Friday, January 30, 2015

Maoist Insurgency: Tactical Quiescent?

Lt Gen Gautam Banerjee, 
Visiting Fellow, VIF

Relative Slowdown

The monsoon period has traditionally been a time of relative quietude in rebellious activities of the Maoists. But this year, even before as well as after the nature’s rain lashing, there has been a noticeable dip in the number of major anti-state incidents perpetrated by them. Indeed, in the Maoist dominated regions, there are visible signs of the Government’s efforts to control the insurgency fructifying to encouraging results, tentatively at least.

There is relative quietude in the intensely Maoist affected areas in the states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar, and so it is in somewhat less severely affected areas of West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. However, from the hazy inputs coming from village grapevines, it is easy to infer that the Maoists continue to remain in their ominous business from their ‘liberated’ bases in remote jungles.

Be that as it may, a traverse through the troubled areas indicates there have been some attitudinal realignments among the contending parties to the Maoist rebellion. This development therefore provokes deeper enquiry and analysis.

Reckonable Developments

If during the past three years, life and movement along the main arteries running across the Maoist affected areas had been relatively free from violent interruptions, presently even among the people in interior areas a sense of release from the perpetual state of apprehension is palpable. It is certainly not the case that the insurgents have been run down; what seems to have actually happened is that a slew of events have converged to make it sensible for all the parties to the confrontation – Maoists, police and people - to pause, take stock and re-strategise.

Let us see as to what these events are and as to how are these likely to play out in the coming days. However, conditioned by the trends of local politics, it would be natural to expect subtle differences in the situation from one affected state to another.

Strengthening of Police Forces

Repeated warnings from intelligence agencies, security analysts and even the Army notwithstanding, it was only after the massacre at Chintalnar (Dantewara, Chattisgarh) in May 2010 that the public pressure to act with due urgency got infused among the policy-makers of the state Home Departments. No doubt, much before that the Central Government had initiated many steps to equip the Central and state police forces for them to effectively fight the insurgency. But in the face of obdurate self-denial among the ruling political parties in all states barring Chattisgarh, practically none of such measures had made any worthwhile progress. The effort was diluted further by the absence of common cause among the police hierarchy of the Centre and the states, who – as some in the know have attributed to their transient and mutually rotational incumbency - failed to rise above the mundane of turf competition and red tape. Even in the matter of good governance, various state public service departments had their own agendas that were mostly dictated by the scope for influence and crony aggrandisement. Thus, proposals and plans proposed by one group among the state police, central police and the departments of public works, health, education, rural development etc. got subverted by another group. That was an agreeable situation for the local political power brokers who found such cross-cuttings to be much to their advantages.

Once, however, the Maoist mayhem started hurting political interests, the same state hierarchy rose to the occasion. In a remarkable show of purpose, within just a period of three years or so, the forces were substantially expanded in terms of manpower and infrastructure, motivated with rewards, equipped with modern weaponry and accoutrements, serviced with effective engineering works and communications, better trained, and above all, committed to anti-Maoist operations with due deliberation, overwhelming strength and responsive logistic support. Indeed, it has been a commendable show of common purpose within the fraternity of civil services - the IPS being a part of that fraternity - in harnessing its grip over the system to obtain what they want.

The results on ground has been reckonable, the Sukma debacle in December 2014 being but an one-off incident in nearly ten months. Procurements, recruitment, new raisings, build up of road and communication networks, fortification of police posts, mobility, administrative supplies and casualty evacuation by air, and all such policing related initiatives which moved at a snail’s pace earlier, saw a quantum acceleration during the past two years. Meanwhile, the state could sort out many of the inter-cadre officers’ related heart-burns while also streamlining the inter-state differences regarding cross-border police action. It could also prod other departments, particularly the Public Works and Health Departments, to be readily responsive to the requirements raised by the police forces. It is not the case that every matter is hanky-dory, but there has definitely been much improvements in the situation from what the police forces had earlier been operating under.

Subjected to regular assault from the Maoists and public trivialising of their worth, the afore-stated developments have energised the police forces. No police post or armoury has been allowed to be attacked, patrolling in fringe areas have been better organised and many of the Maoist ‘liberated’ areas, which had been given a wide berth earlier, have been repeatedly traversed by strong patrols, thus dismantling a mental barrier.

There is today a palpable sense of confidence, even aggression, among the higher level police officers. Experience, however, should caution against growth of overconfidence - even if words of caution do not seem to make much impression on a mood bordering on boisterousness. This aspect needs serious consideration among the top police and state leadership.

Police Action

Better organised police action undertaken in deliberately defined areas is showing encouraging results. Much of the inhabited hinterland is gridded with well protected police operating bases from where area domination patrols operate at regular intervals. Movement in rural areas is safer, public works for developments out of special Left Wing Extremism (LWE) related allocations have commenced, the ever-absent government officials are often to be found at their post and many of the public services – health centres, schools, tele-communications, Public Distribution System (PDS) - are functional - of course, alongside the innate pull of misappropriation, work-shirking and callous attitude as are ingrained into the society.

Among the Maoist cadres, the lure of ‘percentage cuts’ accruing from various social development schemes have led to dog-fights amongst Maoist factions, and at the same time, caused the state and Panchayat functionaries wetting their lips in anticipation of the manna. Rural employment schemes and recruitment of local lads into the newly raised Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and India Reserve Battalions (IRB) are pulling the youth away from the hardships of rebellious ways. Energetic police actions having made life in the yonder difficult, and incentives becoming more attractive, trickles of surrenders have also started.

No doubt, the police forces have achieved quantum improvements in their counter-insurgency capability, particularly in preventive and objective-denial measures. The stage when they would be in position to take the fight to the insurgent strongholds is, however, yet far away.

Maoists’ Setbacks

A new-found urgency in the state governments and the energised police actions have challenged the Maoist’s unbridled domination over the affected areas. The police no more remains as the insurgents’ ‘quartermaster’ for supply of weaponry, and combined with concerted action by the state police against illegal gun manufacturing and ammunition filling industries in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Maoists are faced with a crunch over supply of arms and ammunition, the latter mostly. Similarly, arrest of several middlemen who arranged explosives for the insurgents has, to some extent, led to depletion of their stocks of explosive devices.

The second factor that has impinged on the rebellion is the combined effects of preceding years of economic slowdown on one hand, and extra-ordinary funding of socio-economic developmental schemes in the Maoist affected areas on the other. The first has caused retardation in mining, transportation and allied business and a resultant drop in ‘levy’ extortion, while the second has lured away the Maoist cadres – never serious about radical socialism in any case – to greener pastures of regular and quasi-legal earnings. More, the development schemes in progress and in planning, and control of local ‘development councils’ over these, has enticed away many key Maoists to the engaging games of group-aggrandisement, graft and brokerage in local politics. Situation in Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha is so affected by competition to make money that Maoist splinter groups have taken to fratricide when agreement in sharing the loot is not forthcoming.

Killing, surrender and arrest of many ideologues, and more importantly, the key players who are generally referred to as ‘area commanders’, has put the third rung cadres into a quandary. Not graduated to the role of leadership and yet trying to establish their position, these wannabe leaders may take time to consolidate themselves. Meanwhile, failure in expanding their ‘urban party cells’ and so garner more finances to buy weapons, pay the cadres and sustain the insurgency, has added to the Maoist woes. The People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) cadres, who unlike the village and town based ‘hard-core’ cadres and collaborators are totally dependent on Maoist logistic chain, are the most affected.

In view of the setbacks discussed above, it appears that the Maoist leaders have decided to lie low while looking for means to build up their financial capacity. The policy is to let the hard core cadres lie dormant while remaining embedded in the rural and semi-urban society, and to goad urban collaborators to spread their influence. PLGA would, in the meanwhile, operate from their deep jungle camps, train and bide time for the insurgency logistics to recover. Their giving way to police patrols traversing through the core of their ‘liberated’ areas is one indicator of that policy of dormancy. Of course, certain acts of violence would be triggered to keep the ‘flame glowing’, as they as are wont to parrot at the slightest encouragement. For example, it was probably to that purpose that a couple of blasts on rail tracks were affected in the jungles of Latehar (Jharkhand) in September-October 2014 – the innocuous targets, superficial damages and wild location also being indicative of that policy.

