Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Modi’s Canada Visit

Dr Harinder Sekhon, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Canada has been significant in in many ways. The first stand-alone visit by an Indian Prime Minister in over forty-two years seems to have rejuvenated a long neglected relationship. The visit generated business worth CAD $1.6 billion and saw the signing of sixteen commercial agreements between various Indian and Canadian Companies. While India and Canada have a longstanding bilateral relationship based on shared democratic values, pluralistic societies and strong people-to-people contacts, this is a partnership that has so far not realized its full capacity. It is in the interest of both nations to build upon the positive sentiments generated through this visit and maintain the momentum. Complementing 'Act East', this visit to Canada is an opportunity to push India’s 'Link West' agenda.

Economic Relations

India and Canada are industrialized democracies with considerable economic complementarities and as vibrant democracies, share politically convergent views as well. At present the bilateral trade between India and Canada, does not reflect the true potential of the commercial relationship. The two-way bilateral trade in 2013 was US$ 5.7 billion, and the two sides have reiterated their shared desire to see the bilateral trade reach $15 billion by 2015. In the Joint Statement issued on April 15, the two Prime Ministers recognized “that bilateral business and commercial linkages constitute the key drivers of the wide ranging India-Canada friendship.” The Canadian side appreciated steps taken by the current Indian Government to energize the Indian economy and policy initiatives to improve the ease of doing business in India. Specific Indian initiatives like ‘Make in India,’ ‘Affordable Housing for all by 2022,’ and ‘Smart Cities,’ are bound to offer significant commercial opportunities for collaboration between Canadian and Indian business houses and industries. The two Prime Ministers concurred to work towards the early finalization of the mutually beneficial Bilateral Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement and the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement as necessary steps to expand bilateral trade between India and Canada.

Energy Cooperation

For an energy hungry India, energy security naturally ranks high in its list of priorities. Canada has surplus energy resources that India could tap. The Joint Statement noted the “significant opportunities available to expand bilateral trade and investment in energy and resources as well as related technologies and services.” Current trends in supplies and price of oil and gas make Canada an economically attractive option for meeting Indian requirements. This is a subject of growing importance in Indo-Canadian dialogue and figures increasingly in the engagement between the private sector companies of the two countries. In a Memorandum of Understanding signed between two countries in 2012, both are committed to joint efforts to develop capacities to maximize the utilization of energy resources ranging from oil and gas to new hydrocarbon resources such as oil sand and shale gas. Indian Oil Corporation is expected to make its biggest investment in Canada to secure shale-gas and liquefied natural gas for India from British Columbia province. Inherent advantages while shipping gas from Canada include short transportation time to Asia via the Pacific, lower operating costs, vast Canadian gas reserves, stable and reliable jurisdiction and a strong regulatory regime.

Civil Nuclear Cooperation

Canada had played a key role in India’s nuclear evolution by supplying uranium to India’s first nuclear reactor CIRUS in 1954. Canada as an energy superpower cooperated in developing the pressurized heavy water reactor technology with New Delhi. But India’s nuclear test in 1974, using Canadian technology, strained relations between the two nations, with allegations that India had broken the terms of the Colombo Plan. Following the signing of the historic US-India Civil Nuclear Deal in 2008, Canada has started collaborating with India once again in the nuclear domain. Canada is the second largest uranium producer in the world, with 16 per cent of the world reserves being located there. India and Canada signed the nuclear cooperation agreement in 2010 and administrative arrangements in 2013.

Being amongst the top two Uranium exporting countries in the world, Canada's potential to be a partner in India's economic transformation and to meet Indian quest for clean energy is undisputable. Against the backdrop of Ottawa’s decades-long moratorium on uranium sale to New Delhi, the recent agreement on procurement of uranium from Canada for India’s civilian nuclear power plants heralds a new era of bilateral nuclear cooperation. In PM Modi’s words, ‘this will contribute to India's efforts to power its growth with clean energy.’ This makes Canada the third country to supply uranium to India after Russia and Kazakhstan. The supplies will be under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.

The agreement for uranium supply comes two years after protracted negotiations following the 2013 civil nuclear deal between India and Canada. In a landmark event on 15th April 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a deal worth $350-million with Canada’s largest uranium producer, Cameco Corp, which is set to supply 3,220 metric tonnes of uranium to power India’s reactors over the next five years. This agreement may pave the way for the Saskatchewan Company to further expand its collaboration with India and sell more in the years ahead as India expands its nuclear power generation.

India aims to increase its share of electricity generated by nuclear power to 25 per cent by 2050 from 4 per cent today. Hence for India, the supply of uranium is important and quoting Narendra Modi in this context, ‘For us, uranium is not just a mineral but an article of faith and an effort to save the world from climate change.’

Both the Prime Ministers have agreed to encourage a collaborative programme to leverage their industries’ respective strengths in the field of Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR) technology for mutual benefit and energy security. They have agreed to explore mutually beneficial partnerships in the application of radio-isotopes for societal benefits and have encouraged their respective atomic energy establishments and research institutions to establish mechanisms for long-term and mutually beneficial R&D collaboration in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission have finalised an arrangement for regulatory cooperation in the field of nuclear and radiation safety regulation.

Some Canadian critics of the deal suggest that providing India with uranium for its nuclear power plants will free up New Delhi to use its other resources of the radioactive ore for nuclear weaponry. But India has established its credentials as a responsible nuclear power and both countries should not deny themselves this business opportunity. India adheres to international rules and has a proven track record to show that Uranium will be used for peaceful means by it.

Maritime Dimension

In the backdrop of western rebalance and ever increasing homogenization of Asia and Pacific region, maritime cooperation becomes inevitable as the oceans are a vital link in Canada’s and India’s trade with the world. Ships carry about half of Canada’s trade and more than three quarters of that of India’s. Canada has the longest coastline in the world at 243,000 km - as against 7,500 km of Indian coastline - besides large navigable waterways and many ports of call in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Great Lakes and the Arctic. Canadian vision for providing safe, secure and environmentally responsible navigation for all vessels converges well with India’s ambition to emerge as a ‘Net Security Provider’ in the Indian Ocean Region. The geographical location and evolving geopolitical equations provides an opportunity for India and Canada to foster constructive dialogue and consultation on political and security issues of common interest and to make significant contributions to efforts toward confidence building and preventive diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region. Both the countries are members at ASEAN Regional Forum and CSCAP (Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific), which deals with security challenges in Asia Pacific.

With diminishing U.S. Command of the Commons especially cyber, cooperation in this area to bolster Pacific Rim security is the need of hour. Canada has the expertise and well-established mechanisms in cyber security and intelligence gathering. As India and Canada face similar global threats from religious extremism, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, according to the Joint Statement, both have decided to “further efforts to eliminate terrorist safe havens and infrastructure; dismantle terrorist networks, their support systems and financing; and stem the cross border movement of terrorists.”

Future Prospects

As India looks to extend its global foot print and move beyond the Indian Ocean to engage more actively in the Pacific region, both India and Canada can pool resources to build a stable security framework in the Asia-Pacific. Maritime security cooperation can therefore be an important driver of the India-Canada friendship. Canada also played an important role in getting a permanent observer status for India at the Arctic Council in 2013. With the Arctic gaining greater strategic prominence, collaboration between the two in that area is also poised to further increase. The Joint Statement has listed a host of initiatives for cooperation in the domains of science, technology, Innovation and Space. These are all important niche areas where the two nations share common interests. This, along with strong cultural and people to people ties, and the contribution of the Indian diaspora to both societies, creates a positive synergy in India-Canada relations.


