded with a fatwa denying that there was any need for a jihad against the Indians and denying any religious sanction for the campaign. This was done in the context of preventing Pakistan from exercising influence over the mountain tribes in the North-West Frontier Province, which was not Pakistani territory in their eyes.

The subsequent two decades saw frequent tensions over the Pashtun question between the two countries, and even saw a limited skirmish in 1963. As a result of this last, King Zahir Shah dismissed his Prime Minister and cousin, Mohammed Daoud Khan. In turn, Daoud overthrew the King a decade later in 1973, and thus began a new era in South Asian history – not only because it ended the Durrani monarchy, but also because it saw the first formal launch of jihad in the subcontinent.

This happened in the summer of 1973 itself, and it was declared by Jalaluddin Haqqani – of the now-famous Haqqani network - against the government of Daoud, which had taken a high-profile position on the Pashtun question. The call to jihad was given practical shape by a Pakistani, Naseerullah Babar, himself a Pashtun, who was then serving as the Inspector-General of the Frontier Corps. It was he who advised Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that the solution to the Pashtun problem lay in overwhelming Afghan irredentism by using the Islamic card. He sprang some of the important Islamic leaders from Kabul, whose names read like a who’s who of the anti-Soviet war of the 1980’s: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Noor Mohammed Mohammedi, and others. At this stage, the Islamists were not all Pashtuns – the heavy reliance particularly on Ghilzai Pashtuns was to come later, under Gen Zia-ul-Haq. But the idea of using Islam as a weapon to blunt the Pashtun nationalist issue both internally and vis-à-vis Afghanistan was born at this time. In part, this was based on Pakistan’s use of the Islamic card to motivate the tribes in the north-west; in part, it was based on the experience of 1971 in the former East Pakistan, when the Islamists had remained loyal to Pakistan, while the Bengali nationalists were motivated by their regional identity.

This group launched an uprising against Daoud centred in Panjsher in 1975, though it covered other parts of the country too. Daoud was shaken by the event, and gradually began to re-think his strategy towards Pakistan, including on the Durand Line. In his interaction with the Americans, he indicated a willingness to seek an accommodation with Pakistan. The Shah of Iran, flush with petrodollars and as suspicious of the Soviet Union as Bhutto and the Americans, also helped by offering economic assistance to both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The only fly in the ointment was Daoud’s fear that the USSR would seek to destabilise him if he tried to change course. In a long and serious conversation with Secretary of State Kissinger in Kabul in August 1976, he informed the latter that he and Bhutto were close to a settlement of the Pashtun and Baluch questions. The only guarantee he asked for – and was assured of by Kissinger – was support against internal subversion by the supporters of the Soviet Union, especially the Soviet-trained officers in the Armed Forces. A quick exchange of visits took place between Bhutto and Daoud in 1976, and there was indeed every prospect of a settlement.

Before a deal could be settled, Bhutto called for elections in 1977 and, in the turmoil that followed the rigged elections, the Pakistan Army stepped in once again, in July 1977, and Gen Zia became the military ruler. Although he seemed to be inclined to pick up the threads where they had been left off by Bhutto, he did not have the time to do anything substantive: Daoud himself was overthrown in April 1978, and the US guarantees proved unavailing.

The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan [PDPA], which came to power, was indeed propelled into power by Soviet-trained officers from the Armed Forces, and once again raised the Pashtun issue as a high priority. And once again, Pakistan responded by unleashing the Islamic forces – this time with a heavy reliance on the Pashtuns, and the Ghilzai Pashtuns in particular. The USSR responded to the worsening situation in Afghanistan by sending in its own troops into the country in December 1979, and a new Afghan war began, pitting the Soviet forces against pretty much all the regional and global powers.

Through the 1980’s, the Pakistanis controlled and guided the anti-Soviet campaign. It was one of the conditions that they imposed on the Americans that the ISI would control the funds, arms and training of the insurgents. This is worth analysing in substantive terms, because it showed that the Pakistanis were clear that the ultimate winners would have to be beholden to them and to no one else, not even the Americans. Further, because they had suffered bad relations with the Durrani Pashtuns – Zahir Shah and Daoud were both Durranis, as were the earlier Kings since Abdur Rehman signed the first agreement on the Durand Line – they were determined to do their utmost to block the emergence of any Durrani to power in Kabul.

An interesting incident illustrates this Pakistani attitude of mind: in March 1979, before the Soviet invasion, a group led by Gul Mohammed, a Barakzai [a Durrani] had made significant progress against the PDPA forces in Herat. The Soviets and the Afghan Army hit back with ferocity against the fall of Herat, and the rebels turned to Pakistan for help, but were rebuffed. Pakistan was building up the Ghilzai to oppose the Soviets, and almost the entire top leadership of the Seven Party Alliance belonged to this branch of the Pashtuns.

Shortly before he died in August 1988 in a plane crash, Gen Zia stated that Pakistan had earned the right to have a friendly government in Kabul. “We won’t permit it to be like it was before, with Indian and Soviet influence there and claims to our territory." This was said as the Geneva accords were being worked out, and reflected one of the most important motivations behind the Pakistani strategies towards Afghanistan. No longer would Pakistan permit, to the extent possible, any claims on its Pashtun lands by the rulers in Kabul.

This approach survived Zia; in fact, it reflects the current national consensus, public demurrals notwithstanding. Naturally, therefore, as early as 1989, Pakistan made its bid to capture power and pushed Hikmatyar into a pitched battle in Jalalabad. The widely-held expectation, and not just in Pakistan, was that the Najibullah government would crumble, but it fought off the Hizb forces of Hikmatyar. In retrospect, this was not surprising, because Hikmatyar’s record during the 1980’s was quite patchy, whereas the PDPA forces were well-trained and -equipped. The Soviet Union had also continued to provide financial aid amounting to $3 billion annually to Najibullah even after 1989, and it was only after the collapse of the USSR and the rise of Yeltsin as Russian President that the financial aid was stopped. Within three months of this, Najibullah was gone.

Even then, the replacement was not the kind of government that Pakistan would be satisfied with, for the two pillars of the new regime were Massoud and Dostum. Both had stayed away from Pakistan during the war against the Soviets, so neither was beholden to Pakistan in any way. Moreover, neither was a Pashtun, and this too was unacceptable to the Pakistani leaders, especially to the security establishment.