Of course, any threat of police intrusion into their ‘liberated’ areas, from where the rebellion finds sustenance, would invite extreme reaction, as indeed it was done in November-December 2014 in the Chintagufa area of Sukma, Chattisgarh, a remote and forested hill area astride the Indravati Valley which is the Maoist’s strongest fortress. Some among the police hierarchy understand that attempting to displace the Maoists from such of their ‘core’ areas would amount to premature overreach of their forces. But there are many who give an impression of being overconfident, something that would worry an experienced mind.

The insurgency seems subdued - for the present. But it is gearing up at all times to reappear at the centre-stage.

Situation in Affected States

Needless to say, the insurgency situation varies in each of the Maoist affected states, the difference being in the hues of political management of the problem, which in turn are influenced by the politics of power. Thus in Chattisgarh, sustained initiatives of a focused state administration, better organised police action and dedication of certain Non-Government Organisations (NGO) manifests in even the most violence prone areas finding some relief and restoration of near-normal life. There is much enthusiasm among the people regarding various social-service, education, employment and infrastructural development schemes, so much so that the Maoists seem to be chary of interfering in development works and thus upsetting the popular mood. They however, remain sanguine, as they aver, of the Government’s eventual ‘failure’ given its ‘corrupt foundations’, and the resultant re-emergence of people’s ‘disillusionment’ for them to flock back to the ‘Red Salute’. Similar scene is playing out in Maharashtra with commendable success accruing to the state’s efforts.

The situation in Jharkhand is ambivalent. Here, while the trader-miner-mafia-political-outlaw-Maoist nexus remains operative, the police, weary of being at the receiving end for long, have, on their own initiative, hardened their counter-insurgency posture. A tentative political leadership has thus allowed the police to undertake, without interference, what counter-Maoist operations may deliberately be organised within their resources. Combing and area-domination operations are better organised and more frequent, leading to killing and arrest of many first and second rung leaders. Development projects and the advantages these offer have weaned away many cadres and collaborators to the mainstream while fissures within the extremists have widened, particularly on the question of sharing of extorted ‘levy’. Notably, the run up to the state assembly elections has been peaceful more or less, which indicates a popular fervour for development rather than the destructive revolutionary rhetoric. But the future course of insurgency would depend upon the attitude and effectiveness of the new government that has taken charge of the state in January 2015.

In West Bengal, the situation is unique. Domination of various party cadres, turncoats, lumpen elements and religious fanatics is so strong that Maoists have lost their distinct identity. The state police suffers strong influence from party cadres, a situation that the central police forces deployed in the state find rather dismaying. Maoist insurgency per se remains in the background, but afflicted with equally damaging ills, it is not a stable and free society either.

In Odisha, the unstated policy of the state government was to contain the spread of insurgency to new areas while lying low in the Maoist dominated territory. In the past six months or so that has changed, and besides deployment of operating bases, area domination by police patrols goes on regularly. The results have been satisfactory, particularly in arresting some top leaders, allegedly in mutual convenience.

The policy of mutually profitable ‘accommodation’ among petty politicians, outlaws and Maoists in Bihar is apparently still in force, with each avoiding confrontation while going about their business. That gives the impression of relative quietude in Maoist infested North-Western and South-Western Parts of the state. As for Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Maoists have generally avoided overt insurgency in these areas and continue to do so, using these instead as their sanctuaries.
Progressive Measures

Recently, the Central Government has picked up threads from the initiatives of the previous regime and added some impetus to the counter-LWE measures. Issues listed in the current ‘Two-pronged Strategy’ have distinctly been flagged into a ‘Four-Pronged Doctrine’, viz, ‘security measures’, ‘development’, ‘socio-legal empowerment’ and ‘perception management’. The ongoing Integrated Action Plan (IAP) of ‘clear, hold, develop’ in 88 affected districts has been subsumed into a new ‘Additional Central Assistance to LWE Affected Districts Programme’ (ACALADP). To facilitate reach into remote areas of 34 severely affected districts, the under construction road length has been increased to 5,500 kilometres, and with over 12 lakh title deeds distributed to Adivasis, provisions of the tribal-friendly Forest Rights Act, 2006 are finally bearing fruition. Much of these measures remain yet at the preparatory stage, but what little changes have actually occurred on ground, these have made a difference - the people are hopeful.

Supervised by the ‘Inter-Ministerial Group’, ‘Coordination Committees’ at the district, state and Centre level have begun streamlining development works as well as the overall approach to the counter-Maoist strategy; these are functioning reasonably well within the ambit of usual local manipulations. An ‘Oversight Committee’ at Central level, comprising of ministers of Home, Finance, Tribal Affairs, Environment, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and Road Transport has been constituted recently with the aim of giving further impetus to implementation of the counter-Maoist strategy. Similar oversight committees are to be constituted at the state level too. Enhancement of financial powers of police chiefs and proposed constitution of a ‘National Tribal Welfare Council’ are the other notable measures in this regard. However, these changes would deliver only if the state level political, administrative and police functionaries remain focused on containment of the rebellion.

In the overall context, with the insurgency in a state of relative dormancy, the situation seems to be turning in favour of the state. There are, however, matters to be wary of.


Viewing from the ground, it is hard to deny that there has not been a better situation to disarm the insurgency and contain the Maoist rebellion. However, there are certain possibilities and pitfalls which it would be wise to guard against.

Hopeful proclamations of the state administration and exuberance among the police forces notwithstanding, the situation remains critical. There are areas where state-functionaries or even police forces fear to tread. The PLGA remains ensconced in their jungle camps, extortion goes on unabated and corruption thrives. Police officials have learnt to converse in military terminologies without having the benefit of practising these nuances under realistic conditions and the standard of training in the 21 Counter-Insurgency and Anti-Terrorist (CIAT) Schools have yet to mature. Obviously, rather than transitory and bureaucratic control, the CRPF leadership, since it has been committed to counter-insurgency role, needs to be tuned to practical counter-insurgency experience on long-term basis. In brief, the level of counter-insurgency training and operational execution would have to be raised considerably to cap the insurgency should the Maoists manage to escalate its level. That is a possibility which is not to be taken lightly.

In the final analysis, no insurgency can be defeated without sustained offensive action to run over the insurgents’ bases - ‘liberated areas’ as these are referred to. Such offensive action can only be delivered by militarised, rather than police, forces, who are organised, trained, led, administered and deployed in the manner military. The Government may take note of that fact.

There is little doubt that the Maoists are lying low and biding their time while waiting for finances to improve, organisational losses to recover - leadership at the ‘area’ level particularly - and alternate sources of supply of weapons and ammunition to be found. Even if there has been softening of cadres due to growing distractions of easy life and more agreeable opportunities as compared to life in insect-infested jungles, it would be naive to imagine that the Maoist rebellion is about to be contained. Lastly, the real fear is that the rebels, when cornered, may enter into issue based alliances with other anti-national elements and external adversaries in order to uphold their cause. That indeed would be catastrophic for the nation.

The present situation offers good prospects of controlling the Maoist menace. To do so, however, the course set is to be trod carefully and without the distractions of short-term expediencies and partisan compromises.

Published Date: 30th January 2015, 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)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Obama’s Republic Day Visit: Transforming Stagnating India-US Ties into a Vibrant Relationship

Amb Satish Chandra, 
Dean, Centre for National Security and Strategic Studies

Obama's India visit was an unqualified success. It marks an important step in transforming the long stagnating India-US ties into a vibrant, multi dimensional and mutually supportive relationship. Full credit for this must go the Modi government for being able to do so within a few months of assuming office.

US President Barack Obama's three day visit to India from January 25th to 27th as the chief guest for our Republic Day celebrations has been appropriately termed by our Foreign Secretary as "historic" and has resulted in the "qualitative reinvigoration" of India-US ties and a deepening of their strategic partnership. Not only has it been high on symbolism but it has also had "significant and substantive" outcomes in many areas notably strategic, civil nuclear, defence, security, energy and economic as evident from the Joint Statement, the Joint Strategic Vision Statement on Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region, and the Delhi Declaration of Friendship issued on January 25th 2015.