Published Date: 29th April 2015, Image Source: http://www.pm.gc.ca

Monday, April 27, 2015

Chinese Chequers in Pakistan: Hyperbole, Hazards and some Heft for The Economy

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

Forty-six billion dollars. A figure like this not only makes for a great headline but also creates a hype which deflects from the fine print and details that lie behind this number. Not surprisingly, the focus of attention – in Pakistan, in India and in other parts of the world, including the US – is the big number and how it will be a ‘game-changer’, how it will change the destiny of Pakistan, how it will change the strategic balance in the region and so on and so forth. But start breaking down the number into its component parts, and the hyperbole surrounding China’s grand plans for Pakistan appear to be somewhat over the top. Equally important, the sort of alarm being sounded by some Indian analysts is also a trifle misplaced. While India must keep a hawk-eye on the China-Pakistan nexus, it surely doesn’t behove India to have a knee-jerk reaction to every Sino-Pak collaboration.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project is going to come up over the next 15 years. This means that the $46 billion is not going to be dumped in Pakistan in the next few months but will be spread over more than a decade. There are a few ‘early harvest’ projects – about $ 28 billion worth – that will come up in the next 3-5 years. Most of these are in the power sector (about $ 22 billion). The rest ($ 6 billion) are infrastructure projects which include building the Gwadar port and expanding the existing road networks. While the Karakorum Highway is to be extended and broadened, there is as yet no firm plan to either build a railway line through the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) or an oil and gas pipeline linking Gwadar to Kashgar in Xinjiang province of China. These projects may eventually come up but as of now they haven’t moved beyond the drawing board stage. The rest of the $ 17 billion will be spread over another ten years beyond 2020 and will once again include some power projects, roads networks and industrial townships and Special Economic Zones.

The plan to link up the restive provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan with the CPEC is going to happen in the second stage, if at all. There are also plans to extend the CPEC to Afghanistan. But this will depend in large part on how the political and security situation develops in that country. Come to think of it, a lot of the CPEC will also depend on how the security situation develops inside Pakistan, and if things don’t look up, a lot of the investment will simply not come.

To be sure, even if half of the investment and projects that are envisaged under the CPEC come up, it will provide a fillip to the anaemic Pakistan economy. Assets will be created, as will jobs. Business and economic activity will also get a kick-start. So far so good. But this will all come at a cost, which one daresay, may not have been calculated or factored in by the Pakistani side. Whether this is because of their desperation to get things moving any which way, or it is because of their exuberance, excitement and even their servility towards the Chinese, or it is because of the Pakistani inability to think things through before taking the plunge, is a matter of debate. Suffice to say, there are serious economic implications of these projects. It is of course entirely possible that ultimately the Chinese write off their investments in Pakistan as a gift to their ‘Iron Brother’ and instead of the economic dividends that will flow China’s way through its investments in the CPEC, China remains satisfied with the political and strategic dividends that it expects from the project. If this happens, then it would fit into a pattern set by Pakistan's benefactors before China.

For now, however, the Chinese are demanding and getting their pound of flesh.The rate of return on the power projects they are setting up is anything between 24-37 per cent. What is more, the Chinese projects will get their payment before any other power producer gets it. This is because the Chinese are extremely wary of the horrendous ‘circular debt’ crisis that has brought the Pakistan power sector to near financial collapse. Many of the projects that will be set up are coal based projects. These are being shut down in China because of the environmental havoc they have caused. For the Chinese, shifting these power plants to Pakistan is a win-win. They dump their obsolete and polluting technology on Pakistan and make top dollar in the process. Although the Pakistan electricity regulator has declared an upfront tariff for different kinds of power plants, what the final tariff will be remains unknown for now. The apprehension expressed by some Pakistani economic analysts is that the entry of the Chinese might end up worsening the financial crisis of the power sector instead of solving the energy crisis that has crippled industry and homes for many years now. There is also the whole issue of building supply chains for the coal-based power projects and the cost this will entail, not just in terms of infrastructure building but also in terms of imports and how this cost will be factored in the power prices.

What is also causing disquiet in some circles in Pakistan is the fact that the Chinese projects have not come in through any competitive bidding process but as part of what cynics call ‘sweet-heart’ deals. Despite the fact that many Chinese investors are public sector companies, they are not at all squeamish about buying and bribing their way into countries like Pakistan, which for political and strategic reasons find it difficult to say no to the Chinese.

Apart from the Chinese, the Turks and the Qataris have also been taking advantage to seal some sweet-heart deals with Pakistan. In many of these cases – Chinese locomotives, Turkish electricity ships and Qatari LNG and road projects – Pakistan has ended up either with junk or paying a very heavy price (Rs 42 a unit for buying electricity from the Turkish power ship before it was scrapped by the Pakistan Supreme Court). There are fears that something similar may happen with the power and infrastructure projects that will be set up under the aegis of CPEC.

Questions have also been raised over both the funding of the projects (investments and repayments) as well as the Chinese model of investment under which practically everything – labour, machinery, equipment, raw material and what have you – is brought from China and very little is sourced from the local market. This could well mean that there will be little economic spin-off of these projects and Pakistan could end up with white elephants for which its people will be made to pay through their noses for the rest of their and their children’s lives.

While the economics of the projects is quite iffy, the strategic assumptions and dimensions underpinning CPEC are also not as awe-inspiring as is being made out by both the detractors as well as backers of this project. Given the topography of the area through which corridor is going to pass, it is unlikely to become a replacement for the sea traffic going to and from China through the Straits of Malacca. This is so even if a railway line was to be built through the Karakorum range going into Xinjiang. While the Corridor will provide a closer sea access to Western China – Xinjiang and to an extent Tibet – it will be quite a stretch to imagine that it will also provide an alternative route to the Eastern Seaboard of China to access the Arabian sea and beyond. The Corridor also doesn’t need Afghanistan to access Central Asia or even Iran, the former can be accessed through links already established and the latter can be accessed through Pakistan. Afghanistan is important only to the extent that the Chinese can transport raw material out of that country, which is also contingent on whether Afghanistan indeed has the sort of mineral wealth that is often cited and on Afghanistan not descending into chaos and anarchy in the next few months and years. The Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa legs of the Corridor are also not going to come up because once the Sindh-Punjab route is settled, no one will sink money into building another route through these two restive provinces.

In the end, the Corridor is primarily about China getting a solid base in Gwadar and getting a land access to this port from its Western borderlands. All the other projects are just embellishmentsthat ostensibly sweeten the deal for the Pakistanis, partly through creation of assets and partly through under-the-table deals that will further enrich theruling classes of that country. A lot will of course depend on how the security and political situation develops inside Pakistan. But as long as the Chinese have a secured Gwadar, they will have got what they want out of this deal, especially since they will have tied Pakistan into a neo-colonial arrangement in which it will become a virtual colony and a captive market for Chinese goods. Although the Pakistanis are happy being the recipient of Chinese largesse – aptly summed by the acronym of the new China-Pakistan think-tank titled ‘RANDI’ or Research and Development International – because the Chinese have desisted from interfering in Pakistan's political affairs (unlike the overbearing Americans), this too could start changing with the rising Chinese involvement and investment in Pakistan.

Over the last few years, Pakistan has had to initiate major operations against their own jihadist proxies on Chinese demands – first in the Lal Masjid operation and later in Operation Zarb-e-Azb. This could become a precursor of things to come.

From the Chinese point of view, there are two additional factors that they need to take into account. The first is Pakistan's track record of double-dealing with their benefactors, something that the Americans and now the Saudis are finding out to their cost. The second is the civilizational disconnect between China and an increasingly Islamised Pakistan.