The story of the rise of the Taliban from 1994 onwards is well-known, and the only point worth emphasizing is the role of the self-same Naseerullah Babar, now the Interior Minister under Benazir Bhutto. It was he who put together the Taliban force in 1994, with the intention of capturing the western parts of Afghanistan. The aim at this stage was to have a swathe of territory under their control which would allow Pakistan, in cooperation with the Central Asian hydrocarbon-rich countries, to set up trading links with the rest of the world. A US hydrocarbon company, Unocal, also contributed to this effort. The strategic objective was to block Iran and Russia from any role in this trade. This was despite the fact that, as far as Russia was concerned, all the existing pipelines ran through Russia or Russian-controlled territory. This was also despite the fact that, apart from Russia, Iran was the most economical route for evacuating the oil and gas from Central Asia.

What we see thus is that the stakes in Afghanistan have changed since the days of the Soviet occupation. For the US, it was initially the need to beat back the Soviet Union, and to undermine the unity of that country, and they succeeded in their strategy. For this purpose, they were willing to use the obscurantist forces that Pakistan had nurtured, even though they were aware that at least some of them were anti-West and specifically anti-US as well. But they felt then that they could control the fallout, especially with a friendly Pakistan to keep things under control. The Chinese feel the same way today, and are comfortable seeing the US humiliated in Afghanistan.

However, by the 1990’s, with the destruction of the USSR complete, the stakes had changed, and the US strategy was to impose a double blockade for trade and strategic purposes – against Russia and Iran. This was conceived and driven by the US, and embraced willingly by Pakistan in the South and Central Asian regions. It is worth emphasising that India had virtually no role in any of this. Its hands were full dealing with internal security issues, the need for ensuring economic growth, and later, addressing the diplomatic fallout of its nuclear tests.

India got involved only after the rise of the Taliban and the fall of Kabul, and in this it was not alone; this was an issue that touched nearly every country both in the region, and in the wider world. It is worth emphasising one important aspect of the militant movements in what has now come to be called the AfPak region: this is the growth of extremism, from generation to generation. The Taliban of the 1990’s made the mujahideen of the Rabbani-Mujaddidi type look reasonable. The TTP and the other militant groups of today have similarly outflanked the Afghan Taliban and are making the Quetta Shura look comparatively weak and peaceable. And now we have the ISIL. This point is worth exploring in some detail.

The current militant movement is more ideologically motivated than any of the earlier groups. The growth of this new ideology has been well-documented, and it is recognised as the fastest-growing among all the competing terrorist threats in the world. Their belief, which is widespread in several Muslim countries, especially Pakistan, derives from the Hadith regarding end-times. According to this, the war in Afghanistan is the prophesied Battle for Khorasan, and of course, they believe that their armies will be victorious. This Battle will embrace not just today’s Afghanistan, but also Iran and Central Asia. This will be followed by the Ghazwa-i-Hind – the campaign for India – which will cover today’s India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, as well as parts of the surrounding countries. This will be followed by the battle to liberate the Holy Places, Mecca, Medina, and al-Quds [Jerusalem]. And that will lead to the restoration of the true world-wide Caliphate.

Such is the new ambition among the terrorist groups, and many of their spokesmen – inevitably men, of course – are willing to speak publicly about the contemporary relevance of these prophecies. What it means for them, and their patrons in Pakistan, who are playing this dangerous game with themselves and the entire region, is that there is an enormous amount of warfare to come. This suits Pakistan very well. These fighting forces are mainly Pashtuns, who would otherwise be looking to settling the Pashtun question. However, as long as they are doing what they see as Allah’s work in subduing lands that rightfully belong to Him, they will not look to issues such as their own national and territorial rights. And in this, they will continue to enjoy the support of the Pakistan Army and the ISI. The growth of violence and extremism within the country is a price worth paying for keeping these forces oriented outward.

The Pashtuns, along with the Kurds, are the two largest, most populous tribes in the world that have no homeland of their own. It is estimated that there some 45 million Pashtuns in the world, and they have all the attributes of a nation. They have the language, tradition and culture of nationhood, and recent memory of having ruled large parts of the region. This is what Daoud and the PDPA rulers were playing on; simultaneously, the Pakistanis were turning them towards Islam and jihad, with the calculation that this would raise their sights above narrower Pashtun territorial demands. In this, Pakistan has been successful, perhaps too successful. The Islamist forces they have let slip have become increasingly disenchanted with the Pakistani state, and regard it as un-Islamic, hence itself a target for jihad.

This is why it would be ahistorical to expect the Islamist forces to come to a negotiated settlement with the Afghan Government. The Taliban have, for example, in fact, declared that the new Afghan Government is unacceptable to them, and they will not accept anything less than a truly Islamic Government, which will follow Sharia in its true form.

For its part, Pakistan, especially in its current debilitated shape, cannot afford to let the Islamists lower their ambition, for then the Pashtun Question will be back in an even more aggravated form, and this time led by well-trained, and motivated fighters who will pose a serious challenge to the Pakistani state and its security forces. It will, therefore, have no interest in a negotiated settlement. What is more, these jihadi forces are the only asset Pakistan has in the politics of the region; if they were to give this up, they would have no value left. They do not have the financial or diplomatic wherewithal, or the soft power, to play any positive role in the neighbourhood.

This also explains why the Pakistanis are opposed to any arms for the ANSF beyond those that a constabulary would have. The Islamists must be able to make the military breakthroughs they need to expand north into and west into all parts of Afghanistan, and from there, into Xinjiang, Iran and Central Asia. Only a strong and well-trained ANSF can thwart these strategies. For exactly obverse reasons, the rest of the world needs to ensure that the ANSF is capable of defending the country.If there were any doubts about this analysis, recent events in Iraq should quell them.

Iraq provides an illustration of the kind of problem that may arise if the ANSF turn out to be under-equipped for the coming tests of strength. The way the Iraqi Army melted away in the face of the ISIL should be an object lesson for the rest of the world. The western and Arab countries were forced back into the fight, and the same will happen in Afghanistan if adequate preparation is not made for the coming trials.

What this narrative has shown is that Pakistan has been nurturing and promoting Islamic extremist forces since the early 1970’s, and not because it was fighting any proxy war with India. The reason was, and remains, the unsettled Pashtun question, for which Pakistan sought an Islamic answer. In the bargain, it has had to resort to growing extremism, and it has to continue to fan it the interests of its own survival. Therefore, any statement that it is willing to moderate its outlook, or to curb the extremists it has nurtured needs to be discounted completely.

Further, the threat posed by these forces is to all the neighbours of Afghanistan, including Russia and China. It is thus no India-Pakistan face-off. To the extent that Indian interests are affected, it will, of course, defend them. But as Iraq again has shown, the interests of the wider world community are also going to be hit, and the other affected countries need to be prepared for this.