The symbolism of the visit stems from the fact that President Obama is the first US President not only to have come to India twice, whilst holding that office, but also to have been the chief guest at our Republic Day. The growing India-US proximity was even more graphically demonstrated by the Prime Minister personally receiving the President at the airport, over and beyond the requirements of protocol, by indicators that the two leaders were not only comfortable in interacting with each other on a one on one basis but actually enjoyed doing so, by the decision to hold regular summits with increased periodicity, by the issuance of a Declaration of Friendship and finally by the decision to establish a hotline between them--a first for India-- as well as their NSA's.

The US-India joint strategic vision for Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region, clearly triggered by China's hegemonistic tendencies, symbolises the intent of the two countries, as never before, in partnering together to shape the region along with other Asian players. It specifically envisages that from Africa to East Asia, India and USA would "support sustainable, inclusive development, and increased regional connectivity by collaborating with other interested partners to address poverty and support broad-based prosperity" and that they would also work together to "promote accelerated infrastructure connectivity and economic development in a manner that links South, Southeast and Central Asia, including by enhancing energy transmission and encouraging free trade and greater people-to-people linkages." This constitutes a potent counter to China's increasing penetration of the region including through promotion of ideas like the maritime silk route. The strategic vision document goes on to reiterate the thinly disguised China specific points made in the India-US joint statement of September 2014 on the " importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea" and calls "on all parties to avoid the threat or use of force and pursue resolution of territorial and maritime disputes through all peaceful means, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea." It furthermore commits both countries to developing a roadmap for achieving this vision by leveraging their efforts to increase ties among Asian powers which would enable India and the US to better respond to diplomatic, economic and security challenges in the region. It also reflects US support to India's quest for membership of APEC.

The resolution of the six year long logjam on India-US civil nuclear cooperation which had soured relations between the two countries can only be welcomed and will bolster an upturn in ties. This has been achieved through a process of give and take and the Modi government needs to be commended for having been able to do so in such a short time. The US has given up on its earlier insistence on undertaking end use etc inspections mandated by the Hyde Act and will be satisfied with the IAEA monitoring which we had to submit to under the 123 Agreement. It is understood that the outcome of such monitoring will be made available to the US. India, on its part, has created an insurance pool part financed by public sector insurance companies and part financed by the government to take care of operator/supplier liabilities. With both countries satisfied on monitoring and liability, the major hurdle to the operationalisation of civil nuclear cooperation between them has been overcome and it is now upto US firms to take matters further. Having said this, it may be noted that one has never been a supporter of the nuclear deal as concluded by the UPA government as the costs involved for the new imported reactors are exorbitant, the technology untested, and the quid pro quo including inter alia the mothballing of the Cirus reactor, IAEA monitoring etc much too onerous. India would have done much better by not having concluded the nuclear deal in the first place and having gone ahead with building the much cheaper heavy water nuclear reactors the technology of which is proven and which we have mastered.

One of the more important outcomes of the visit was in the area defence and security. The renewal of the Defence Framework Agreement for a further period of ten years coupled with the identification of four projects for joint development and production under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative are indicators that defence cooperation between the two countries is set to be taken to a higher level. Indeed, it is understood that a working group has also been established to explore aircraft carrier technology sharing and design, and development of jet engine technology. Clearly, India's inhibitions for military dealings with the US have been set aside and the two countries are now well poised for enhanced military cooperation which will not be merely restricted to exercises and purchases but will also entail a transfer of technology as well as co development and co production.
India's core concerns on terrorism were addressed more comprehensively in the joint statement than perhaps ever before. It devoted three paragraphs to the issue as against two in the September 2014 joint statement. Apart from calling on Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks and reaffirming the need for "joint and concerted efforts to disrupt entities" like LeT, JeM, D Company and the Haqqani network, it committed the two leaders" to undertake efforts to make the U.S-India partnership a defining counterterrorism relationship for the 21st Century by deepening collaboration to combat the full spectrum of terrorist threats and keep their respective homelands and citizens safe from attacks....." and "to continue to work toward an agreement to share information on known and suspected terrorists." Thus, India-US operational collaboration in addressing terrorism is set to achieve a new high.

Clean energy was another issue of intense focus. As signalled by the Foreign Secretary, the two countries agreed to expand their partnership on clean energy research, development, manufacturing and deployment and President Obama expressed interest in participating in India’s ambitious 100 GW solar energy programme. During his interaction with CEOs on 27th January, Obama announced that the USTDA would leverage $2billion for investment in renewable energy in India. The joint statement reveals that negotiations have been concluded on a five year India-US MOU on energy security, clean energy and climate change to carry forward work in these areas.

Economic and commercial cooperation were central to the visit and permeated the entire interaction. Defence, nuclear and energy cooperation obviously have commercial ramifications and there is little doubt that with India determined to create a more business friendly environment, economic cooperation is set to increase dramatically. In order to give a further push to economic and commercial cooperation, both sides are to resume discussions on a high standard bilateral investment treaty and a totalisation agreement. Three MoUs have been signed between the USTDA and the State Governments of Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to support the development of smart cities in Visakhapatnam, Allahabad and Ajmer. India and the US are also to collaborate on the Digital India Programme. President Obama also promised to support the enhancement of "India's voice and vote in International Financial Institutions and ensuring that resources are made available and used creatively through multilateral development banks for infrastructure financing." Finally, the decision to elevate the India-US strategic dialogue to a strategic and commercial dialogue reflects the commitment of the two countries to place an even greater focus on commercial and economic ties.

It would be safe to conclude from the foregoing that Obama's India visit was an unqualified success. It marks an important step in transforming the long stagnating India-US ties into a vibrant, multi dimensional and mutually supportive relationship. Full credit for this must go to the Modi government for being able to do so within a few months of assuming office. Critics of the government have chosen to try and take the sheen off the visit by suggesting that Obama had extended a warning to the Modi government during his address at the Siri Fort auditorium on the imperatives of maintaining freedom of religion. Such a suggestion is unfounded as Obama in his wide ranging address was merely referring to the truism of the need to respect freedom of religion the world over, including particularly in pluralistic countries like USA and India, which is readily accepted by many governments including ours. Accordingly, this negative line of argumentation by critics of the government is not only inaccurate but also churlish.

Published Date: 29th January 2015, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pakistan Loses Its Centrality in India-US Tango

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

Apart from all the other seminal outcomes of the visit of the US President Barack Obama to New Delhi, the complete absence of any reference to Pakistan is quite remarkable. Although Pakistan was never really mentioned by name in any of the previous declarations and joint statements between India and US, it was always an issue that rankled with India and invariably became a cause for grouse with the Americans. But now both countries seem to have transcended this issue in taking their bilateral relationship to a new level. In other words, Pakistan is no longer an obstacle in the path of India’s relationship with the US. At best, it is an irritant that both sides are willing to ignore in forging more fruitful and beneficial ties.

More than a decade ago, the Americans had de-hyphenated India and Pakistan. They had figured out that India was in a completely different league from Pakistan. The problem was that while India had always wanted this de-hyphenation, it seemed psychologically unable and strategically unwilling to end the hyphenation with Pakistan. Every time the Indians and Americans engaged each other, it wasn’t so much the Americans who wanted to discuss Pakistan with India as it was India which wanted to complain about and discuss Pakistan with the Americans. As a result, India was just not able to go beyond the South Asian strategic context and inevitably dragged itself back into the rut of Indo-Pak dynamic. It had almost become a reflex for India to see all its bilateral ties from the prism of Pakistan. In doing so, India ended up putting itself on the same plane as Pakistan and thus diminished itself. But all that seems to have changed during this summit meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Obama. By shaking off its obsession with Pakistan, India is now stepping up to the plate to play a bigger role in not just the regional strategic sphere, but also on many issues of global concern, including terrorism and climate change.

All this is not to say that India has no longer any problem or concerns regarding Pakistan. Far from it, Pakistan continues to remain a headache for us just as it remains an ‘international migraine’ for rest of the world. India continues to face the threat of terrorism from Pakistan and the instability in the region that is being spawned by Pakistani policies and strategic calculus. But India is no longer going to let Pakistan bog it down. It is perhaps reflective of the self-confidence of India that it has recognised that on Pakistan there is both a convergence, as well as a divergence, between India and the US. Both countries see Pakistan as a problem – there is a convergence of views on this – but both disagree on how to manage, let along solve, this problem – this is where there is a divergence of views. India believes that mollycoddling Pakistan or giving in to its blackmail or buying into its claims of altering its rank bad behaviour and its patronage of jihadist terrorist groups is not going to work. According to India, the American policy of throwing money at Pakistan in the fond hope that it will change or at the very least keep the US engaged with Pakistan, is a failed policy. Far from changing Pakistan, this policy encourages and incentivises Pakistan to continue with its perfidious policies, the impact of which is felt by India.