Although the Pakistanis have downplayed the heavy-handed crackdown by China against Muslims in Xinjiang, the jihadists in Pakistan as well as the international jihadists narrative has started portraying China as a Dar-ul-Harb, or land of war. This could in future become a major flashpoint between China and Pakistan and could become the trigger for the latter double-dealing the former. An additional factor is also that the Chinese people don’t have a very high opinion about their ‘Iron Brother’. The Pew Survey claims that only 30 per cent of the Chinese have a positive image of Pakistan, equal to the number who have a positive image of India!

As far as India is concerned, the most objectionable part of the CPEC is that it traverses through PoK. The increasing Chinese involvement and presence in that region is going to effect a material change in the status of this part of India which is under Pakistan's illegal occupation. Other than this, there isn’t much reason for India to be overly concerned. The CPEC is not about encircling India, at least that doesn’t appear to be the primary purpose at this point in time. Interestingly, even though the Pakistanis are crowing about CPEC, they are also trying to sell this project to the world by saying that it will bind together 3 billion people of the region. Given that there are 1.4 billion Chinese, .2 billion Pakistanis and throw in the Afghans, Iranians and Central Asians (about another 100-150 million), the figure of 3 billion has to include India. Ironically, while Pakistan implicitly includes India in the CPEC, it explicitly excludes India by denying transit rights and routes and refuses to enter into a normal trading arrangement under WTO rules.

Be that as it may, the CPEC is more about China’s expanding role and influence in the region that it considers its backyard and falling within its sphere of influence. It is also about finding new, practically captive markets for its industry which is already showing signs of slowdown. The way the Chinese see it, by going in for the CPEC, they will help in stabilising Pakistan and thereby limiting the regional destabilisation that a failing Pakistan will cause. At the same time, they will make some money in the process and also increase their strategic footprint. To the extent that China’s expanding footprint spooks, even riles, India, it will be an issue in Sino-Indo relations. But if India plays it well, it can turn this Chinese footprint into an advantage, much like it did with the US. It is another matter that the US hasn’t been very effective as a partner in altering Pakistan's rank bad behaviour. But if the Americans could do anything to Pakistan in their own cause, it is pointless to expect them to deliver anything in India’s cause against Pakistan. This may not be the trajectory if India can get China right. Thus, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi must protest the use of PoK territory for the CPEC, he must have a plan in place to win over China for a mutually beneficial economic and strategic partnership. That will give India another pressure point against Pakistan.


Published Date: 27th April 2015, Image Source: http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk

Friday, April 24, 2015

Walking Away or Ignoring Afghanistan is not an Option for India

Lt General R K Sawhney, PVSM, AVSM, Dean, Centre for Defence Studies, VIF
Sushant Sareen, Senior Fellow, VIF

The policy shift being attempted by Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani in which he sought to relegate India to the fourth circle of priority and appease Pakistan has had mixed reception in the Indian strategic community. It ranges from disappointment over side-lining of India to a resigned acceptance of an emerging situation in which India's space may get constricted. The result is both a sort of detachment over what happens in Afghanistan and hope of seeing China and Pakistan getting steadily bogged down in the Afghan quagmire.

At the policy level, uncertainty about how to handle the emerging situation in Afghanistan is visible. Some reports suggest that India has started to reduce its footprint in Afghanistan and slow down some of its projects. While it is entirely possible that India might be entering a phase of 'strategic pause', it can neither detach itself from Afghanistan nor be despondent over developments there. Between an aggressive 'forward policy' which India probably can't sustain on its own, and 'masterly inactivity' which it cannot afford because of its security and strategic implications, there is enough space available to India to keep itself relevant and in play in Afghanistan.

Given the fluid state of affairs in Afghanistan, a case can be made for a strategic review of India's Afghan policy. This must include a realistic assessment of what India can and cannot do and what it should and should not do. In other words, India must neither over-reach itself nor underplay itself. Even as India must remain conscious of its limitations-- economic, geographic and logistical--it should not lose sight of the advantages it enjoys that mitigate many of these limitations. Apart from clearly defining India's strategic objectives in Afghanistan and how these can be achieved, India also needs to work out contingencies and fallback positions in the event these objectives become unattainable.

In survey after survey, India has emerged as the most liked country in Afghanistan. The tremendous goodwill that India enjoys there is its biggest asset. Unlike countries like Pakistan that have only contributed to destruction of Afghanistan, or countries like the USA that has been involved in both rebuilding Afghanistan and using heavy handed methods to pacify the country, India has exercised only soft power. It is, therefore, seen as a benign and benevolent neighbour. But soft power has its limitations, especially in a country like Afghanistan that has had to contend with unremitting hostility from an implacable enemy--Islamist insurgents--supported by an inimical neighbour. What this means is that while India can help in stabilising Afghanistan, it has not been able to prevent Afghanistan's destabilisation.

Providing economic assistance, funding developmental projects, helping through military and administrative capacity building and security assistance in the form of intelligence cooperation and even providing some modest equipment to the Afghan security forces, was all necessary in the effort to help Afghanistan stabilise. But it wasn't sufficient because India's reluctance to exercise hard power was seen as a sign of weakness, not just by the Pakistanis, but to some extent even by the Afghans who saw India conceding to Pakistani concerns and sensitivities even when Pakistan had used all opportunities to damage India’s interests. If, therefore, the pre-eminent regional power was hesitant to play hard ball with Pakistan, then surely the Afghans needed to rethink their view of India as a solid counterbalance to the Pakistanis. This is precisely the kind of negative perception of India that needs to be removed, not just in Afghanistan, but also in the region and beyond. Such perception seriously reduces India's strategic space.

In Afghanistan, the overbearing nature of the Pakistani military establishment as well as its proclivity to overplay its hand works in favour of India. Regardless of which regime comes into power in Kabul, sooner or later it will seek to have a counterbalance to Pakistan, unless either the Afghans reconcile to living under Pakistani domination or else Pakistan changes its strategic thinking. Neither of this is likely to happen. For India therefore to ignore this natural advantage it has in the Afghanistan-Pakistan equation as a balancing factor would be a folly.

Much of India's strategic diffidence comes from its tendency to over-emphasise its limitations and underestimate its advantages. Partly to offset some of these limitations, India preferred to ride on American shoulders in Afghanistan. Although India thus benefitted from US presence in Afghanistan, it also paid the price of having to accept US pressure to limit its activity in Afghanistan to development areas so that the US could manage Pakistani paranoia about a strong Indian presence in Afghanistan. As long as the Americans were present in Afghanistan India could not altogether disregard some US demands and re-jig its policy accordingly.

But this is no longer a compulsion, now that the Americans are in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan. In the last couple of years there is a growing dis-connect between India and the US on the emerging situation in the AF-PAK region. Both want stability in the region but differ on how this can be achieved. The Americans seem to be tilting towards Pakistan as a stabilising factor, while India is convinced that Pakistan being the problem it cannot be part of the solution. The Indian government should therefore safe guard the country’s interests without being too concerned about US reaction. We need not take the lead from the Americans and pay too much attention to Pakistani views, especially as Pakistan has always totally disregarded Indian sensitivities and concerns. India, unlike the US, cannot wash its hands off this region. To the contrary, India will have to bear the consequences of American mistakes.

India's fundamental interest Afghanistan is not economic, whether in terms of benefiting from its market or mineral wealth (whose exploitation is beset with difficulties) or from its geographical location as the main trade and transit route to Central Asia (whose economic potential remains a question mark). Nor is it centred on encircling Pakistan. These are incidental to Indian interests. For India, a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is critical because instability and conflict in that country has a deleterious impact on India’s security. A Taliban type dispensation in Afghanistan will have a massive destabilising effect on rest of the region, and as such is not acceptable.