Pakistan knows all this well enough, as do the puzzling, though dwindling, number of its supporters in the west. The real message behind this kind of writing is preemptive: Pakistan is going to make another bid for its proxies to gain complete dominance over Afghanistan once again, and countries like India should not stand in the way. That is the true meaning of the talk of a proxy war. It overlooks the reality that the war against Pakistani attempts to dominate Afghanistan will be fought by the Afghans themselves. And in this, they will be supported not only by India, but all of the near and distant neighbours.

Published Date: 25th November 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Afghanistan’s Turbulent Past Could Once Again Become Its Future

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

More than a decade after the US and its allies ousted the monstrous Taliban regime and gave the people of Afghanistan a level of stability and progress that they had not known in decades, it seems that things could well be coming a full circle. Ironically, someone who is perceived to be a prodigy of the Americans who has been fostered on Afghanistan through an election that was marred by ‘industrial scale fraud’ is likely to be person who is going to push Afghanistan towards instability and conflict, undermining the achievements for which a very heavy price in men and money was paid not just by Afghanistan but also by the international community. Worse, the new President of Afghanistan is not just seeking security from, but also appears to be mortgaging Afghanistan’s future to, the very country – Pakistan – that has been responsible for sabotaging the efforts of the international community to bring peace to Afghanistan.

Although the political transition from the former President Hamid Karzai to his successor was botched by the horribly rigged electoral process that catapulted a political light weight like Ashraf Ghani to the Presidency, there was some hope that the formation of the National Unity Government would help in getting over the bitter taste left by the stolen election. But it increasingly seems as though Ashraf Ghani is not going to live up to his side of the bargain, especially in terms of sharing power with other stakeholders and building a consensus on critical political, security and foreign policy issues.

By all accounts, even though Dr Abdullah Abdullah has been made the Chief Executive (a post that enjoys no constitutional sanctity) and had been promised a fair share in distribution of cabinet berths, Ghani appears to be manoeuvring to reduce Abdullah and his supporters into mere embellishments with no real power and no say in anything. This power grab by a man whose own legitimacy is in question is already causing a lot of heart burn and is likely to make cohabitation very difficult. Some Afghan analysts are of the view that the unilateral shifts affected by Ghani in foreign and security policy by literally agreeing to become a vassal of the GHQ in Rawalpindi – his ‘calling on’ the Pakistan Army Chief during his recent visit to Pakistan left no doubt about which way he is swinging – has only added to the sense of disquiet inside Afghanistan.

Already under strain, if the fragile political arrangement breaks down, political stability will become the first casualty, something that will work to the advantage of the Taliban and their backers across the Durand Line. Ashraf Ghani’s detractors believe that he is going all-out in trying to appease Pakistan in the fond hope that with a ‘friendly’, even compliant, government in Kabul, Pakistan will not only assist in a rapprochement with the Taliban but also stop all overt and covert hostile action inside Afghanistan by its proxies. In other words, Ghani’s play is to give the Pakistanis everything they want in return for them ensuring his own survival in Kabul.

In the quest to buy his insurance in Rawalpindi, Ashraf Ghani is engaged in striking closer relations with Pakistan’s allies, namely China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He apparently has come to believe that financial support from these countries will compensate for any loss of assistance from countries like India and even some Western countries and therefore pave the way for an economic transition from an aid dependent to a self-sustaining economic model. Clearly, for Ghani, getting Pakistan on board is the key to successfully making not just the political but also the economic and security transition.

On the face of it, Ashraf Ghani’s kowtowing to Pakistan may appear to be making the best of a bad bargain. But this policy shift is likely to crumble when pitted against the reality of the Taliban. By casting his lot with Pakistan, Ghani will end up playing the Pakistani game in which he will either become a puppet or worse become redundant and therefore expendable. The Pakistani insistence on giving the Taliban a stake in power is quite simply unworkable because any power sharing agreement with the Taliban will not be worth the paper it is written on. Given that the Taliban leader claims to be Amir-ul-Momineen (leader of the faithful), he just cannot and will not accept such an arrangement and will sooner rather than later make a grab for total power.

Even if Pakistan is able to somehow bulldoze Mullah Omar into some kind of power sharing agreement with the Ashraf Ghani regime, it isn’t clear how this will wash down in the rank and file of not just the Taliban but also the anti-Taliban forces. Chances are that a large section of the Taliban fighters will repudiate Mullah Omar if he shows any flexibility, which in any case he doesn’t need to because he is pretty much sure he is on the winning path. The real question will, however, be what the Pakistanis will do if Mullah Omar refuses to any deal with Ghani. Will Pakistan declare war on the Afghan Taliban? Highly unlikely. And even if they do, it will in all likelihood mean prolonged instability in the entire swathe of territory straddling the Durand Line and even beyond. This means that the economic dividend being dreamed by Ghani and also by the Pakistanis – pipelines, trade and transit, energy corridor, minerals and what have you – will go up in smoke.

For their part, the anti-Taliban forces, which comprise the bulk of the army and other security agencies are also not going to take kindly to any major concession to the Taliban which leaves them marginalised and irrelevant in the scheme of power. Given that Ashraf Ghani has very little purchase with the Army, there is a strong possibility that he may not be able to bring the military to accept any Faustian bargain with the Taliban. There is also bound to be unease in the Afghan Army over Ghani agreeing to use Pakistani military training facilities for the Afghan officers and soldiers. This effectively means asking the Afghan military to take training from the very people who are responsible for supporting, supplying and providing sanctuary to the terrorists against whom the Afghan Army is fighting. Even if he is given the benefit of doubt and his intentions are not questioned, it is difficult to disregard that Ashraf Ghani is sending completely fuzzy signals to the security forces about who the enemy is, who they have to fight and how they have to fight. The more uncharitable assessment of Ghani’s plans for the Army would be that he is bartering the interests of the Afghan people and state for his own political survival, which too is doubtful.

Actually much of what Ghani is trying to do has been tried by his predecessor with very little to show for it. But while Hamid Karzai could afford to see his outreach to Pakistan fail because he had the benefit of US-led International forces propping up his government militarily and monetarily, much of this support will not be there for Ghani. In other words, he doesn’t have too much slack to play around with. A few wrong moves, some of which he has already made, and before he knows it, the entire edifice could start to crumble. His expectations of the Chinese, Saudis and Turks bailing him out are unrealistic. Worse, the Americans and other Western countries are losing interest in Afghanistan. Even though the Americans are assuring their watered down presence until at least 2016, there is a good chance they may leave much sooner. And the day they leave, the gravy train that had been propping up the Afghan state could stop abruptly. As far as the Americans are concerned, it seems they have no real problem with the prospect of the Chinese calling the shots through the Pakistanis in Afghanistan. Whether this tack will work and the Chinese will play ball in the way the Americans would like them to is another matter.