Until now, this divergence was a stumbling block between India and the US, but no more. Both countries have moved on to bigger things and a more productive and positive partnership. This has caused enormous heartburn in Pakistan, not just in the media and the political class but also in the military establishment. In order to show to both India and US that Pakistan has options, the Army Chief scheduled a visit to China to coincide with Obama’s visit to India. This suited China which too has been watching with some consternation the growing closeness between India and the US. But China is clearly trying to make the best of a bad bargain. After all, while the US gets a mutually beneficial partnership with India in both strategic and economic fields, China has to make do with Pakistan which has nothing positive to offer to China and is at best a parasitical client which is also a bottom less pit where Chinese investments will be sunk without any return.

Be that as it may, inside Pakistan there are broadly three sorts of reactions to the Obama visit: the first is by some sober and sensible people who have done self-introspection and acknowledged that Pakistan has been left behind by an India which has entered a new league. They accept that Pakistan's policies of nurturing terrorism has brought the country to a point where its sole value to the rest of the world is its nuisance value. The only reason why the world engages Pakistan is to keep the negativity emanating from Pakistan – from the spread of polio to export of terrorism – under check; the second reaction is the lament over having been ‘betrayed’ by the US. In this, the services and sacrifices rendered by Pakistan for the US in the War on Terror are highlighted but, very conveniently, the Pakistanis don’t mention the money they charged for rendering these services or, for that matter, their perfidy and treachery in giving safe havens to jihadist terrorists who were responsible for the deaths of thousands of US soldiers in Afghanistan. What is even worse, the Pakistanis have been disabused of their fanciful notions that Obama will lean on the Indian side to reopen a dialogue with Pakistan. Adding insult to injury, there was absolutely no mention of the K-word (Kashmir) anywhere during the visit. To be sure, the two leaders must have discussed Pakistan since they have common concerns about that country. But if Pakistan was hoping that the Americans would pressure India to go easy on Pakistani transgressions along the International Border and LoC or would seek some concessions for Pakistan, that doesn’t seem to have happened.

The third reaction is to bring the China factor into play and also draw some comfort from the fact that the Russians are reaching out to Pakistan. As far as the Russians are concerned, their approach to Pakistan is aimed more at India than at Pakistan. The Russians know that there is no way that Pakistan can replace India as a market for Russian weapons because Pakistan neither has the money to pay nor the size to absorb Russian weapons. Clearly, the Russian calculation is that if they are seen as getting close to Pakistan, India will be forced to step back a little from America’s embrace. But just as Russia is playing games with India using Pakistan, India too has signalled that if Russia doesn’t play fair in the weapons trade, then India will diversify its weapons procurement. Something similar is going to happen with China which has used Pakistan to create a counter weight to India. Now India is using the US to counter-balance China. If the Chinese don’t want this, they will have to address India’s concerns and desist from following the aggressive policies of the past.

The Pakistanis would also be bristling at the US desire to see India play a greater role in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that India can do at this late stage in Afghanistan, even less so in light of the fact that the new Afghan President has thrown in his lot with Pakistan. Nevertheless, both the US and India have a common interest in seeing Afghanistan stabilise. At the very least, it is not in the interest of both countries to see Afghanistan descend into chaos and have the forces of fanaticism as represented by the Taliban take over that country. There may not be a lot that the two countries can do together in Afghanistan at this point in time other than engage each other in close intelligence and security cooperation and coordination. Given that the wheel keeps turning in Afghanistan, it won’t be long before Pakistan is once again on the out and India on the in inside Afghanistan. At that stage, close US-India ties being forged today will come in handy. By all accounts then, the Obama visit has come as a shot in the arm for India and by ignoring Pakistan, India has managed to make a breakthrough that will help it immensely when in the future it decides to do something to sort out its Pakistan problem.

Published Date: 28th January 2015, 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)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Indo-US Relations: The Way Forward

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

India’s relations with the US in the last decade have undergone a transformation. Ever since our independence, our relationship with the US has been marked by suspicion, lack of empathy and differences in world view. In recent years, many in India have viewed with cynicism US using the excuse of its “values” to justify its interventionist and regime change policies marked by, what is more, glaring double standards. We have been chary of excessive engagement with the US lest it acquires too many leverages over our policies. The US has sanctioned us in critical strategic nuclear, missile and high technology sectors ever since our 1974 nuclear test. US policies in our neighbourhood, in particular with regard to Pakistan, have damaged our security. In this background, the shift towards growing mutual confidence, wide ranging political, economic and security related engagement in recent years has been an unprecedented change.

In 2010, during his India visit, President Barack Obama described the India-US relationship as a defining one for the 21st century. What “defining” may actually mean is difficult to define. It could mean that the US sees India growing into a major global power in the years ahead, and believes that the relationship forged between the oldest and the largest democracy, between the world’s largest and the third largest economy in time, with their shared values of democracy and pluralism, could define how international relations will be played out in the 21st century. This would imply that India and the US together could determine the configuration of international relations and the principles governing them and that they could optimally manage global commons and work for the consolidation of political and human values universally. This sounds rather grandiloquent, but such rhetoric comes easily to the Americans.

India has been more subdued in its rhetoric. Despite the general sentiment towards the US becoming more positive and the opprobrium attached to being seen as “pro-US” virtually disappearing, there has been political reluctance to embrace the US too tightly to avoid any perception within the country and externally that India was diluting the independence of its foreign policy. But India too has used vocabulary about relations with the US that is contrary to realities. We have said that India and the US are “natural partners”, when objectively this has not been the case for the last 67 years and is not likely to be reflected in our ties in the years ahead either.

Democracy and pluralism can be a bond, but in relations between the US and India, this bond has not shielded us from punitive US policies. In our case, US did not have to active on democracy promotion to gain geopolitical advantage as it has done in other geographical areas, but it has targeted us in the 1990s on human rights issues, especially relating to Kashmir, and remains censorious on issues of treatment of religious minorities and religious conversion prompted by domestic Christian lobbies. It is well to remember that it denied Narendra Modi a visa for the US for nine years under an act of which he was the only victim. In any case, US conduct towards India over the years has not given much weight to India being a democracy. Cold War geopolitics has guided its policies for most of the time, and later it has sought to curtail and smother India’s strategic capabilities. In contrast to this, the US has been benign towards military dictatorships or done business with authoritarian regimes in our neighbourhood, often at India’s expense.

Beyond that, it is unrealistic to speak of a natural partnership between the world’s strongest political, military, technological and economic power, the head of a powerful military alliance with military bases in several countries, one that considers itself endowed with the responsibility of maintaining the word order, that is rich in natural resources and one that shapes the global agenda in all fields and a developing country beset with huge problems of poverty, technologically weak, militarily import-dependent and economically still far away from even middle income status. There can hardly be a “natural partnership” between two countries unequal in so many ways, unless it is one of dependence. We are not in the same geopolitical area as the US; we do not have common enemies, and we do not face similar security challenges. If we did, we might have had reasons to gravitate towards each other naturally because of such shared interests.

A natural partnership would also imply that there is a basic convergence in thinking and goals that would draw two countries together even if a gulf occurred at times. In other words, it would not be natural for them to stay apart and be distant from each other as such differences would be bridgeable not fundamental in nature. If viewed in this light, we should look at the expression “natural partnership” as a rhetorical flourish rather than describing the reality of our relationship. Our interests have actually not been served by US policies in West Asia, towards Pakistan, its support for jihad to fight the Soviet Union which has spread extremism and terrorism in our region, its willingness to engage the Taliban and its handling of Afghanistan. The US has fuelled China’s rise for strategic reasons rooted in the Cold War and the interests of its corporate sector. Its views on China’s policies in South Asia, especially Beijing’s relationship with Pakistan that damages our security in many ways, have been problematic for us.