For India to protect its interests in Afghanistan, it can neither detach itself from the situation there nor become discouraged by any temporary setback. In Afghanistan there is never an endgame, and what is often called an endgame is usually the beginning of a new Great Game. This means India needs to not just maintain but expand its presence in Afghanistan as much as possible. At the very least, India's economic and developmental footprint must increase in Afghanistan, because unless there is more economic activity inside that country, ensuring security will remain a huge challenge. Therefore, India should do whatever it can to give a fillip to the Afghan economy. In this context, India should stop talking about its much quoted $ 2 billion assistance to Afghanistan, because as a two trillion dollar economy, India has the capacity to do more.

Pakistan will of course be the big stumbling block in terms of India’s enhanced involvement in the Afghan economy. By restricting Afghanistan's connectivity to its natural market in India, Pakistan is behaving true to form. Instead of harming India, it is harming Afghanistan as it is preventing it from becoming economically self-sustaining. Of course, where it suits Pakistan's interests- as in the case of the TAPI gas pipeline project- Pakistan’s reasons to block Afghan access to India and vice versa are set aside. Pakistan also believes that by restricting transit through its territory it will also deny India access to Central Asia. But as India can access Central Asia through Iran, Pakistan is effectively is cutting its own nose (it has the most to gain by becoming a bridge between Central Asia/ Afghanistan and India) to spite India's face. Despite all the impediments placed by Pakistan, India should still do what it can to meet Afghan’s expectations, not just in the realm of economics but also in terms of capacity building through training of civil and military personnel, and funding and building economic infrastructure. India should also continue to encourage and promote people-to-people ties between India and Afghanistan, especially in the fields of medicine and education.

At a time when the Modi government has a declared policy of reaching out to India's neighbours and tying them more closely to India's development process, to disengage ourselves from Afghanistan because of certain statements and actions of the new dispensation there, is against the strategic vision that India has developed for the region. No matter what the Afghans say in public- which is music to Pakistani ears- the fact remains that the Afghans don't trust or even like the Pakistanis, who, on their part, treat the Afghans with an element of disdain and misplaced superiority. Any tactical adjustment that the Afghans make with Pakistan should not cause an exaggerated reaction in India. We should display strategic patience and stay the course in Afghanistan. Lowering our presence in Afghanistan because of certain policy adjustments being made by the new Afghan government is not the way a regional power should behave. Not only will this mean leaving India's considerable number of friends in Afghanistan in the lurch, it would have serious negative implications for India's regional strategy because other regional countries will question India’s staying power in the face of a challenge to its interests.

This is precisely the advice that India's long-standing friends in Afghanistan give us. They ask India not to react to every small statement or policy shift by Afghanistan, stay the course and play the long game because given the convergence of interests of India and the Afghan people things will ultimately move in India's direction. Their message is that India is indispensable for Afghans and that India needs to understand this. Therefore, for India to detach itself from Afghanistan or reduce its footprint considerably – a form of masterly inactivity--would be leaving the field open to its and Afghanistan's adversaries. And while India cannot play the role that the Americans played in terms of propping up Afghanistan, there is much that India can do to support the Afghan state, which it should continue to do in the interest of the Afghans and of India itself.


Published Date: 24th April 2015, Image Source: http://www.thelondoneveningpost.com

NITI Aayog

Priyang Pandey

In an effort to restructure the growth vehicle of the nation, Sh. Narendra Modi has announced a paradigm shift from the erstwhile Planning Commission to a new institution named ‘NITI Aayog’ or the National institute of Transforming India. NITI Aayog, in a departure from the working methodology of the Planning Commission, will serve as a ‘Think Tank’ of the Government – as a directional and policy dynamo.

NITI Aayog will provide governments at the central and state levels with relevant strategic and technical advice across the spectrum of key elements of policy, including matters of national and international exchange on the economic front, rational distribution of best practices from within the country as well as from other nations, the infusion of new policy ideas and specific issue-based support.1

On January 1, 2015 the new Government ushered in not only the Gregorian New Year but also a new era in governance. After 65 years of the Planning Commission, Sh.Modi in a bold stroke announced the dismantling of the Yojana or Planning Aayog and setting up of the NITI Aayog, which would infuse new blood into the system till the grassroots. The PM had already given inkling in his maiden speech from the historic Red Fort on August 15, 2014 about his epochal decision.

Civilisationally, we have had a culture of grand strategic thinking which can be proved by the epics like the Chanakya’s Arthashastra. In fact, in Mahabharata as well Virata Parva, Bheeshma and Krishna symbolise the strategic thinker. Now, NITI Aayog is the Grand Strategic Think Tank of the government. According to the Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta, “You have the right to work only, but never to its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be your motive. Nor let your attachment be to inaction.” On the path of Karma and Jnana, NITI Aayog is to be the new charioteer to the Government’s chariot. The NITI Aayog will play the role of Shri Krishna, be the guiding force of the Government which is playing Arjuna or the Karmayogi in the battle against the evil of poverty and corruption and for the socio-economic growth and well-being of the people and the Nation.3

As laid out in the cabinet resolution on NITI Aayog, it has been established with an idea of ‘good governance’. The resolution clearly states: “Our legacy to future generations must be sustainable progress.” It goes on to spell: “Specific to the planning process, there is a need to separate as well as energize the distinct ‘processes of governance from the ‘strategy’ of governance.” This is important as despite decades of effort, policy solutions have always played second fiddle to increasing Plan allocations and expenditures without any “social benefit-cost analysis” or “Macro-economic models” to back the decisions.

Background to changing course

It’s not the first time that the Indian government has had to make a course correction. In 1991, the Indian economy was ailing with bankruptcy and evils of license-raj, resulting in a huge financial crisis. The then government framed the new policy and decided to open up the market to the world by implementing L.P.G (liberalisation, privatisation & globalisation). Coincidentally, it was also a result of the terms and conditions which was been put in front of the government by International Economic bodies in lieu of the heavy loans sanctioned by these organisations for bailing out the Indian economy.

Post LPG, we have reached at a stage where adherence to the global market is the basic necessity for the progress and sufficiency. To encash the global opportunities in a better way we need to frame policies in an efficient way to reach out the last downtrodden citizen of the country and make him a part of the development journey with a new vision and mission while ensuring upliftment of the people who are living a horrifying life of poverty lacking the basic amenities they are entitled for.4

Why the NITI Aayog

“From being preoccupied with survival, our aspirations have soared and today we seek elimination, rather than alleviation, of poverty, The role of the government as a “player” in the industrial and service sectors has to be reduced. Instead, government has to focus on enabling legislation, policy making and regulation,” says the mandate of the NITI Aayog. Globalisation is now one of the realities which can’t be neglected, where every nation and its economies are inter-connected and inter-dependent,

The international market which is a driving force of the economies worldwide is also playing a crucial role. We are no different, from crude oil to modern technology and sophisticated weapons, from gold and silver to diamond and other precious stones. India is also a big importer which makes us dependent on the global community on many fronts. Nearly 75% of the crude oil requirement is being catered by foreign countries which can’t be avoided or nullified.5,6

Far from being a revamped Planning Commission, the NITI Aayog has been conceived as a wholly new institution that will function as the government's friend, philosopher and guide with State governments as equal partners. The NITI Aayog, as its name suggests, is about adapting governing institutions, policies, strategies and processes in keeping with the changed, and changing, circumstances.
Unlike 1950 when the Planning Commission was set-up based on the presumption that the government should be in the driver’s seat for the economy, economic growth in India is now driven primarily by the private sector, the farmer, the pot makers, the tea vendors, the self-employed lower middle class, the small shop owner, and the multi-billionaire factory owner. The economy is driven by their decisions to invest, to borrow, and to hire.

Planning Commission and its formation

There has been a crying need to replace the Planning Commission for some time now. The Planning Commission was formed by a cabinet resolution on 15th of March, 1950 and was formulated as per the needs and ways of functioning of the then government.