As far as India is concerned, Ashraf Ghani has made it quite clear that he has no use for India and has relegated it to the fourth circle of his priority countries. Frankly, part of the blame for this sort of relegation must be borne by India, especially the previous government which rooted for Ghani over Dr Abdullah partly because they were taken in by his smooth words professing eternal friendship, partly because they bought into the nonsense of backing a Pashtun, and partly because they somehow believed that Abdullah was getting too close to the Pakistanis. It is of course another matter that who India rooted was hardly important because things were going to be decided not by India but by the Americans and others who had decided to back Ashraf Ghani over Abdullah. But to the extent that India’s stance rubbed its friends the wrong way, it has been a bit of a setback. The worst mistake that was made by the UPA government was its extreme reluctance to provide the weapons and equipment that the Karzai government wanted to bolster its defence against overt and covert aggression from Pakistan. Ostensibly this was done because Manmohan Singh and his advisors were more mindful of Pakistani sensitivities than Afghan requirements. This disastrous policy not only created an impression that India was an unreliable partner, but worse, convinced some Afghans that if India too is giving more credence to Pakistan than to Afghanistan, then perhaps the Afghans are better off by dealing with Pakistan rather than relying upon India. Already India has a terrible reputation of not standing by its friends and this impression has only got strengthened in the backdrop of developments in Afghanistan.

All this is not to suggest that India has no cards to play. But before India plays any cards, it must understand that it was always a bit of a marginal player in Afghanistan. Partly for reasons of geography, military and economic strength - simply put, India isn’t quite America – and partly for reasons emanating from the way India conducted its Afghan policy – riding piggy back on the Americans and even giving in to them on its principled objection against delinking of Taliban from Al Qaeda – it was going to play at best a marginal role in determining the course of events in Afghanistan. To be sure, India’s development effort and its soft power earned it tremendous goodwill in Afghanistan. But this was never going to be worth much in the face of use of hard power by the enemies of Afghanistan. There was a time, in the early years after the ouster of the Taliban that India could have played a more pro-active role and tied the Afghans closely with Indian interests. But back then, the Americans wanted to keep India’s role limited to keep the Pakistanis happy. By the time the Americans realised that the Pakistanis had outplayed them with their treachery, and they wanted India to commit itself to Afghanistan, it would have been foolish for India to clean up the mess that the Americans were leaving behind.

While India did share a close relationship with the Afghan security establishment and there was cooperation on intelligence matters relating to the terrorist threat that both countries faced from the same source, this was a normal state to state relationship between two friendly countries and wasn’t directed against any third country. And yet, Pakistan created a bogey out of this which it then used to justify its sponsorship and support for the Taliban. What was most galling was the manner in which the specious narrative of Pakistan found subscribers in the West who spoke about an India-Pakistan proxy war in Afghanistan. These people never bothered to ask as to how come if a proxy war was being fought, then diplomats and citizens of only one country were on the receiving end of terror attacks while those of the other country strutted about as though they owned Afghanistan. If India had actually been involved in a proxy war, surely there would have been some retaliation against Pakistanis in Afghanistan, but this never happened.

The fact, however, is that India has a vital interest in Afghanistan. This interest is essentially limited to seeing Afghanistan become a stable and secure country. Historically, instability in Afghanistan has destabilised India. For stability in Afghanistan it is important that it doesn’t become a base for international or regional terrorists. This is an interest that India needs to protect, something it can do despite limitations of geography. India has enough friends in Afghanistan who share the same interest and regardless of what Ashraf Ghani does, India can continue to play a role in Afghanistan, directly or indirectly. The simple logic of Afghanistan is that there will always be people who will reach out to India for help and assistance. When this happens, India should be ready to play the role that it needs to for stabilising Afghanistan. In the meantime, India needs to build its economic strength and its military muscle. Most of all, India needs to pay attention to border security and beefing up its security grid not just along its western borders but also its other land and sea borders.

Published Date: 24th November 2014, Imagesource:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Floods in Nepal: Time to Tackle the Problem on Priority