In fact, India and the US have had to overcome a difficult legacy. The US has for decades done great damage to India’s strategic interests by obstructing the development of our nuclear and missile capabilities and denying us dual use technologies by imposing global sanctions through its domestic legislation as well as international export control regimes. At the same time, it has overlooked Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear and missile technologies from China and has taken a tolerant view of serious Pakistani infractions of the non-proliferation regime, even shielding the Pakistani kingpins from international scrutiny. It has politically undermined India’s sovereignty over J&K by frequently intervening on Pakistan’s behalf and helping it to keep the issue alive internationally, though it has been more circumspect in recent years. Even now it refuses to recognise Indian sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir and prefers adopting an equivocal position that leans in favour of Pakistan’s core position by references to “consulting the wishes of the Kashmiri people”, which indirectly denies the legitimacy of the election process in J&K. It has armed Pakistan in the past despite the obvious security implications for India and continues to do so even now. It has also been responsible for unleashing jihadi terrorism in our region by legitimising such groups and their ideology in the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, unmindful of the consequences for our region and the exposed position of India to such forms of religious mobilisation. It has been unduly tolerant of Pakistan’s use of these terrorist groups against us as an instrument of state policy, despite its war on terror. Even now, despite the shelter given to Osama bin Laden by Pakistan, its support to Afghan Taliban groups that target US/NATO troops in Afghanistan, the ISI abetted attacks against our diplomatic representations there and explicit accusations by former Afghan President Karzai about Pakistan’s use of terrorism to destabilise Afghanistan, the US has been focused essentially on its own concerns about an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan with Pakistan’s assistance and has treated regional and Indian concerns as of secondary importance.

The US is aware of Pakistan’s double-faced Afghan policy and its obsession to counter Indian presence and influence in Afghanistan. The US has always discouraged Indian military assistance to Afghanistan- other than providing training to Afghan security forces- in deference to Pakistan’s sensitivities, though it supports India’s economic assistance, even to the point of wanting to do India-US cooperative projects there. The US decision to open a dialogue with the Taliban which disregards India’s objections to any political accommodation with it without insisting on the red lines laid down by the international community creates potential problems for India. It continues its failed policy of offering carrots to Pakistan, including military aid, in the hope of buying its co-operation. The manner in which Pakistan army chief General Sharif has been treated during his lengthy visit to the US in December 2014 suggests that the US has not been able to forge a clear policy of dealing with a country whose duplicitous conduct it recognises. Secretary Kerry went to the extent of calling the Pakistan military a binding force when he met the General, which has the unfortunate implication that the US endorses the political role that the Pakistani military sees for itself in the country as the ultimate custodian of the idea of Pakistan, even if this was not Kerry’s intention.

Notwithstanding all this, it is necessary for India to have as friendly a relationship with the US as possible. The US cannot be ignored because of its superpower status. It has to be managed in a way that one can extract the maximum from the relationship while minimising the compromises one has to make to achieve that. The 2005 India-US nuclear deal opened the doors for establishing a relationship at a much higher level than ever before. With the dissipation of strategic distrust as a result of the deal, the range of bilateral engagement expanded phenomenally. Numerous sectoral and subject specific dialogues were set up with the US, covering the areas of energy, education, health, development, science and technology, trade, defence, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, high technology, innovation and the like. With no other country do we have such wide ranging institutionalised dialogues. The objective has been to build up Indian capacities in a number of sectors with US technology and know-how, a process that would assist in India’s development and growth, giving the US getting greater access to an expanding Indian economy as a result.

The nuclear deal removed the nonproliferation issue from distorting our bilateral agenda with the US as well as other important members of the international community, though US nonproliferation lobbies have not given up efforts to generate pressure on India on nuclear issues in a bid to create a basis for extracting more curbs on India’s freedom to develop its nuclear weapon programme, especially by tying up our programme to that of Pakistan and advocating steps to reduce nuclear dangers in South Asia. Following the nuclear deal, sanctions on almost all Indian entities have been lifted and high technology controls have been eased to a degree. The US has committed itself to support India’s membership of the four technology control regimes: the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Agreement and the Australia Group. This support is repeated in political declarations as was the case when Modi visited Washington in September 2014 when Obama noted that India meets MTCR requirements and is ready for NSG membership, but without setting any time-tables. An actual push by the US in favour of India’s membership is lacking, not the least because, having made an exception for India in the NSG, the US would be reluctant to go out of its way to press India’s case actively. India’s task will be to prod the US to implement its strategic commitment at the earliest and not use it as a bargaining lever to extract more concessions from India in non-proliferation areas, particular on administrative arrangements for implementing the nuclear deal in full that will give the US greater access to our nuclear plants over and above IAEA safeguards, and obtain commercial contracts for its companies on its terms. The US is miffed that having done the heavy-lifting for India in the NSG, its companies have not procured civil nuclear projects in India because of our Nuclear Liability Act which provides for supplier’s liability in certain circumstances. The US has openly lobbied for an amendment of our law, and could well link its active support for India’s membership of the NSG to actual openings for its companies to build nuclear power plants in India as well as a solution to the outstanding problem of “national tracking”. During each high level visit after the nuclear deal, the issue has been raised by the US and India has been obliged to show some “progress” in implementing its commitment to acquire GE and Westinghouse nuclear reactors that would produce 10,000 MWs of power.

During President Obama’s second term, India-US ties began to lose momentum because many on the US side had expected much more to emerge from the newly minted relationship of strategic trust and this had not happened. Apart from disappointment on the nuclear power front, there were strong hopes of the US obtaining a sizeable part of India’s defence procurement pie. That the US has bagged almost $ 10 billion worth of defence contracts in the last five to six years, whether for C-130 and C-17 heavy lift aircraft, advanced maritime reconnaissance aircraft, attack, heavy lift and VIP helicopters, and in that period became India’s top defence supplier, is not seen as sufficient strategic reward for the nuclear deal and the NSG exception.

In this, the US is not giving enough importance to the point that, given its history of imposing sanctions in situations of conflict and tension or for other considerations, India is reposing great trust in building a defence relationship with the US. It is true, though, that India under the UPA government baulked at signing the three foundational agreements with the US- the LSA (logistics agreement), BECA (for access to high defence technology) and CISMOA (interoperability agreement)- that would supposedly strengthen defence bonds and make India more eligible for transfer of advanced defence technologies to India. Here the concern has been that India should not be seen as moving too far into the US defence orbit as that would cause an imbalance in its relationships with other powers. This reticence has been balanced, however, by numerous joint military exercises involving the three arms. The naval exercises in the Indian Ocean area have been particularly elaborate, involving submarines and aircraft carriers, which sends an important strategic message as these waters are crucial for the trade and energy flows for China and other east Asian and Southeast Asian countries.

Under the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), the US has offered to co-develop and co-produce initially about ten defence items in collaboration with Indian partners, including Javelin anti-tank missiles. The Indian response has not been particularly enthusiastic, with the BJP government rejecting the Javelin programme for price escalation reasons and choosing an Israeli missile instead. The US is still hoping to make progress on the DTII, with the added advantage of dislodging Russia from its privileged position as India’s main defence supplier.

Some US and Indian specialists have also explained the decline of White House’s interest in India because of India’s reluctance to solidify a strategic partnership with the US and cling instead to strategic autonomy, which is seen as a renewed version of non-alignment. India has been accused of fence sitting, of being a free-loader on security provided by others, of not wanting to assume responsibility as a growing power for upholding the global system, which actually means India’s readiness to shore up the US built global order. At the official level, US leaders have expressed understanding of India’s desire to preserve its strategic autonomy and claim that they do not expect India to choose sides. The US seeks burden sharing in upholding the international system from which it feels others benefit without assuming responsibility. The dialogue on global commons is intended to steer India towards this burden-sharing concept. In the maritime domain, freedom of navigation and securing the sea lanes of communication are areas of particular interest in partnering India, given India’s dominating position in the Indian Ocean and the steady expansion of its naval power. The US attaches importance to the bilateral dialogue with India on global commons- air, space, sea and cyber- and emphasises partnership with India in defining the rules, with the intention no doubt to ensure that as India rises and seeks a change in the international rules so far defined by the West, it does so in close concert with the US. In cyberspace, cyber security has become a major international concern. India’s emergence as a major IT power and the vast expansion of its telecommunication network makes it a choice partner to develop new rules of the game with least contention.