Formulating the Five Year Plans was the primary task that was assigned to the Planning Commission. The FYP was inspired by communist ideology. The first FYP was implemented in the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin in 1920 and even now, many communist led nations like China are still following the pattern of FYP.7


India’s Planning Commission after its formation started working on the first FYP which was based on the Harold-Domar model with the total outlay of Rs.2378 crore and the target of the growth rate was set as 2.1%. After the end of the first FYP, the achieved growth rate was 3.6%, with the first few FYPs primarily focussing on agriculture, industrialisation, energy generation and infrastructure building.8

The second FYP based on Mahalanobis model focussed more on heavy industrialisation by the public sector, After a plan holiday of three years due to wars and famine and also due to BOP crisis at the end, which also led to food crisis in the country and to overcome the urgent scarcity, a new revolution was started in the field of agriculture named ‘Green Revolution’.

However, after the Third Five Year Plan (FYP), there has been a steady productivity decline till the ongoing twelfth Five Year Plan in terms of outcome, efficiency and efficacy.





Table 1- Five year plans: facts and figures9,10,11,12


Till now there have been twelve FYPs with the total outlay of Rs.9929475.47Cr However, despite funds being allocated, there is not much to show on the ground.

Planning Commission and its failures

The failures of the Planning Commission are many. The reasons are also differing. Here’s a look at some of them.

Against the Federal structure:

The Planning Commission has been gradually expanding its jurisdiction. As per the Constitution, the Finance Commission shall formulate the principles and policies for tax collection by the government of India as well as its distribution among the state and the centre. The Finance Commission is to be set up every five years to keep in mind the current economic and social scenario while calculating the ratio of centre-state share as well the distribution among the states depending on its population and area. However, the previous government decided to take out the flow of plan funds to states from such fiscal transfers. Gradually a large discretionary element crept in, particularly when central ministries started developing their own schemes, called Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS) even in subjects that constitutionally belonged to states.

This reduced the State governments to becoming supplicants with chief ministers having to approach the Planning Commission seeking funds that were legitimately theirs to begin with. In the process, the Planning Commission moved away from its key role in developing policies and sorting out inter-sectoral issues that span beyond a single ministry. It started concentrating on approving not just the overall five-year and annual plans of states, but also their individual schemes as CSS which was a clean attack on the federal structure of the nation.13

NITI Aayog however, will focus on building a knowledge base of strategies and policies while giving back the lost importance of a constitutional body, Finance Commission in terms of mandate of distributing funds to the states.

Against Inclusiveness:

To treat states of the Union as mere appendages of the Centre is a gross violation of the Federal structure. As the NITI Aayog says: “States should have a decisive say in determining the architecture of economic growth and development as per their own needs. The one-size-fits-all approach, often inherent in central planning, has the potential of creating needless tensions and undermining the harmony needed for national effort. Dr Ambedkar had said with foresight that it is “unreasonable to centralise powers where central control and uniformity is not clearly essential or is impracticable”.
The impracticality is apparent from the fact that Sh. Narendra Modi, serving as a Chief Minister of Gujarat, had raised his voice during the Dr. Manmohan Singh led UPA government against the structure and working style of the Planning Commission which led to discrepancies and enemity in fund allocation to the non-UPA ruled states which they were entitled to.

The fallout of not including states in planning process is apparent from the failure of the MNREGA and the PDS like schemes.

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA)

In a field research in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, on terms of not getting quoted, an Engineer from the local civic agency said that there are many flaws in MNREGA. As Planning Commission decided everything on its own without even taking the states advice into cognizance, the scheme wage rate per day was decided by the Centre, and the labour rate per day is different in every state and region, the places with rich soil have labour rates more than the backward or remote states. Places with great agriculture production have daily wage rate up to Rs.393 per day as mentioned in the state government’s schedule of rates policy on its website, which is much below the wage rate decided by the centre. The state agencies have been asked to employ MNREGA job card holders into the non-machinery works for rural connectivity.

A minimum employment of 100 days was guaranteed at the statutory minimum wage of Rs.120 (2.63$) per day in 2009 prices, after six years it has been increased seven times to Rs.174 per day and it differs from state to state but there is a huge rate disparity which is evident from the data of Schedule of Rates of respective states, unskilled workers in Haryana would get the highest daily wage of Rs. 214, up from Rs. 191/day but still its less than the actual market rate of labour per day.14
To compensate the difference in the schedule rates of state and daily wage rate of MNREGA, government offices are forced to employ one labour at the cost of two as per NREGA norms to fill the wage difference and to show the work done they use JCB machines which is against the policy of MNREGA.

Out of the total outlay of Rs. 272945.2 crore15 on MNREGA last year, the rural connectivity area shared the major potion of 36.7%16 where these labours were deployed to aid the civic agencies. If this doubling of the figure to adhere with the existing local wage rate is prevalent throughout then it’s an issue to be addressed promptly with consultation of the state government to fix the base wage rate according the regional rates and prevalent conditions.

Moreover, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has come under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court which said money was not reaching real beneficiaries and in many cases, going to wrong hands. “There is no uniform policy. The money is not reaching actual beneficiaries,” a bench comprising CJI K.G Balakrishnan and Justices Deepak Verma and B .S Chauhan said. The Bench, which expressed concern over the implementation of MGNREGA said several projects under the scheme are failing as the funds allocated for them either remain unutilised or in many cases money lands up in wrong hands. “There has been distribution of money. But in many cases, it is going to wrong persons and real beneficiaries do not receive the cash,” the Bench said. It added money under MGNREGA is not an ex-gratia payment as people in villages are assured that money is guaranteed in lieu of the work performed by them.17

The CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) performance audit report of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has also shown significant decline in per rural household employment generation in the last two years and increasing corruption.18

NITI Aayog is going to be a boon to solve such issues of corrupt practices which is depriving the needy in getting their entitled benefits. If the policies are formulated with the state stakeholders as members in the policy formation group then on one hand it will help in curbing corruption and malpractices while on the other hand it will also provide the states their right of having a say in the policy. This will eventually result into a ‘healthy democratic federalism’.

Public Distribution System (PDS)

Due to the centralised nature of decisions, successive PDS schemes have been failures. For instance, in many areas, where the population is majorly wheat eating, supplying nearly equal quantity of rice is redundant as it goes undistributed. This is then used by the local vendors to sell in their stores elsewhere. An example is West Bengal which is majorly a rice eating state where according to the PDS data portal,19 wheat which is supplied in the same quantity or more gets into the system of black markets and corruption.

CAG have pointed to the loopholes in public distribution system (PDS) on non- availability of grain to beneficiaries, poor oversight and possibilities of diversion into open market. 20 Under PDS, beneficiaries get rice, wheat, sugar, edible oil, tur dal and kerosene. Under Targeted PDS system 35kg of food grain is issued per month at subsidised rate to BPL families. Functioning of PDS had several deficiencies; Identification of BPL families was faulty due to enlisting ineligible families and leaving out those eligible. Non-lifting of food grains from FCI led to BPL beneficiaries being deprived of benefits, there was avoidable expenditure on purchase of rice from open market, said the CAG report on PDS.

This clearly undermines the intention of launching such centrally sponsored Schemes where the needs of the target group are not getting catered efficiently and honestly, due to lack of co-ordination between the Centre and the States.

Corruption

There were many other controversies related to Planning Commission earlier. In 2012, the Planning Commission was accused for spending some Rs. 35 lakh in renovating two office toilets, and then it was questioned for suggesting that people who spent Rs. 27 or more a day were not poor, which in a way ridiculed the poor. The commission had remained powerful over the decades because it had emerged as a sort of parallel cabinet with the Prime Minister at its head. The Commission's power in allocating central funds to states and sanctioning capital spending of the central government was deeply resented by states and various government departments.