Prof Hari Bansh Jha

Despite the development of science and technology, the magnitude of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami, tornado, storms, floods and drought does not seem to have taken any respite. All the nations of the world continue to be plagued by such natural phenomenon in one or the other way. But it does not mean that the world community lives just at the mercy of the natural disasters. Many countries in the world have taken adequate measures to save the lives and property of the citizens from such disasters. But not much has been done in this direction in Nepal. There is a huge loss of life and property in this Himalayan country even when minor natural calamities such as rains and floods occur and also when there is a change in temperature in the summer and winter seasons.
The floods in August, 2014 caused incalculable loss of life and property in various parts of Nepal. But the situation in the 22 districts of the Terai region including Bardiya, Banke, Kaliali and Dang in the Western region was worst. Many local markets, transport vehicles, livestock, homes and crops were damaged. Over 200,000 people were directly affected as many of them had to struggle for days together without adequate shelter, food and drinking water. Nearly 100,000 people were displaced. More than 6,880 houses were destroyed. There was no salt, sugar and medicines in several areas. Fear of cholera outbreak loomed large. Water logging problem badly hampered the transportation and communication net works. A number of bridges and roads collapsed. Most of the schools and colleges were closed for days together. To top it all, 250 people were reported to have died and many others went missing.
The Government of Nepal directed the concerned wings to speed up rescue and relief operations for the flood victims. Helicopters were used in distributing relief material. Medical teams were sent to the affected areas to prevent diseases like cholera. Rice, lentils and cooking pots were provided to the homeless people. Tents and plastic sheets were distributed to make temporary shelters. Besides, clothes, hygiene kits, bottled water and cash were also provided to the needy people.
Many national and international organizations expressed solidarity with the flood victims in Nepal. Towards this end, they provided substantial funds to the Prime Minister's Natural Disaster Relief Fund. The American government through its US Agency for International Development (USAID) provided US $ 450,000 to enable the flood victims in the Western region to buy 450 metric tons of food. Similarly, the Government of India provided Rs. 47.739 million to the Prime Minister's Fund for this purpose. Other organizations, including banks and educational institutions also contributed towards this fund.
Unfortunately though, the role of the army, police, medical staff and other concerned wings of the government was questionable in rescue and relief operations. There was a lack of serious initiative in fixing the highways and bridges, which hampered relief and rescue operations in the affected areas. The voluntary organizations and the political parties too utterly failed to discharge their duties in mitigating the plight of the victims. Most of the affected population could not be benefited from the Prime Minister's Natural Disaster Relief Fund. As such, several members of the Constituent Assembly criticized the government for its failure to distribute relief and rescue material.
However, it is not for the first time that the Government of Nepal, political parties and the civic society stood exposed for lack of seriousness in addressing the problems of the flood affected. In 2008, when the UCPN (Maoist) was heading the government there was utter lack of seriousness of purpose on the part of the political leaders in mitigating the problems of the flood-affected victims in Sunsari and other districts in Terai. The so called leader were enjoying a foreign trip in China during the Olympic Games when people in the affected areas were struggling, with many even dying in the absence of food, drinking water, medicine and other rescue support. Lives of hundreds of people could have been saved if the government and other concerned agencies were serious about dealing with the problem at that time.
If we go back in history, the scenario was not as bad as it is now. In the 1950s, the Nepalese and Indian governments had successfully tamed the same Kosi river by constructing barrage and embankment over it. Before the Kosi project was completed, each year hundreds of people used to die due to the havoc created by this mighty river. But with the completion of the Kosi project, the two countries solved the problem of inundation of their land for a long time. Besides, they also utilized the water of this river for irrigation. The barrage facilitated the transportation system and was able to connect Nepal's eastern part with the western one. By all accounts, the Kosi river, which was widely known as the 'sorrow' of Asia, was converted into 'source of prosperity' in the larger interests of the people of Nepal and India.
Now the time has come for Nepal and India to work seriously to resolve the floods caused by the Nepalese rivers within the country and also across the border in India. Each year, the floods and flash floods in the rivers inundate larger tracts of agricultural land and wreak havoc in both the countries. The magnitude of the flood problem caused by the Nepalese rivers in northern Indian states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is enormous. Innocent Indians blame Nepal for the flooding in their regions. On the other side, the Nepalese people blame India for the severe floods which they think is largely due to the construction of embankments made by India in its territory adjacent to Nepal's border. This 'blame game' continues to grow in every rainy season, but tend to subside thereafter. Neither the Indian authorities nor their Nepalese counterparts are showing any seriousness towards resolving this perennial problem.
In fact, natural disasters such as the flooding in this part of the globe is largely man-made. Where is that zeal to tackle flood problem as it was in 1950s when Nepal and India agreed to tame Kosi? Indiscriminate mining of riverbeds is continuing unabated. Weather forecasting system is still poor. Rescue and emergency relief operations are far from satisfactory. The cockpit leaders no doubt make aerial view of the disaster areas during the flooding but the purpose for which they make such visit is not well known. The impact of the floods could certainly be minimized if adequate preparations are made in advance. Lack of political will, failure of governance and delays in providing relief material after the disaster are some of the major reasons for the suffering of the people. It is important that the people in Nepal and India exert pressure on their respective governments to do the needful for a long-term and permanent solution to this menace.
(Professor Jha is Executive Director, Centre for Economic and Technical Studies, Nepal)

Published Date: 21th November 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

India’s ‘Act East’ Policy: A Perspective

Brig Vinod Anand, Senior Fellow, VIF
Dr Rahul Mishra

India’s Look East Policy (LEP) came of age when New Delhi celebrated two decades of engagement by holding the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in November 2012. The first phase of LEP lasted for one decade till 2002 when the then Minister for External Affairs Mr Yashwant Sinha announced the commencement of the second phase. While in the first phase, the emphasis was on political, diplomatic and people to people relationships, improved connectivity and enhanced trade, the second phase revolved around strengthening of economic relations, defence and security cooperation besides strengthening relationships in other areas. During the second phase, though the dominant impulse remained the economic engagement, increasingly the LEP also acquired strategic orientation. The LEP focused not only on the ASEAN members but also expanded to include South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and other countries in the East. Over the two decades, not only has India progressed from a dialogue partner to the present status of a strategic partner in respect of ASEAN but has also established strategic partnerships on bilateral basis with many ASEAN countries and Japan, Australia and South Korea. It can also be said that after 2012, the Indian government continued to work towards what it called the third phase that was termed as an ‘Enhanced LEP’.

In fact, when Modi government took over the reins of power in May this year, it conscientiously continued with the previous government’s policy and the new Minister for External Affairs, Smt Sushma Swaraj termed the new phase as ‘Act East Policy’ which in a sense meant that more substance was to be imparted through early implementation of many elements of the LEP. While the plan to engage ASEAN has been charted out in the ‘Plan of Action to implement the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity (2010-2015)’ announced during the Commemorative Summit of 2012, the Modi administration has been in an overdrive to reach out to all the nations in the wider Pacific region.

Prime Minister Modi’s successful visit to Japan, the India visit of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the visit of China’s President Xi Jinping are seen as high points in the Modi government’s policy towards the wider East Asian region. Japan is also considering joint projects with India in some of the ASEAN countries besides expressing its interest to invest in India’s North East. The level of defence and security cooperation including joint military exercises and co-production and co-development in defence industry is on the cards. India-Japan civil nuclear agreement could not be concluded because of some apprehensions on part of Japan but that aside, the scope of strategic and economic cooperation is expected to follow an upward trajectory.

During the India visit of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, India and Australia signed the much-awaited India Australia Civilian nuclear cooperation agreement that would enable supply of Uranium to India. The successful conclusion of Abbott’s visit is a watershed event in India-Australia relations. Apart from the civilian nuclear deal, Indian companies are also working towards joint energy ventures in Australia. Earlier this month, Modi attended the ASEAN-India and East Asia Summit in Myanmar where he further outlined his plans to revitalise relationships with ASEAN and East Asian countries in both economic and security fields. From Nay Pyi Taw, Modi travelled to Australia for the G-20 Summit where he held bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Abbot to build on the evolving strategic relationship with Australia. In order to expand India’s footprint in Pacific, he visited Fiji after attending the G 20 meet.

Clearly, within a short period of six months or so, the Narendra Modi government has taken steps to give a boost to the Look East Policy, or what has been termed as the ‘Act East Policy’. In that regard, the statement made by the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is worth noting. During her visit to Vietnam on 26 August, 2014, she addressed the Indian Heads of Missions and said that India has to not just ‘Look East’ but ‘Act East’. Her visit to Vietnam was the third visit to a Southeast Asian country since she became the Minister for External Affairs in the Modi Cabinet.