The US at one time described India as a lynchpin of its pivot or rebalance towards Asia. Now it is avoiding embarrassing India by such a discourse. The underlying motivation behind the pivot and US interest in drawing India into this strategy is China, though this is not stated publicly in such open terms. India has been cautious about the US pivot towards Asia as its capacity and willingness to “contain” Chinese power is doubted because of the huge financial and commercial interdependence forged between the two countries. India seeks stable and economically productive relations with China and wants to avoid the risk of being used by the US to serve its China strategy that raises uncertainties in the mind of even the US allies in Asia. However, under the Modi government, India has become more affirmative in its statements about the situation in the western Pacific and the commonalities of interests between India and the US and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region. The government has decided to “Act East”, to strengthen strategic ties with Japan and Australia, as well as Vietnam, conduct more military exercises bilaterally with the US armed forces as well as naval exercises trilaterally with Japan. Modi has spoken publicly about greater India-US convergences in the Asia-Pacific region, to the point of the joint statement issued during his US visit being intrinsic to India’s Act East and Link West policies.

The last decade has seen a significant expansion of India-US economic ties, with trade in goods standing at $62 billion and the total exchanges, including investment, amounting to almost $100 billion, making the US India’s largest economic partner as a single country. Vice-President Biden, during his July visit to India spoke of $500 billion of bilateral trade if the right choices were made in removing trade barriers and inconsistencies in the tax regime. This has been echoed by Secretary Kerry when he participated in the Vibrant Gujarat summit. The US has welcomed relaxation in FDI norms in sectors like telecom, defence and insurance.

The political drift in India-US relations has been accompanied by the deterioration of the business atmosphere in economic ties, with sections of the US corporate sector, that in the past have worked hard to improve overall ties between the two countries, leading the campaign in the US Congress against India’s trade, investment and IPR policies, prompting a year long investigation into these policies by the US International Trade Commission. Alongside this, the US Trade Representative began an investigation of India’s IPR under Section 301 of the US Trade Act. Issues of Preferential Market Access in the telecom and solar sectors which are seen as protectionist, those regarding our patent laws, and retrospective application of our tax laws have mobilised some giant corporations to campaign against us. We, on the other hand, have problems with US restrictions on movement of personnel from India to the US in the IT sector, the increased costs of H1B and L1 visas that impose sizeable costs on this sector, the campaign in the US against outsourcing and our own concerns about US protectionism and market access for some of our products, as well as the unresolved issue of the totalisation agreement, on which the US response is not positive

It is in this larger background that Prime Minister Modi chose to accept President Obama’s invitation to visit Washington in September 2014, contrary to assumptions that because of the visa denial insult heaped on by the US for nine years, he might not accord priority to engaging the US so early. In his judgment, however, his personal pique was less important than the country’s interest; he was clearly interested in making a revived relationship with the US a crucial part of his development agenda.

The visit presented him with a difficult challenge as he went at a time when the mood towards India had soured because of the reasons outlined earlier: our nuclear liability act preventing US firms to get business in India, our reticence in forging stronger defence ties with US, including in defence manufacturing, commercial concerns of US companies in the pharmaceutical and solar power sectors because of our patent laws and local manufacturing requirements, the stand off at the WTO on the food subsidy issue. It was not immediately clear how much the visit would achieve; in the event, in terms of concrete outcomes, the result seemed to have been modest- more in the nature of establishing mechanisms to sort out problems rather than actual breakthroughs. No real closing of differences that divide us was announced, which was understandable as not much preparatory work was possible prior to the visit which was more to mend fences than achieve dramatic results. Moreover, many of the issues involved would require policy, legislative and administrative responses from our side and cannot be solved on the basis of purely political goodwill and diplomatic flexibility.

To recall, in the joint press briefing, Modi said that he believed that with the change in Indian policies and processes, the India-US relationship will grow rapidly in the coming years. This may well be true, but no time-frame was outlined for this and the change in policies and processes in India requires time, even with the best of intentions. The Americans, on the other hand, are by nature impatient. The joint statement stated that both sides will facilitate actions to increase trade five-fold, meaning almost reaching US-China levels, which is unachievable in any realistic time-frame. They pledged to establish an Indo-US Investment Initiative and an Infrastructure Collaboration Platform to develop and finance infrastructure. An agreement on the Investment Initiative has been signed in Washington this month, but bringing about capital reforms in India is not something that can be achieved in a hurry. It is also unlikely that the US will develop industrial corridors like Japan or competitively build highways, ports and airports and the like. India has offered U.S. industry lead partnership in developing three smart cities, but the details of the partnership have to be worked out. The two leaders committed to work through the Trade Policy Forum- which has not met for some years despite efforts on our part- to promote an “attractive” business environment- without specifying any metrics- and to establish an annual high-level Intellectual Property (IP) Working Group with appropriate decision-making and technical-level meetings as part of this Forum. This group has been holding meetings in advance of Obama’s visit. They reaffirmed their commitment to implement fully the U.S.-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement and establish a Contact Group to advance this. The Contact Group is also engaged in problem solving before the President’s visit, but the issue are legally complicated and a solution has to stand the test of public and legal scrutiny.

On IT related issues, Modi publicly pressed for Obama’s support “for continued openness and ease of access for Indian services companies in the US market”, without obtaining a reaction from the latter. On the food subsidy versus trade facilitation standoff in the WTO, Modi maintained his position firmly and the subsequent compromise with the US has secured the Indian position. He welcomed “the US defence companies to participate in developing the Indian defence industry”, without singling out any of the several co-development and co-production projects offered by the US as part of the TDDI. The reference in the joint statement to India and the US intending to expand defence cooperation to bolster national, regional and global security was rather bold and ambitious. If such cooperation bolstering national security makes immediate sense, the reference to regional security does not, given that the US continues to give military aid to Pakistan. After announcing $ 1 billion of military aid to Pakistan at the end of December 2014, a further package of of $532 million was announced. It was subsequently denied by the US that this aid was on the basis of certification that Pakistan was acting against terrorist groups on its soil. Actually, US has been giving national security waivers to Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar legislation that makes aid to Pakistan contingent on verifiable actions by it to suppress terrorism. As regards India-US defence cooperation bolstering global security, it could be understood in the context of securing the sea lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean area, but beyond that it is not clear what the intention is, and it can lend itself to considerable geopolitical speculation. It was decided to renew for 10 years more the 2005 Framework for US-India Defence Relations, with defence teams of the two countries directed to “develop plans” for more ambitious programmes, including enhanced technology partnerships for India’s Navy, including assessing possible areas of technology cooperation.

On geopolitical issues, India showed strategic boldness in the formulations agreed in the joint statement. Modi’s reference to the great convergence on “peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region” was significant in terms of China’s assertiveness there. That he said that the US was intrinsic to our Look East and Link West policies suggests that India now views the US as being almost central to its foreign policy initiatives in both directions, which is a rather bold formulation geo-politically speaking. The joint statement spoke of a commitment to work more closely with other Asia Pacific countries, including through joint exercises, pointing implicitly to Japan and Australia, and even Vietnam. In this context, the decision to explore holding the trilateral India-US-Japan dialogue at Foreign Minister’s level was significant.

On the issue of terrorism and religious extremism, India and the US have rhetorical convergence -which is easy- and some specific cooperation on counter-terrorism issues which is found useful, but, on the whole, our concerns are not adequately met in view of the fact that US regional interests are not fully aligned with India’s. Modi did not support the US position on the ISIL in West Asia, though some in India advocated this. In fact, he called for the fight against the ISIL to be more inclusive, suggesting the inclusion of Iran and Syria in it. The joint statement called for the dismantling of safe havens for terrorist and criminal networks, to disrupt all financial and tactical support for networks such as Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-company and the Haqqanis, leaving the Taliban out, an omission that is striking because of its implications. In any case, such statements against Pakistan-based terrorist groups have been made before but are treated as pro-forma by Pakistan in the absence of any real US pressure on Pakistan to curb Hafiz Saeed who, in fact, is being given even more political space by Pakistan to continue his extremist tirades. Even Lakhvi is being treated by Pakistan with calculated ambivalence, despite India-US joint calls for bringing those responsible for the Mumbai massacre to justice.