The Shift

“The people of India have great expectations for progress and improvement in governance, through their participation. They require institutional reforms in governance and dynamic policy shifts that can seed and nurture large-scale change (paragraph 3, NITI Aayog Resolution).”

The abolition of the Yojana Aayog and its replacement by Niti Aayog by the new government will help change the emphasis from projects and programmes to policy and institutions, from expenditure inputs to real outcomes through better governance and from political disputation over incremental allocations to new challenges and opportunities in a global environment. The discussion of India in a global context also reminds one of Gandhiji’s sayings: “Let the windows of my mind be open to winds from across the world, but let me not be blown away by them.”

Benefits of a more Inclusive Structure

As the cabinet resolution on NITI Aayog says: “An important evolutionary change from the past will be replacing a centre-to-state one-way flow of policy by a genuine and continuing partnership with the states. We need to find our own strategy for growth. The new institution has to zero in on what will work in and for India. It will be a Bharatiya approach to development.” A case in point is the redressal of inequalities based on gender biases as well as economic disparities. We need to create an environment and support system that encourages women to play their rightful role in nation-building. With this thought in mind, a new scheme was launched by PM Modi on 22nd February, 2015 in Panipat district of Haryana state: ‘Beti Bachao- Beti Padhao’.20

The scheme is a perfect example of the vision and ideology on which NITI Aayog was formed. In Haryana, the sex ratio is the worst in comparison to the national average, where it stands at just 879 females per 1,000 males.21

The Beti Bachao-Beti Padhao scheme will be implemented through a national campaign and focussed multi-sectoral action in 100 selected districts, covering all states and UTs. The campaign is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The campaign will be aimed at ensuring stricter implementation of existing laws to prevent sex determination tests, ensuring proper education for girls, improving sex ratio and empowering women.

The reason which makes this scheme relevant is because of its future outcome and benefits in the states like Haryana and not in a state like Kerala where the sex ratio stands at 1084 22. Again, villages are the shield of our culture and civilisational values. They need to be fully integrated institutionally into the development process so that we draw on their vitality and energy. Broadly focusing upon the development in the villages which includes socio-cultural development and motivate the village community,“ Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana23 was launched by the PM on the birth anniversary of the great socialist leader Jayaprakash Narayan, on 11 October 2014.

Policy making must focus on providing necessary support to villages in terms of skill and knowledge upgrades and access to financial capital and relevant technology. An example would be the possibility of using infrastructure of Railway Stations across India and involvement of the ex-army men as trainers. According to Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the skill development minister (independent charge), there are 65,000 kms of railway network in the country with over 8,000 stations, out of which 2000 have busy transactions and rest 6,000 stations have good infrastructure, electricity as well as 4,300 km of optical fiber cable network. This is to be utilized for the Mission Skill India. The Indian Army in this case, would be a vital partner from where ex-servicemen who have had an average experience of 20 years in skilled service could be facilitated as Master trainers or Entrepreneurs. 24

In conclusion

Swami Vivekananda said “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.” Through its commitment to a cooperative federalism, promotion of citizen engagement, egalitarian access to opportunity, participative and adaptive governance and increasing use of technology, the NITI Aayog will seek to provide a critical directional and strategic input into the development process. This, along with being the incubator of ideas for development, will be the core mission of NITI Aayog.

India is an emerging market as it encompasses of a major chunk of the world’s working population, especially the middle class. The cabinet resolution on NITI says: “Our continuing challenge is to ensure that this economically vibrant group remains engaged and its potential is fully realised.” Recognition is also given to Non resident Indians. This is a crucial geo-economic and political dividend which can’t be ignored. Sh. Modi has realised this and announced lifetime visas and plans for voting rights during his recent visits to USA and Australia. An ordinance amending the citizenship act, 1955 has already been effected.25

What makes NITI Aayog unique and relevant to today’s India is not just the emphasis on developmental planning – versus merely project allocation but also the understanding that development has to be global. Geo-political economics is getting increasingly integrated - ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ a term propounded by our sages which literally means the whole mother Earth is our home – is turning into a reality with the increasing globalisation.

End-notes:
  1. http://pib.nic.in/newsite/pmreleases.aspx?mincode=3
  2. http://www.krishnauniverse.com/Gita-Shlokas/chapter-2.html
  3. http://www.thegita.org/Downloads/News_06_51.pdf
  4. www.academia.edu/LPG_and_Its_Impact_On_the_Indian_Economy
  5. http://www.pib.nic.in/newsite/erelease.aspx?relid=86628
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_policy_of_India#Oil_and_Gas
  7. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/niti-aayog-the-new-name-of-planning....
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five-Year_Plans_of_India
  9. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/41243222?sid=21105161242321&uid=37...
  10. http://www.cbgaindia.org/files/primers_manuals/11th%20Five%20Year%20Plan...
  11. http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/12th-five-year-plan-spend-highest-...
  12. http://planningcommission.gov.in/data/central/stat/statistics1.pdf
  13. http://strategicstudyindia.blogspot.in/2015/01/niti-aayog-key-step-to-tr...
  14. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/mnrega-wage-rate-hiked
  15. http://mnregaweb4.nic.in/netnrega/all_lvl_details_dashboard_new.aspx
  16. http://164.100.129.6/Netnrega/nrega-reportdashboard/index.html#/
  17. https://www.facebook.com/notes/national-rural-employment-guarantee-act/m...
  18. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/CAG-audit-report-points-to-irre...
  19. http://pdsportal.nic.in/Files/AllocationPolicy-WB.pdf
  20. http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/01/22/beti-bachao-beti-padhao_n_652848...
  21. http://www.census2011.co.in/states.php
  22. http://www.census2011.co.in/states.php
  23. http://saanjhi.gov.in/aboutus.aspx
  24. http://www.skilldevelopment.gov.in/sites/default/files/resources/Hon.Minister's%20PBD%20speech.pdf
  25. http://ibnlive.in.com/news/ordinance-to-amend-citizenship-act-promulgate...
  26. http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=114276

(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, April 22, 2015

Xi Visit Unites Disparate, Feuding Freedom Activists

Ahmar Mustikhan
It was all gung-ho in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi as President Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan – the first-ever visit of a Chinese President in almost a decade--to sign projects worth almost $50 billion to get the much-trumpeted China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) rolling. The CPEC project largely hinges on connecting Kashgar with Gwadar, the port projected as a strategically important outpost located at the northern tip of the Straits of Hormuz.

Apart from the outcomes announced by both sides, President Xi’s visit helped forge a semblance of unity among the quarrelsome Baloch militant supporters after a long time. The Baloch freedom activists started focussing on various dimensions of President Xi’s visit, including the funny name of a CPEC linked think-tank launched by ISI’ blue-eyed boy Mushahid Hussain Sayed called. The think-tank named “RANDI, (a term used in the Indian sub-continent for women engaged in the world’s oldest profession).

Hitherto, supporters of various Baloch militant groups had been engaged in a frivolous war of words over “muddee” or arms that the Soviet Red Army had reportedly given to Marri tribesmen at the time of their departure from Afghanistan, according to Marri sources. Some fatalities were also reported in the “muddee war” between two militant groups. The unending bickering was creating a sense of despondency in the liberation camp since the death of icon of the Baloch resistance, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, in June last year. It was evident that the Baloch liberation movement was yet to attain organizational finesse and ideological and political maturity. Even a balance between militant actions and popular protests was missing. Moreover, feudal egos have been a detrimental factor for the movement, leading to sentimental, rigid and apolitical approaches.