President Pranab Mukherjee has also visited Vietnam and signed a number of agreements that include allotment of seven oil blocks for exploration, enhanced defence and security cooperation, increased economic and people to people exchanges besides regional and multilateral cooperation. While Vietnam supported India’s LEP and its increasingly important role in regional and global forums, they also expressed the resolve to ‘foster the implementation of signed agreements’ and observed that cooperation in national defence was an important pillar in their strategic partnership. President Mukherjee also supported the freedom of navigation through high sea, peaceful resolution of disputes based on international law including the 1982 UNCLOS and adherence to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea towards the adoption of the Code of Conduct of Parties.

It has been stated many times by the Indian strategists that Myanmar is the lynchpin of India’s LEP and is a gateway or a strategic land bridge to the ASEAN. Myanmar is the current Chair of the ASEAN, hosting several meetings of ASEAN during the year. In that regard, Sushma Swaraj was on a four-day visit to Myanmar to participate in the Fourth East Asia Summit (EAS) Foreign Ministers’ meeting, 21st ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) retreat session and India-ASEAN foreign Ministers Summit. During her visit, she had extensive discussions with Myanmar’s President U Thein Sein, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar and Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives), Thura U. Shwe on how to further strengthen ties between India and Myanmar.
India has been pushing for greater regional integration of Indian economy with that of the ASEAN by expanding the scope of trade and investment. The main focus of 4th EAS Foreign Ministers’ meeting was on strengthening cooperation in the areas of energy, education, disaster management and enhancing connectivity. Sushma Swaraj reiterated India’s position that India “would soon draft a five-year action plan starting 2016 for enhancing connectivity and cooperation in diverse areas”. The agenda of the 21st Asean Regional Forum retreat session largely revolved around the security issues. Ways of combating terrorism and other non-traditional security threat relating to the South China Sea figured prominently in the meeting.

Regarding the South China Sea dispute, India continued to follow its traditional stance of pushing for a peaceful resolution of the maritime dispute between China and the ASEAN member states and that “no such issue should be resolved through conflict and war” but through peaceful dialogue”. Swaraj remarked, “Recent disputes in the South China Sea underscore the need to resolve sovereignty issues peacefully by the countries concerned in accordance with international law”. Notably, major claimants in the dispute such as Vietnam and the Philippines consider India a benign balancer in the region. Therefore, India is widely envisaged as a key power and one of the major stakeholders in the emerging East Asian security dynamics.

The Modi government has been emphasising on giving urgent attention to the speedy completion of trilateral highway that will connect India-Myanmar-Thailand to facilitate people-to-people contact between India and Myanmar and improve trade and investment opportunities. Prospects for a direct flight from Delhi-Bodhgaya-Yangon are likely to be materialise given the earnestness of Modi administration. Moreover, friendly relations with Myanmar are crucial for peace and development of India’s north-eastern states. Given that it was the first ever visit to Myanmar by any Indian Minister of the new government, Myanmar was given assurance that the new government is willing to strengthen relations with it and thereby, ready to boost trade and investment.

India is aware of the changing dynamics of the East Asian regions. The security architecture of the region is rapidly changing. Rising China and Japan, and the consistently increasing competition between them has taken new dimensions. India has realised the problems as well as the prospects of the changing regional dynamics. In that context, India’s greater role and participation in the security architecture of the region as also the ways and means to enhance India’s presence in the Southeast Asian region are of immense importance, not just to India but to the countries of the East Asian region also. These are important components of the Act East policy as without robust trade, economic investment and physical connectivity, India will not be able to achieve its goals.

Energy security is an important component of the Act East Policy of the Modi government, which has been manifested in the recent MoUs that India has signed with partner countries. New Delhi and Hanoi have moved forward in energy cooperation despite some objections by China. Vietnam has already renewed India’s lease of two oil blocks in the South China Sea for another year. Vietnam is keen to procure the Brahmos missiles, which are jointly produced by India and Russia. Vietnam is also exploring the possibility regarding procurement of naval weaponry. India has agreed to supply four off shore naval patrol vessels to Vietnam and Modi has announced that India will “quickly operationalise the $100 million Line of Credit that will enable Vietnam to acquire new naval vessels from India."
Likewise, India is also working towards greater military cooperation with Japan and Australia. India and Australia will hold their first-ever bilateral military exercise in January 2015.

India-ASEAN FTA in Services

After several rounds of negotiations, India and the 10-member countries of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in services and investments on 8 September, 2014. The final agreement was signed two years after the conclusion of detailed negotiations on the pact. In 2010, India and the 10- ASEAN member countries signed the Free Trade Agreement in goods. However, at that time, the services agreement could not get signed taking into account the sensitivities of a few ASEAN member countries. The realisation of the FTA in services is expected to give the much needed impetus to India’s trade and investment relations with the member countries of ASEAN. In fact, the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led United Progressive Alliance government II was criticised for signing an incomplete FTA (FTA in goods only), which was destined to lose out to ASEAN in terms of benefits. As a result, in the past few years, India’s exports remained insignificant, while imports from ASEAN countries increased.

The Indian government as well as the private sector have been ready for the agreement but the ASEAN members couldn’t expedite the pact. Countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand took several months to set things right domestically. It is worth noting that the Philippines is yet to ratify the agreement in its parliament. The other nine countries that have ratified the agreement include: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, the Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The primary reason for the Filipino apprehension is that it fears that the Indian services sector might sweep the Philippine market and dominate the ASEAN services industry. However, as the FTA in services is implemented, India’s share in total trade would also rise as India is a leader in the services sector, making India-ASEAN FTA a ‘win-win situation’ for all.

It is hoped that with India-ASEAN FTA in services and investments, greater flow of trade and investment and freer movement of professionals will be realised, paving the way for India’s comprehensive regional economic integration with the 10 ASEAN member countries. The good news for India is the inclusion of a brief annexure on movement of natural persons or workforce. The annexure defines business visitors, contractual service suppliers and intra - corporate transferees, issues that are critically important for India. In addition to that, other major issues such as domestic regulations, recognition, market access, national treatment, transparency, participation of developing countries, joint committee on services, review, dispute settlement and denial of benefits etc. are also included in the agreement.