During his Washington visit, Modi apparently invited Obama to be the chief guest at our Republic Day on January 26, 2015- a bold and imaginative move characteristic of the Prime Minister’s style of functioning. That this unprecedented invitation was made in the first was surprising, and it was equally surprising that it was accepted at such short notice by Obama. It had become conventional wisdom over the years that such a gesture could not be made to the US President because of the history of our relations and many points of divergence in thinking and policies that still exist. It is evident that Modi and Obama struck a good personal equation. The earlier alienation has been supplanted by empathy. Obama made the unprecedented gesture of accompanying Modi to the King Memorial. This certainly helped to invest Modi with political prestige as India’s man of destiny, a “man of action” in Obama’s words. These developments have widened India’s foreign policy space with both friends and adversaries.

The ice has been broken with the US but the difficulties in forging a balanced relationship with the US remain. The US Congress has, for instance, decided to continue the investigations of India’s investment and trade policies for another year, although the US Trade Representative (USTR) halted further action under Section 301 of the US Trade Act against India’s IPR policies before his visit to India in November 2014 to hold the long delayed meeting of the Trade Policy Group. This was prompted by some steps we intend to take, but the USTR will make a final call depending on their implementation. The US maintains its opposition to local manufacturing requirements and the USTR has cautioned against extending them to the defence manufacturing sector.

With the Indian government moving forward decisively on the GST, raising the FDI ceilings in the insurance sector and amending the Land Acquisition Act, besides other steps to decontrol diesel prices, those of urea, reduce subsidies in general, disinvest in PSUs and reduce interest rates, the signalling to the US is positive.
At Washington, we agreed that we had an enhanced strategic partnership on climate change issues and we committed ourselves to working with the US to make the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris in December this year a success. This gives a handle to the US to ratchet up pressure to obtain some emission reduction commitments from India, buoyed diplomatically by the US-China agreement. Vice-President Biden had, during his July 2013 visit to India, focused heavily on green technologies and the stupendous international market for them, signalling US ambitions to sell such technologies to India.

With the latest accommodative signals from Washington and the new Afghan President on Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan, we will face problems as the US completes the process of troop withdrawals by 2016. We will continue to have differences over US policies in West Asia. US policies towards Iran have affected our energy security scenario by preventing investment by our companies in the Iranian hydrocarbon fields. We had a paragraph on Iran in the joint statement in Washington, clearly at US insistence, which the Iranians would have noted with some displeasure. While the US supports India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council, the support remains on paper as the US is not politically ready to promote the expansion of the Council. On the issue of reforms of the global institutions too, we will continue to face US recalcitrance, although these issues do not concern India alone and affect the interests of some other major countries too.

Apart from the ceremonial part which has a political significance of its own, the US will expect the Obama visit to yield some visible results. This would be necessary to justify his second visit to India as President. Our side will also need to justify the invitation to Obama by demonstrating some significant results, failing which the usual criticisms on both sides will surface. On our side, there will be talk of a crucial opportunity missed, and on the US side, lack of clarity in India about how far it wants to go with the US strategically and be a real partner. It is certain that the Defence Cooperation Framework Agreement will be extended for another 10 years, with more ambitious content, including more military exercises. The US hopes for at least one joint defence manufacturing project to be announced during the visit as a start. From Defence Minister Parrikar’s public remarks, it seems something may be announced in this area, It will be interesting to see if anything is announced on naval technologies following the joint statement issued during Modi’s Washington visit. To the Americans, the Indian side now seems more open to discussing the three stalled foundational agreements, though any agreement is unlikely for the time being. Discussions on a Bilateral Investment Treaty are likely to continue for some time. Obama will not be able to give satisfaction on either the UNSC permanent membership or that of the export control organisations or reform of global institutions during his visit. On the nuclear issue, the contours of some understanding are emerging, but whether an agreement can be concluded in time remains uncertain.

While Prime Minister Modi is manifestly keen to forge stronger ties with the US, he will be mindful of maintaining a balance in our external relations. He has already reached out to China and expects to visit that country this year to maintain the momentum of improving ties and economic cooperation with it. He sent strong signals to President Putin during the latter’s visit to India in December about the value he attaches to India-Russia relations, about which the Russians are reportedly very pleased. Any thinking in some circles in India that Modi has chosen to strategically lean towards the US at the cost of our other relationships would be misreading his intentions. Modi is strengthening India’s strategic autonomy by forging stronger understandings with all our major partners by giving them stakes in India’s economic development. Modi is not thinking of taking sides but working with all sides pragmatically.

At the end of the day, India and the US have to find common ground to protect their respective interests, which is happening and should be pursued further.

Published Date: 24th January 2015, 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)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Banning the Strategic Assets: What Pakistan’s Action against the Haqqanis and Jamaat Ud Dawa Means

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

The media is alive with reports of a potential ban on the Haqqani network and the Jamatud Dawaby the Pakistan authorities and last reports say that it has been put into effect. Similar bans on JuD, a clone of the Markaazul-Dawa-e-Ershad, the LeT’s political headquarters, were placed in 2005 and 2008 with little seriousness. The US subsequently placed a 10 million US$ bounty on Hafiz Sayeed’s head even as he cocked a snook at it. So we have a history of non-serious intent and tactical measures by Pakistan to ensure that the strategic assets it created to garner space in Afghanistan and a position of advantage in Kashmir remained uncompromised.

This ban apparently is more serious or so would even the Pakistan media have us believe. Yet, it needs deeper examination to establish Pakistan’s true position. Some factors impinging on the decision need reiteration. Firstly, Pakistan fears the rise of Modi’s India as never before and the latter’s differential with Pakistan is likely to widen in terms of strategic significance, economy and position in the international community. India is refusing to talk unless Pakistan demonstrates more positively its intent of halting cross border terror. Pakistan continues to be perceived as the core center of Radical Islamic ideology nurtured by various groups. Secondly, the Peshawar attack has brought the government and the security establishment under pressure from civil society which appears to be finding a voice after long. The Army itself felt the social pressure because the Peshawar school belonged to it and the casualties were mostly army children. Thirdly, the US leadership has to certify positive actions by the Pakistan Government in order to obtain relevant funding for programs in Pakistan which supposedly assist in its war on terror. Fourthly, the spectre of a potential entry of the Islamic State into the quagmire is a daunting threat. Lastly, the internal security situation which was perceived as manageable, even with the strategic intent being played towards Afghanistan and Kashmir, suddenly seems lesser in control. Peshawar is the symbol of the Tehreek e Taliban – Pakistan’s (TTP) continuing strength and capability.

In its decision conflict in differentiating between good and bad terrorists or target all terrorists, Pakistan possibly does not feel confident any longer in continuing to nurture the Punjab based jihadi groups. Nor does it feel comfortable with the Haqqanis because a better relationship with President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan seems to be emerging. This is the overall view that the Pakistan media and strategic analysts will have us believe. What is the credibility of such a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s strategic posturing is for us to further establish? The start point is the historical evidence of Pakistan’s capability to weather strategic storms around and within it. During as tectonic a shift as the post 9/11 US policy towards jihadis, Pakistan managed to nurture both the Haqqanis and the various Punjab based groups. Its experience of success against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the Eighties continues to dictate its strategic thinking and confidence. It is also a historical fact that nations do not change their basic strategy based upon single events such as Peshawar despite the huge emotional upsurge these create. That too can be weathered. Continuing opportunities which have been created in the strategic neighborhood are also not lost sight of. Twenty five years of proxy war fought in Jammu & Kashmir and many earlier years which were spent in shaping this environment cannot be switched off in future strategic planning on the basis of emerging internal threats. The US influence over Pakistan policy is bound by financial support but political support is largely that of China, Pakistan’s all weather friend. It may be worried about threats in its restive Xinjiang region but this is not as serious or significant as the opportunities coming its way in Afghanistan; nor as strategically important as the need for containment of an increasingly confident India under its new Prime Minister. So, if Pakistan has China’s backing and there are enough compulsions on the part of the US to turn a blind eye to what Pakistan does on its Eastern borders, there is sufficient reason for it to project a change of heart and strategy while continuing business as usual. It could well go soft on the Haqqanis to cosy up to Ashraf Ghani and the US while appeasing China by ensuring that its control over the JuD remains cosmetic thus allowing the JuD to continue acting as its strategic asset.