On 11 April, almost 10 days before President Xi’s visit began, the Baloch Liberation Front had killed 20 workers of the Army-run Frontier Works Organization in Gogdhan, 15 miles outside Turbat. Moderate nationalists like former chief minister Sardar Akhtar Mengel did not appreciate the action. Mengel tweeted, “The result of innocent blood will lead to no destination and will only make chains of slavery and suppression stronger.” However, Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) chief Dr Allah Nazar described those killed as combatants working on an army-controlled project. His close ally Kachkol Ali, a former fisheries minister and leader of the opposition in Balochistan Assembly, chimed in and called the 20 FWO workers “mercenaries.” In an editorial, Dawn newspaper confirmed that FWO project at Gogdhan, is part of the strategic CPEC project.

Now, amid the fanfare in Islamabad over Xi visit, it is clear there will be no middle ground between Islamabad and the nationalists on the future of Gwadar. Whilst Baloch nationalists claim that they are rightful owners of the Gwadar port, Pakistan insists the port is part of the federal domain since Balochistan is the province of Pakistan and ports are a federal subject in the legislative list of the 1973 Constitution. The Baloch however, challenge Islamabad’s contention on the grounds that their homeland was occupied by military invasion and aggression by Pakistan Army on March 27, 1948, and their status is different from the three other provinces.

Baloch politicos like Kachkol Ali, who is a leader of the Baloch National Movement (BNM) insist Baloch people were not a signatory to the 1973 Pakistan Constitution. “At the time when the constitution was tabled for discussion, debate and approval, Nawab Khair Bux Marri and Dr. Abdul Hayee Baloch, who represented Balochistan in the National Assembly, did not sign the document,” said Kachkol Ali, who now lives in exile in Oslo, Norway. “The precise reason was that they disputed the constitution of Pakistan on the grounds that Balochistan was defined as a unit of Pakistan.” Incidentally, Kachkol Ali’s son Nabeel Ahmad, 22, disappeared on August 30 last year, allegedly kidnapped and killed at the ISI’s behest. Nabeel’s disappearance has failed to break Ali’s will though. The paramilitary Frontier Corps also illegally occupied his two houses in Turbat two years ago.

But coming back to the CPEC, Baloch Warna, which is run under supervision of Hyrbyair Marri, operational chief of the Baloch Liberation Army and former Balochistan communications and works minister, had predicted in February that an unprecedented increase in military operation in the region is likely because of the CPEC. The BLA-run website said since the area will be made a “free trade zone,” hundreds of thousands of foreigners will flood into Gwadar and surrounding areas, turning the Baloch people into a minority in their own homeland.

“Nonetheless the biggest hurdle in the way of Pakistan and its partner in crime, China, is the Baloch armed resistance,” Baloch Warna has said in an article. The write up said Pakistan and China have finalized an agreement under which Pakistan will provide 2,281 acres of land to China on a 40-year lease to build a “free trade zone.” Analysts argue that China will not only use Gwadar for its economic interests but it will also build a naval base as part of a “string of pearls” on the rim of the Indian Ocean to gain dominance over India and the US. As much as 654 acres have already been approved for a Chinese naval base, Baloch Warna said.

Assorted Baloch militant groups have attacked Chinese interests in Balochistan during the last decade since the first BLF attack left three Chinese engineers dead in Gwadar in 2004.Kachkol Ali recalls an incident many years ago after the killing of Chinese engineers. “I remember a Chinese official came and visited me in my office in 2004. At the time, I was leader of the opposition. He discussed with me the issue on the lines that the Chinese authorities had an agreement with Islamabad and the port is a federal subject and so on and so forth.But I categorically challenged his argument that without Baloch consent, the Balochis would not allow the port and its affiliated networks construction (roads and railway tracks).”

Kachkol Ali said the Baloch liberation movement operates within the framework of the UN`s 1960 Declaration on Granting Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which states that all peoples have the right to self-determination, but that this necessarily includes the right freely to determine their political status and freely to pursue their economic, social and cultural development. He says the crux of matter is that neither Pakistan nor China is sincere on upholding the UN laws. He recalls that the Chinese run Saindak gold-cum-copper project was “an eye-opener” as Balochistan was allocated just two per cent profit, but in reality Pakistan did not provide even that small share to the Balochis. China took 75 per cent and Pakistan pocketed more than 23 percent of the money.

The BNM leader, whose organization has some differences in tactics and strategy with the BLA, nonetheless echoed the same sentiment over the issue of ethnic flooding. “Actually, Pakistan means Punjab. The population of Punjab is a big problem for them and the establishment has nefarious long-term designs to somehow marginalize the Baloch population and to shift a huge population from the Punjab to Balochistan,” Kachkol Ali said. “It is their plan to change the demography of Baloch and to some extent they have succeeded in achieving this with the influx of a large number of Afghan refugees in Balochistan.”

Kachkol Ali said discovery of mass graves in Khuzdar,Panjgur and Turbat; kill and dump policy, destruction of houses without justification and killing of the innocent Baloch people as combatants substantiates that Pakistan is committing war crimes and genocide of Baloch people.

Former Balochistan Senator Sanullah Baloch in an article in The Express Tribune saidthe PPP government of President Ali Zardari, without any transparent process,hastily handed over Gwadar Port to China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) in February 2013, even though the Supreme Court had barred the predecessor Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) from any such transfer. “Moreover, along with violation of national laws, the International Monetary Fund’s Revised Code of Good Practices on Fiscal Transparency was also disregarded by giving away a strategic jewel to the Chinese without due process,” Sana Baloch wrote in an article in The Express Tribune, adding, “Not a single detail of the contract was released to the media, neither was it published on the Gwadar Port Authority’s website.”

BLF chief Dr Allah Nazar believes China's role in Balochistan is imperialistic as it is supporting Pakistan militarily and financially to crush the Baloch freedom movement. “Now a huge Chinese army unit is present in Gwadar,” Dr Allah Nazar told OneIndia. “As the world's largest democracy India and the civilized world must realize the importance of a free Balochistan. India can never get the superiority of waters without a free Baloch state.

Sher Mohammed Bugti, who is officially recognized as a leader of the Baloch Republican party (BRP) also echoed the same sentiment. “China’s investment will only encourage Pakistan to intensify its military operations and brutality on the Baloch nation #shameonpakistan,” he said on twitter.
Now, reports say the Pakistan army is planning to extend the so-called Operation Zarb-e-Azb to Balochistan. Army chief General Raheel Sharif recently met Southern Army Commander, Lieutenant General Nasir Khan Janjua and the inspector general of the Frontier Corps Major General Sher Afgan--the troika of power in Balochistan. General Sharif warned “foreign states, intelligence agencies” against trying to destabilize Pakistan by supporting terrorists in Balochistan. In addition to India, Pakistan intelligence and security analysts have blamed countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, United States, Israel, and even Norway, of having moles in Balochistan.

The Chinese too seemed to be concerned over the fragile security situation. As if to allay their fears, late Tuesday night, army spokesman major General Asim Bajwa tweeted, “Spec Security Div for Pak-China Eco Projs will comprise of 9 Army Battalions,6 Wings Civil armed forces. Will be commanded by a Maj Gen.” Clearly, further militarization of Balochistan is now inevitable.

(Ahmar Mustikhan is a senior Balochistan journalist who now lives in exile in Washington DC area. He can be contacted on twitter @mustikhan)

Published Date: 22nd April 2015, Image Source: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com
(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)

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Bold Political Decision for a Crucial Defence Need

Nitin A Gokhale, 
Editor & Senior Fellow, VIF

The saga for procurement of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF) actually began in 2001, gathered steam in 2007 and was stuck in price negotiations for the past three years. Meanwhile, the IAF's combat fighter jet strength was depleting fast. Over the past couple of years, the Air Force top brass was alarmed enough to tell the government that its conventional combat edge even against Pakistan was in danger of being lost.