With the completion of India-ASEAN FTA, the road to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) seems clearer. RCEP includes the 10 ASEAN member countries and its six partners including India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. ASEAN aims to make RCEP a reality by 2015, which was first mooted during the 2011 ASEAN Summit in Indonesia, and formally launched during the 2012 ASEAN Summit in Cambodia. With the realisation of RCEP, India is likely to gain preferential market access to 15 countries and gain more from price competitiveness.
To benefit most from the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, India needs to keep going on the economic reform path. In that regard, steps to strengthen its medium, small and micro enterprises (MSME) sector are critically important which can help it not only sustain the free flow of trade, but also to become a more competitive player.


The last three years or so have witnessed a growing apprehension about the rising capabilities of an ascendant China and its propensity to assert its claims in South China and East China Sea. The countries in the region are also afflicted with difficult choices to be made between their economic objectives where China is of help and their strategic objectives of safeguarding their national and sovereign interests where some of the nations in the region feel challenged. On the other hand, India is seen as a power which does not threaten or challenge their national interests and can in some away lessen their apprehensions. Against this backdrop, ASEAN states are seeking a moderating role in the region given that New Delhi is seen as a benign power as opposed to China, the US or even Japan. While India may not have the political or the economic clout of ASEAN’s other envisaged partners, it is anticipated that with rising trajectory, India will become a pole of influence in the future. However, China’s influence is considerable and is likely to be so for the coming years. India’s LEP (and now Act East) has been in place now for over two decades and precedes the American pivot to Asia and therefore it stands on its own merit. Modi administration is only building up on what was bequeathed by the previous government but with much more vigour. The strategic dynamics in the region are very complex and still evolving and the LEP is only one element of the vast strategic canvas on which major powers have put forward their own policies like the American rebalance, or Japan’s Security Diamond concept or for that matter China’s New Maritime Silk Route strategy. It is to be hoped that the new policies contribute towards stability and prosperity in the region rather than instability and insecurity.
(Dr. Rahul Mishra, Research Analyst, ICWA)

Key to Building New Temples of Modern, Progressive India

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

When India became independent, the government led by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took a deliberate decision to launch a massive programme of building infrastructure in India and for this purpose opted for a planned economy. The state of the then infrastructure can be best illustrated by the fact that of the more than five and a half lakh rural settlements and about 4000 urban settlements in India, only 5000 had any electricity and this included our very large cities such as Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Today the whole of India is electrified. Apart from Tata Steel, there was virtually no capital goods industry in India. We manufactured no aircraft, no ships, no motor vehicles, we did not produce aluminium or copper, our roads system was rudimentary and there was very little telecommunication connectivity. In 1960, I was Sub Divisional Officer in Kannod Sub Division of Dewas District (Madhya Pradesh), covering an area of approximately 1500 square miles, or 3750 square kilometres. The sub-division consisted of three tehsils and there was no telephone in the whole subdivision. Today, India has the fastest growing mobile telephony market in the world.

When one looks at what was achieved in the first fifteen years of independence, one is really amazed at the scale, the width and the speed of our achievements. Great hydroelectric cum irrigation projects like Bhakra-Nangal, Hirakud and Tungabhadra were built, huge thermal power stations such as at Sarni in Madhya Pradesh and Bokaro in Bihar (now Jharkhand) were constructed, copper and bauxite mines were brought under production, mining for iron ore and coal was brought to a new height and huge steel plants such as those at Bhilai, Rourkela and Durgapur were constructed in record time. Chandigarh was built from scratch as the new capital of the Indian part of Punjab as a replacement for Lahore. In all this frenzy of creation, there was no delay, no complaint of corruption, no lack of trust in the persons entrusted with the job and absolutely no complaints about quality. Le Corbusier was selected as the architect of Chandigarh by P.N. Thapar of the ICS, Harvey Slocum, the great dam builder of the United States was brought in to design and build the Bhakra Dam, S.N. Mehta of the ICS was given charge of Bhilai and whether it was the Locomotive Works at Chittaranjan or the fertilizer plant at Sindri, officers were chosen with care and given full freedom to deliver. The very Indians who are today being accused of being inefficient and corrupt were the people who built the temples of new India, which stand proud even today and continue to produce as efficiently as on the day they were inaugurated. The Nehruvian era also saw a massive upsurge in education, especially in the field of technology, medicine and agriculture. The Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management, the Indian School of Mines at Dhanbad, the School of Planning and Architecture at Delhi the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Delhi and the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research at Chandigarh and Pondicherry, the magnificent Agriculture Universities at Ludhiana and Pant Nagar are some examples of world class educational institutions which were created either during this era or immediately after it as a part of the continuing legacy in which India sought excellence. In the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore we had an institution which gave the world a Nobel laureate like C.V. Raman. It is in the year 1957 that I joined the Indian Administrative Service and it personally gave pride to all of us to be participants in this magnificent race for development on which India had embarked.

From 1967 onwards, that is, twenty years after independence and in the immediate post Nehru era, this country seemed to lose the head of steam built up in the previous twenty years. This was the period of political uncertainty, of intrigue for power in which members of the legislature were suborned, subdued or purchased and governments were changed not on the basis of the ballot but through the means of the market, that is, buying and selling in a system which for twenty years had enjoyed an enviable reputation of political and civil service rectitude and professional competence of its technical personnel. Suddenly there crept in an element of political corruption which, in turn, corrupted the Civil Service, whose professional competence was eroded because of lack of political will and decision making and the increasing preponderance of political manipulators, corrupt businessmen, abandonment of planning and its substitution by populism, inordinate delays and cost overruns in project implementation, accompanied by shoddy workmanship. What is more, audit and vigilance functions suddenly became more important than project planning, technical design, systematic financing, adherence to schedule, maintenance of quality and delivery of the finished product. Together with this grew a lack of trust between ministers and officers, between political parties, between officers themselves, between civil servants and technology professionals and between project authorities, businessmen and contractors. Now everything was for sale, even human character. Whereas the real accountability of the past in which one trusted people who, in turn, justified that trust by doing their job faithfully, honestly and efficiently was replaced by a formalised but proforma accountability, no one was prepared to take any decisions without, in the case of the corrupt, a price being extracted and by the honest because they know that a decision could create trouble for them on petty account and, therefore, it was better to play safe. Is it surprising that the implementation of major projects or, for that matter even minor projects, has slowed down, complaints of corruption have reached their zenith and whereas we have not become honest as a result of that, we have certainly become a nation of prevaricators, we have become inefficient, we shirk responsibility and we try and hide behind a rampart of files to protect ourselves from the consequences of wrongdoing?