Does the decision lie solely in the hands of the security establishment? On being consulted, Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab Chief Minister would not have wanted anything to do with buying enmity with the JuD; it is actually his strength. Besides, with the TTP’s threatening spread into Punjab, he will not wish to see another threat from the direction of JuD. What happens to the long campaign of proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir? It cannot be sustained without the JuD’s pro-active support which forms the sabre elements.

Can the civil society put sufficient pressure on the security establishment to ensure a genuine turnaround in policy? Pakistan’s civil society has had its moments of glory but for many years has been subjugated to the status of non-entity in the face of threats against scribes and moderates of every other hue. We found many emotional utterances in the wake of the horrific Peshawar killings. But when violent exchanges take place on the LoC, civil society hardly takes note or calls for an end to these exchanges, instead blaming India for the initiation. It can be thus surmised that the Pakistani civil society has yet far to go before its voice carries the strength to affect a major policy change in matters related to security.

It may be incorrect to doubt Pakistan’s intent and actions but rationality has never been one of its strengths. It could well realize the worth of taking the initiative to stabilize its internal turbulence. Unfortunately, the perceptions that the Pakistan security establishment has managed to create about itself in the eyes of the world forces any rationalist to look for more time and more careful observation before declaring Pakistan’s latest policy decisions as sincere and without malafide intent. India will definitely not be hesitant to resume engagement once the right intent has been well established.

Published Date: 24th January 2015, 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)

Pakistan’s Jihadist Ban: Boondoggle or a Seismic Shift?

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

For many days now, there have been reports in the Pakistan media – all clearly emanating from the same source but spaced out cleverly to time them with the visit of US President Barack Obama to India – about an imminent ban on two of the most dangerous jihadist terror organisations based in Pakistan: Haqqani Network (HN) and the Jamaat ud Dawa/Lashkar-e-Taiba (JuD/LeT). But to use Arun Shourie’s evocative phrase: while the clatter of plates is loud and clear, there is no sign of food anywhere. Officially, there is only an ambiguously worded, and one daresay misleading, statement of the Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson who talks of a UN dictated freezing of JuD/LeT accounts and a travel ban on Hafiz Muhammad Saeed which was imposed in 2008! Other than this, there is nothing on ground to suggest that the HN or JuD are facing proscription.

If anything, statements and actions of top officials and the reality on ground suggest that either there is no impending action against these two groups, or else even if some kind of a ban is imposed, it will be only cosmetic. As far as the JuD (or its previous avatar, LeT) is concerned, it has been banned twice in the past, first after the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001 and then after the 26/11 terrorist attack in 2008. But despite the so-called ban, the organisation has grown in strength, resources and influence and has become a virtual state within a state. In the case of the HN, since it is a more amorphous organisation, what is the Pakistani state going to ban?

A member of the federal cabinet has already made it clear that the JuD is a charitable organisation and there is no question of banning it. There are also reports that the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has assured the JuD that no action is being contemplated but has asked the organisation to keep a low profile. This advice is however being observed more in its violation, what with the JuD taking out mass rallies to protest against alleged blasphemy by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Officials in the Interior Ministry have also claimed that the JuD is only on a watch list and is not on a ban list. In spite of all this, the Indian media has swallowed the Pakistani disinformation bait.

As things stand, there is no ban on either HN or JuD. If there is no official ban in the next few days, then it will be clear that this disinformation was spread with an eye on the Obama visit. The purpose was two-fold: one, blunt the edges of any Indo-US conversation on or cooperation against Pakistani sponsorship of terror groups like HN and JuD; two, deflect US pressure on to India for reopening a dialogue with Pakistan and make the US lean on India to lower its aggressive response to ceasefire violations by Pakistan on the International Border and Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

But if Pakistan does indeed impose a ban then it can mean one of two things: first, it is purely cosmetic like in the past; alternatively, there is an outside chance that this time Pakistan will move seriously to disrupt, dismantle, degrade and destroy the jihadist infrastructure of groups like HN and JuD. India must however resist jumping the gun either to outright dismiss any ban on JuD as an eyewash, or to accept such a ban on face value and proceed on the assumption that Pakistan is sincere in acting against the jihadist terror groups. In other words, if Pakistan imposes a ban on JuD and HN, India may welcome such a step but should then wait and watch how this ban translates on ground before it responds in a positive manner to such a move by Pakistan.

Clearly, if after a ban, there is no action on ground, there will be a sense of déjà vu, and nothing will change either within Pakistan or between India and Pakistan. On the other hand, if the ban is followed by a solid action on ground – to be judged by specific metrics which include trials of JuD leaders and cadres by the newly constituted military courts, destroying the infrastructure and dismantling the organisation, seizing their funds and assets, not allowing them to re-emerge in a new avatar – then it will signal a seismic shift in the Pakistani strategic policy framework. The odds, however, are that in the event of a ban, it will play out as in the past: the JuD will re-appear with a new name, its accounts would have already been emptied and transferred to the new entity as will its infrastructure and cadre. The reason for this is simple. The JuD has grown into a huge organisation with its tentacles spread all over Pakistan and in every state institution. According to a recent book by Pakistani scholar Arif Jamal, the JuD/LeT has over the years trained around 500,000 jihadists. Even if we deflate this number by a factor of 10 or 100, that makes for anything between 5000 and 50000 committed, armed and trained jihadists. For Pakistan to take on this number with any degree of seriousness is practically a mission impossible.

Adding to the complexity of the task is the fact that until now much of the focus of the Pakistani security agencies has been the area west of Indus i.e. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and FATA. This region is, in a sense, the periphery. The JuD however has its base in the hinterland i.e. Punjab and Sindh and taking it on means dealing with a massive spike in terrorism in the heartland, which is hardly something to look forward to for a Pakistani policymaker. But the scale of the problem is precisely why Pakistan cannot afford to delay dealing with it any longer. The normal modus operandi of the ISI was to not allow any terror outfit to grow beyond a certain point. Once the threshold was reached, the organisation was either split or eliminated. The JuD has been an exception in this regard. The problem is that if Pakistan doesn’t act against it now, this organisation will continue to grow and could soon acquire proportions that might be beyond the capacity of an already feeble Pakistani state to handle. Time is therefore running out for Pakistan if it actually wants to take on the JuD.

In the unlikely event that Pakistan has decided to go all out against groups like the JuD, then it will not be because of either US pressure or anything that the Narendra Modi government has done but because it is in Pakistan's own interest. To the extent that there is some US pressure on Pakistan to act against the JuD, Pakistan will use it, not so much to take on the JuD (which it will do anyways in its own interest) as to demand a quid pro quo from the Americans for something they were going to do in any case. The limitations of US pressure on Pakistan to do something that Pakistan didn’t think was in its interest became very clear over the last decade and more. Since 9/11, the Americans have been ceaselessly pressuring Pakistan to move against the HN and other terror groups. Pakistan resisted all such pressure because it did not think that it was in its interest to move against the Taliban and their affiliates and associates. Despite the Americans losing over 2000 soldiers in Afghanistan, they weren’t able to make Pakistan stop its double-dealing and double games. Therefore, to expect that the Americans have now found some new lever to pressure Pakistan to change course and that too at a time when they are in the process of leaving Afghanistan is to misread the situation.

If Pakistan has indeed come to the conclusion that its interests are no longer served by the jihadists, then it creates a remarkable convergence of interests between India and Pakistan. In a limited way, this strategic convergence of interests opens a window of opportunity for the two countries to re-engage with each other and to use this to build trust and confidence between them. This will by no stretch of imagination lead to complete normalisation of relations but it will address what is a necessary condition – ending the export and use of terrorism by Pakistan – for embarking on a process for normalisation of relations. If India sees Pakistan actually move to demolish the infrastructure of jihad, then for its part, India will need to undertake measures that create a space, even an incentive, for Pakistan to not step back in its ‘jihad’ against the jihadists. But before any of this happens, Pakistan will need to fulfil its side of the bargain.

Published Date: 24th January 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)