So last week, hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on his three-nation tour, a political decision was taken to explore the option of buying Rafale jets through a government-to-government (G-to-G) contract with France. The breakthrough will now allow the IAF to induct Rafale fighter jets in a two year time frame and at least partially make up for its depleting combat jet strength.

However, it is the next step in aircraft procurement that will be watched intently. Will this decision of going for G-to-G mean that all future purchases of this magnitude will be handled in this manner? If so, what happens to the much-touted Make in India programme? The roadmap is not clear but Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar gave enough hints about what the government is thinking in an interview that this writer co-hosted on Monday for Doordarshan (https://t.co/jktB9j7EYI).

Not surprisingly, skeptics have hit out at the decision. The criticism has ranged from "it's too little too late," to "it goes against the Make in India concept." But both Modi and Parrikar were clear that they had to put the interest of the IAF above everything else and which what they have done. Mind you, procuring 36 Rafales is just a stop-gap arrangement to arrest the rapidly falling numbers in IAF's combat fleet.

Lauding the Prime Minister for taking a bold decision in breaking the Rafale deadlock, Parrikar said future large procurements for the IAF and indeed for the armed forces at large, will have to be G-2-G but Make in India will also get a look in for other projects. For instance, IF more Rafales, were to be bought--over and above 36 decided now--Dassault could be asked to manufacture them in India. Even if any other lighter aircraft was to be selected, the pre-condition will be a tie-up with an Indian company or consortium.

It is to Parrikar's credit that he decided to think differently on a knotty issue and suggested a way out to the Prime Minister. In fact, in less than six months after taking over, Parrikar has studied various complex issues dogging the defence ministry and has come to his own conclusions on what needs to be done. By his own admission, Parrikar spent the first four months as defence minister in taking inputs from a range of experts both within and outside the MoD before making up his mind.

In his review, Parrikar also found that the bureaucracy in the ministry—both civil and military--was sitting on some 400-odd big and small projects that are critical to the three armed forces. Without getting into details, he said: “The first thing I did was to look at projects that are stuck at various stages of clearances since the most common complaint across the board was ‘nothing moves’ in the MoD.” A thorough review revealed that nearly one-third of the 400-odd projects were now irrelevant. So they were discarded. About 50 projects were accelerated since they were of critical importance.

A decade-long impasse in defence acquisitions has been broken with the decision on Rafale, raising renewed hope in the sector. Parrikar has brought in a sense of purpose in the notoriously obdurate MoD bureaucracy. “There was no control over the system. There were no reviews, no feedback and there was no fear of punishment for non-performance. An important ministry like Defence cannot run like this,” Parrikar said in an interview. So he has now instututed a time-bound performance review system aimed at speedy clearances and implementation of projects.

Hopefully, the new measures will revitalise the functioning of the crucial arm of the government in coming months.

Published Date: 17th April 2015, Image Source: http://www.worldwide-military.com

Congress’ s Leadership Crisis: The Saviour Will Come

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

There is a well known song from an old Hindi film, with a catchy melody whose opening words are “Aayega aanewala, aayaga, aayega, aayega”. What these words literally mean is that he who is to come will come. If one goes back to the Sudan of the nineteenth century when the Mehdi led a revolt against the Anglo Egyptian administration there, claiming to be the Chosen One sent to revive Islam or, for that matter, Osama Bin Laden of Al Qaeda or the leader of the Islamists in Syria and Iraq, the Nirankaris who claim that there will be an eleventh Guru of the Sikh or the Ahmediyas who claim that there will be one more Prophet sent by Allah, we would find that the song also speaks of the return of the absent one, though in this case it means the lover. What is surprising is that the Congress Party seems to have adopted this song as its own musical theme.

Strange? What else can one to make of Sonia Gandhi going to Amethi and reassuring people there that Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka will return shortly. Do they need this reassurance because their beloved leader is absent? It is well known that Rahul Gandhi, soon after the debacle of the Congress in the Delhi Assembly elections, took leave of absence from Parliament and disappeared to some unknown destination. He thus missed the budget session, arguably the most important session of Parliament and has absented himself from critical discussions on certain legislation introduced by government which is opposed by the Congress in particular and the Opposition in general. Well, he will not be the first Member of Parliament in our history to be away from a session, but then such members are not Vice President of a major political party which ruled India for the better part of the 67 plus years of our Independence and which aspires to return to power as soon as possible. What is more, this particular M.P is widely acclaimed by the leaders of his own party, as one who will succeed his mother as President of the Congress and who is destined to be the Prime Minister in a Congress led government. This is not an ordinary backbencher about whom we are talking because his party has already anointed him as the Mehdi who will one day rescue India from the clutches of BJP. Is this a strategic retreat by the putative Mehdi in order to regroup his forces for counter attack? Or is it the action of a spoilt brat whose only claim to merit is his birth and the sycophancy of the party which his mother leads?

Mahatma Gandhi, during his struggle for independence, built a party which cut across regional, ideological and religious boundaries and brought together people of disparate thoughts to forge them into an unbeatable weapon which ultimately brought the British to their knees. Everything that Gandhi expected of his followers, austerity, simple living, the ability to bear hardship and willingness to face police brutality, he imposed on himself. If a man wants nothing, has nothing, what can a tyrant take away from him? Had Gandhi not adopted the poverty of the average Indian as his own state of being he could never have led India to Independence. Self abnegation, tapasya, concentration of thought, or dhyana, are all characteristic of the Indian sages and this is precisely what Gandhi adopted. If he ever retreated it was into a period of introspection which manifested itself as the fasts that he undertook. Gandhi never retreated into luxury. Times have changed, India is modernising, but the basic values, the basic wisdom of India can never change. Its leaders are not expected to be ascetics like Gandhi, but they are also not expected to retreat to Sandringham for a week of grouse shooting. What Rahul Gandhi has done is almost a replica of a week at Sandringham.

The strength of the Congress Party was its workers at village level, the group leadership at the Mandal level and the elected District Congress Committee with its President in every district. The Mandal and District units then decided the composition of the Pradesh Congress. There was always a degree of centralisation at the High Command Level, but it was by no means a one man show. It is Indira Gandhi, through excessive centralisation of all authority in herself, who destroyed the inner party democracy of the Congress and gave it virtually a bureaucratic structure in which everything was dictated by the High Command. The state of the party can be judged by the fact during the last general election in Madhya Pradesh, thirty-eight district units had no chief and in the recent Delhi Assembly elections none of the DCCs had a chief because the units had been dissolved by the High Command and not reconstituted. No one in the Congress even envisages a situation in which neither Sonia nor Rahul nor Priyanka will be the leader and that the High Command will be representative of the States because the Pradesh units will have decided who should be a member of the High Command. In this scenario the statement by Digvijaya Singh that there should be properly conducted democratic elections for membership of the Congress Working Committee is most welcome.

Who should lead is an internal matter for the Congress to decide. However, in a country whose Constitution mandates that it will be a democracy is it proper for a leading national party to have a structure in which there is no element of democracy? Rahul Gandhi has never been a field worker, he has suffered no hardships, he has dwelt in the midst of silk and brocade, has been brought up from childhood in the belief that he alone is destined to lead. Every election he touched has resulted in a disaster for the Congress. His public presence is not inspiring and whatever his spin doctors might state, he makes an unlikely looking leader. His absence at crucial moments certainly does nothing for his image. Brutal though it may sound or read, Rahul exhibits none of the qualities of leadership expected of a politician of note, he is not only not a political savant but comes through as politically na├»ve and he certainly does not know the pulse of the nation. In his case absence is unlikely to make the heart grow fonder. Despite the newly adopted theme song, the Congress needs to cast its net wider in its search for the “Mehdi”.

Published Date: 16th April 2015, Image Source: http://www.thehindu.com
(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)