The whole aim of governance is to take decisions. Decision making is at various levels and in its own domain every decision is vitally important. At the level of national government, there has to be a long term perspective about where the country should be heading, there should be a clear-cut vision of our priorities and selection of priorities taking into account financial and human resources available to us. There has also to be a vision and model of how plans prepared in accordance with these priorities will be implemented. The personnel to implement them have to be carefully selected, they have to be suitably empowered and then given a freehand to deliver results. There has to be a system of monitoring, evaluation and superintendence, but within given parameters audit and vigilance functions have to be rational, aimed at correcting the errors, but certainly not designed to keep officials on tenterhooks, thus hamstringing them in decision making and implementation. Had S.N. Mehta who built the Bhilai steel project been subjected to the kind of harassment which officers have to put up with now, the Bhilai Steel Plant would never have been built. He would have protected his back rather than take the momentous decisions he did in the full knowledge and confidence that every bona fide act of his will be supported.

An essay like this should not be an excuse for personal anecdotes but I think the above point needs elaboration. In March 1964, the government suddenly told me that 25,000 refugees from East Pakistan would reach my district, Betul, of which I was D.C, in exactly one week. I was required to receive them, accommodate them in camps, look after them, feed them, put them to gainful employment and arrange for their permanent rehabilitation. The orders of the Chief Secretary were brief, concise and accompanied by a threat that even if one refugee deserted I would answer with my head. The rest was left to my discretion. It is to the great credit of my officers, my revenue staff, engineers, Electricity Board officials, forest officials, the medical staff and the police that we built three camps within a week, electrified them, arranged drinking water, rations, etc., so that when the first train load of refugees arrived they went straight into designated quarters, with officials to guide them. After an initial period of settling down, the refugees were put to work to clear 30,000 acres of poor quality forest and we built thirty-two villages where the refugees were settled and put to work on agriculture. I had no time to call for tenders or to follow any formal procedures. When I told the Chief Secretary this he made me write on one page a summary of what I had done and he obtained the Chief Minister’s orders ratifying all my actions. No one asked me any questions, no one upbraided me for not following the rules and instead the Chief Minister praised my performance during a debate in the Vidhan Sabha. Today I would have had to face audit objections as long as my arm, would have been harassed by the CBI, would probably have been suspended and sent to jail. That is why in today’s age, I would have permitted the refugees to run away or die. I would have prepared beautiful files but I would certainly not have taken the decisions I did which ensured that the Bengali refugees are thriving today in these newly established villages.

One makes this point because the question arises whether Indians were more honest in the past and are now suddenly dishonest collectively. There was some difference in that Nehru and his compatriots had come through the fire of the freedom movement, they were deeply nationalistic, they were sure of themselves and they enjoyed the complete trust of the Indian people, who were confident that whatever was decided by the leaders would be for the greater good of India. Because of these leaders, there was stability in government, there was no hesitation to take even unpleasant decisions and the leaders trusted the civil servants, engineers, doctors, etc., because there was a commonality of purpose between them. P.N. Thapar, M.S, Randhawa and P.L. Verma built Chandigarh. Kunwar Sen and A.N. Khosla built Hirakud and Slocum built Bhakra-Nangal. There was no hesitation to engage foreign experts or to assign steel plants such as Durgapur to a British consortium, Rourkela to the Germans and Bhilai to the Russians. We did not feel slighted because we borrowed talent from abroad because the objective was to build these new temples and not to sit on petty issues of prestige. All this was possible only because we had a climate of political certainty. When the first uneasy coalitions were formed in the States by breaking political parties through purchase, uncertainty crept in at political levels and corruption became a political imperative because money was needed to buy political power. Unfortunately even the single party governments of Indira Gandhi, Narasimha Rao and Rajiv Gandhi were unable to stem the rot and in the new climate of political uncertainty, indecisiveness and corruption became necessary concomitants of government. This has been followed by thirty years of coalition rule at the Centre and this has further vitiated the environment. Manmohan Singh is personally pea green incorruptible and one had expected of him that he would be able to bring rectitude back into government. The political realities of his coalition made it almost impossible for him to bring about any improvement and almost all the wrongdoing of his period was the result of the manner in which the coalition functioned. One could even go the extent of saying that when there is a coalition of opportunism, then it is almost axiomatic that each coalition partner will push its own agenda, the objective of which is personal enrichment and self advancement. Such a coalition cannot frame policy, it can only seek opportunities for promoting its own benefits. This automatically creates a miasmic atmosphere in which there is deep suspicion about the motives of everyone and there is a complete lack of trust.

The present government is not a coalition because it enjoys an absolute majority of a single party in the Lok Sabha. Whereas any democratic government is required to carry all parties, especially those which are politically opposed to the ruling party, along with government in all matters of national interest, it is not required to pander to the baser instincts and demands of a coalition partner who is opportunistic. Such a government is free to take decisions, including those which may be temporarily unpopular, and give clear-cut directives to its officials and to create an environment of trust in which officials feel personally accountable for completion of given tasks. In such an environment, the policy is well defined and their directions for the implementation are also specific and unambiguous. An official can now proceed with implementation in the full confidence that provided he follows policy directions, he will be fully protected. One does not know whether the climate in which people implicitly trusted each other in the fifties and sixties of the last century will ever return, but the present government can certainly ensure the following:
  1. Clarity in policy and firmness in the political will to implement it.
  2. The careful choosing of implementation teams
  3. Unambiguous policy directions on how a particular policy is to be translated into reality
  4. A clear statement to the team leaders and officers that government will support them to the hilt in their work.
  5. Interlocking accountability in which superintendence, supervision and monitoring are paramount, but in which the superior officer is held accountable for the deeds of his subordinates.
  6. Suitable empowerment of the official machinery so that it can perform its task.
  7. Sensible audit whose function is not only to find fault but to help the implementing authorities to perform the task better and maintain their accounts in a rational manner.
  8. Answerability for one’s actions only to one’s administrative superior and not to an outside agency like a vigilance organisation, CBI, etc., unless there is an allegation of criminality and an FIR is duly registered in this behalf. In other words, an officer implementing a policy decision will acknowledge only one superior, his administrative head and will not be answerable to other persons or authority.
Let us not underestimate our government machinery because it is still capable of doing amazing work. What it needs is clarity in policy, directions which are unambiguous and full support for all bona fide actions. Having served in India’s premier Civil Service, one can state with confidence that our government machinery, despite years of abuse, can still deliver the moon on a platter. If government governs, there will be real governance and we shall build hundreds of new temples of a modern, progressive India.

Published Date: 19th November 2014, Image source: