Liberia is a country in West Africa which is bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast with an area of 111,369 square kilometers and population of approximately 4.6 million people. It has a republic system of government where the president is the chief of state and head of the government. The country is in the process of reconstructing a mixed economy. This will encompass restricted form of individual freedom merged with weak centralised economic planning and government directives. Liberia is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). For fourteen years the country remained under civil war and during this phase of conflict more than 250,000 people died and around 1.3 million people were displaced from their homes.
Political Scenario in Liberia
Liberia has faced a turbulent history marred by years of civil war and the 2014 Ebola epidemic. The country has not witnessed a peaceful transition of power since 1944. Mrs. Sirleaf became the first woman to be elected the Head of State in Africa in 2005. The country faced two civil wars, first from 1989 to 1996 and the second which occurred from 1999 to 2003. Mrs. Sirleaf, in her 12 years of power, tried to make the country a better place to live in, as the two civil wars had left Liberia; once a moderately prosperous country, in ruins. For her contribution to democracy, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Despite her efforts, the country remains one of the world’s poorest and she has been criticised over constant poverty and corruption charges. Half of the population of Liberia remains poor and about half of them suffer from inadequate food security. Generating employment remains the country’s most important domestic priority.
On the 26th of December 2017, the country experienced the first peaceful transition of power in 73 years. After the completion of two terms of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, a former international footballer Mr. George Weah was elected President of Liberia. It was Mr. Weah’s second attempt at the presidency as a candidate. In 2006, he lost his first attempt to Mrs. Sirleaf. The Liberians were commended by the United Nations Security Council for the conflict-free conduct of elections. Apart from its people and government, the Security Council has also praised the political leaders and civil society organizations for their commendable job. Also, the media was applauded for the peaceful conduct of elections.
India-Liberia Relations at a Glance
India-Liberia relations date back over six decades of strong bonds of friendship and economic cooperation. It was President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first Head of State from Liberia to visit India in the year 2013 when the following agreements were signed between the two countries:
• Joint Commission between both the nations were established; • MoU between Foreign Service Institutes of both the nations; • In the field of Oil and Gas - MoU on cooperation; • Decision regarding funding of power transmission and distribution project in Liberia, with an agreement between Exim Bank and Government of Liberia for a Line of Credit of US$ 144 million.
Prior to this, the only visit was by President Samuel Doe in 1983, that too, to attend the Non-Alignment Summit held in Delhi. In the year 2009, Dr. Shashi Tharoor visited Liberia which was the first visit by an Indian Foreign Minister since 1971, where he brought to limelight the interest of several Indian companies in various economic sectors for development - as Liberia is rich in mineral resources. Moreover, the country is rich in agricultural resources like rubber, coffee and cocoa. In 2015, Minister of State, Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Mr. G Siddeshwara went to Liberia personal invitation of Prime Minister’s to invite Mrs. Sirleaf for the third India Africa Forum (IAFS) Summit at New Delhi. During her address in the IAFS, she thanked the Indian Government and its people for the support that India had extended to Liberia to combat the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD). She mentioned that the level of trade between the two countries continues to expand and access to India’s Duty Free Tariff Preferred Status enhances the partnership further.
At present, there are around 2000 Indian nationals settled in Liberia. Initially, the Indian community was mainly engaged in trading industries, however; nowadays, the diaspora is also moving towards manufacturing sector. The diaspora has made substantial contributions to the Liberian economy and the trade during the year 2016-17 stood at US$153.96 million. The main items of export to Liberia are pharmaceuticals products, food items, steel, iron, plastic, etc. - while wood, metals scrap and natural rubber are the items that India imports from Liberia. In the year 2017 -18, India provided 70 training slots to Liberia under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme. The Indian Council of Cultural Relations also granted fully paid scholarships to six person for post-graduation. Liberia has shown its complete support for India’s desire for a permanent membership of the United Nation Security Council. In addition, India’s contribution of two contingents to United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), both 125-member strong has been well appreciated by Liberia. It was in the year 2007, that the first-ever women’s contingent of United Nation Peacekeeping i.e. the Female Formed Police Unit (FFPU) was sent to the United Nations Mission in Liberia.
To further strengthen the relationship, a significant role can be played by the establishment of an Indian Embassy in Liberia. India does not have a Liberian Mission in New Delhi. The opening of a Mission will give both the nations an edge to facilitate the bilateral movement of people and goods. This, in the long run will propel and promote business relationships between the two nations.
At present, the country looks forward for a better and efficient leadership of George Weah. It would not be an exaggeration to say that much is expected from the newly-elected president to make his country a better place to live in. A wise man once said “With great power comes great responsibility” -- a quote which couldn’t have been a better yardstick for Mr. Weah and his country in the months ahead.
(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)
On January 18, 2018, the personnel of the Indian armed forces test-fired the 5,000-km-plus Agni-5 Interim Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM). The test, conducted from Kalam Island in the Bay of Bengal, achieved all the mission parameters that had been stipulated. The last test of Agni-5 had been conducted on December 26, 2016. After additional user trials over the next twelve to eighteen months, the nuclear-capable Agni-5 missile will be inducted into India’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC). Normally, five to seven tests are carried out, including technical trials and user trials, before a missile is inducted into the arsenal. On the operationalisation of Agni-5, all targets in China will come within range from India. The Chinese are reported to be concerned at this development.
The 4,000-km Agni-4 IRBM was successfully test-fired by personnel of the SFC from the same launch facility on January 2, 2017. After these two tests, the credibility of India’s nuclear deterrence received a good boost.
Under the aegis of its Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), which was approved by the Government on 26 July 1983, India has achieved considerable success in ballistic missile development. The Prithvi Short Range Ballistic Missile (SRBM) (1-metre diameter, 150 km to 350 km range, liquid-fuelled) and the multiple models of Agni IRBM (800 km to 5,000 km range, solid-fuelled) have provided India with an assured retaliation capability. Though exact details are not known in the public domain, DRDO spokespersons have shared sufficient information to allow for an assessment of the missiles’ capabilities. While the Agni-5 is still under development, the Agni- 4 is reported to be ready for deployment. According to a Ministry of Defence press release, ‘Agni-3 was inducted to strengthen India’s strategic might and joined Agni-1, Agni-2, Prithvi-2 and Dhanush (the naval version of Prithvi capable of being launched from ships even under rough sea conditions).’
Agni IRBMs are the mainstay of the surface-to-surface leg of India’s strategic forces. With the exception of the Agni-1, all Agni missiles are fully solid-fuelled with carbon composite heat shields for re-entry protection. All of the Agni variants are known to be extremely accurate and use navigation systems based on a combination of ring laser gyros and inertial navigation. Presently, at least two Agni missile groups are reported to be in service.
India’s successful experience in space research, particularly the launch of multiple satellites on a single rocket, has endowed the scientists with the capability to master MIRV (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles) technology. In view of the R&D developments in China, it was considered expedient to commence a research programme on MIRV systems as a technology demonstrator. Costing Rs. 100 crore per missile, the Agni-5, with a range of 5,000 km-plus, is known to be capable of carrying MIRV warheads. At its maximum range, the Agni-5 can reach even Harbin, China’s northernmost city (according to Chinese officials, the maximum range of Agni-5 is 8,000 km). A canisterised version of the Agni-5 was first test-fired on January 15, 2015. The process of canisterisation means the warhead will be mated with the missile for storage, not stored separately and mounted on the missile shortly before launch.
Dr V K Saraswat, a former DRDO chief, said the Agni-5 had ‘ushered in fantastic opportunities in…building Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapons and launching mini/micro satellites on demand’. The Agni-5, like Dongfeng 31A, is a canisterised, road mobile missile. According to Avinash Chander, director, Advanced Systems Laboratory, Hyderabad, ‘With the canister having been successfully developed, all India’s future land-based strategic missiles will be canisterised as well.’ The DRDO is also reported to have plans to develop the Agni-6 Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), which will be capable of carrying a 3-ton payload of MIRVs and manoeuvrable re-entry vehicles (MaRVs). The range of this missile, made of light weight composite materials, is expected to be over 5,500 km. However, the existence of such a programme has been officially denied.
Prithvi-1 (150 km-range), Prithvi-2 (250 km, IAF version) and Prithvi-3 (350 km) Surface to Surface Missiles (SSM) are all nuclear-capable. Prithvi missiles are liquid fuelled with strap-down inertial guidance and a manoeuvrable trajectory; accuracies are claimed to be in single digits and the circular error probability (CEP) is likely to be less than 100 metre. These dual-use missiles are capable of carrying 500 kg to 1,000 kg warheads. It is now being increasingly believed that the Prithvi-1 missile was never intended to carry nuclear warheads. Six Prithvi missile groups are reported to be in service.
As soon as the Agni-1 regiments are fully operational and the missiles have been produced in the required numbers, it should be possible to retire the Prithvi missiles from service with the SFC. However, these missiles are likely to continue to be used for conventional conflict and as part of the ballistic missile defence (BMD) technology development programme till these become obsolete. A modified Prithvi missile is the interceptor in the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) system for exo-atmospheric interception. It is also used as a target for an incoming missile.
India has a few other missiles in its arsenal. The Dhanush SSM is a ship-to-surface variant of Prithvi-3 with a maximum range of 350 km, while Nirbhay is a subsonic (Mach 0.7) cruise missile with a maximum range of 1,000 km. Of the Tomahawk and Kh-57 class, it carries a 450 kg high-explosive warhead and was successfully tested in November 2017. Prahar is a highly manoeuvrable, precision-strike tactical SSM with a range of 150 km and is armed with a conventional warhead. Comparable to the US Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), it has been conceived as a quick-reaction battlefield support weapon system that fills the range gap between multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs) and SRBMs. All of these missiles have been indigenously developed by the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), Bengaluru, and have been produced by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), Secunderabad. The rate of production of Agni missiles is reported to be twelve to eighteen per annum.
India does not maintain its missile launchers on hair-trigger alerts as India’s ‘no first use’ posture does not require launch-on-warning (LoW) and launch-through-attack (LTA) capabilities. Alert levels are planned to be progressively raised based on intelligence inputs or for the purpose of signalling. As India shares its western boundary with Pakistan, the time of flight of ballistic missiles ranges from eight to thirteen minutes for a target between 600 km and 2,000 km away. Deployment sites – hides and firing positions – are selected keeping this in mind, besides other tactical parameters. Depending on the level of alert being maintained, preparation time for launch can vary from one to four hours. When deployed, missile batteries would be provided logistics support by the nearest field formation of the Army and helped with their local defence where feasible.
(The writer is Visiting Fellow, VIF and Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi)
(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)
अफगानिस्तान के राष्ट्रपति अशरफ गनी ने हाल में उज्बेकिस्तान का आधिकारिक दौरा किया। उज्बेक राष्ट्रपति शावकत मिर्जियोवेव के साथ उनकी मुलाकात में व्यापार, सुरक्षा, विद्युत और शिक्षा सहित कई अन्य क्षेत्रों में 20 समझौतों पर हस्ताक्षर हुए। जहां तक दोनों देशों के बीच संबंधों की बात है तो पिछले एक वर्ष के दौरान उनके रिश्ते काफी प्रगाढ़ हुए हैं और राजनीतिक संवाद के साथ-साथ काफी आर्थिक सक्रियता बढ़ी है। चारों ओर भूभाग से घिरे इन दोनों देशों में नजदीकियां बढ़ना इस क्षेत्र के लिए स्वागतयोग्य है।
ताशकंद-काबुल संबंध एक दृष्टि में
उज्बेकिस्तान और अफगानिस्तान ‘रणनीतिक रूप’ से एक दूसरे के नजदीक स्थित पड़ोसी हैं। उज्बेकिस्तान की सीमा सभी मध्य एशियाई गणतंत्रों (सीएआर) और अफगानिस्तान से लगती है। दूसरी ओर अफगानिस्तान दक्षिण और मध्य एशिया के बीच एक सेतु की तरह है। कुल पांच मध्य एशियाई देशों में से तीन देशों तुर्कमेनिस्तान, उज्बेकिस्तान और ताजिकिस्तान के साथ इसकी सीमा लगती है। चूंकि ये दोनों देश चारों ओर जमीन से ही घिरे यानी लैंडलॉक्ड हैं, ऐसे में व्यापार, परिवहन और संपर्क के लिए एक दूसरे पर काफी निर्भर हैं। दोनों देश 137 किलोमीटर लंबी सीमा साझा करते हैं और अमु दारया नदी के रूप में एक प्राकृतिक सीमा ही है।
उज्बेकिस्तान और अफगानिस्तान ऐतिहासिक साझा समानताओं और नस्लीय-सांस्कृतिक जुड़ाव रखते हैं, क्योंकि अतीत में लंबे समय तक दोनों देश एकसमान भू-राजनीतिक परिदृश्य में साथ रह चुके हैं। सोवियत संघ के दौर में सीमा-पार से संपर्क गतिविधियां काफी अधिक थीं खासतौर से अफगानिस्तान में हस्तक्षेप (1979 से 1989 के बीच) के दौरान ये बहुत बढ़ गई थीं। उज्बेकिस्तान-अफगानिस्तान के बीच अफगान सीमा के निकट स्थित हेरातन नामक स्थान पर 1982 में मित्रता सेतु बनाया गया जो अमु दारया के बीच कड़ी को मजबूत बनाता है। उज्बेक आजादी के बाद 1991 में दोनों देशों के बीच कूटनीतिक संबंध स्थापित हुए जो काबुल पर तालिबानी नियंत्रण के बाद टूट गए। 1990 के दशक में उज्बेकिस्तान चरमपंथ और हिंसक अतिवाद जैसी चुनौतियों से जूझ रहा था। ताजिक गृह युद्ध (1992-97) और तालिबान के उभार के बाद ये चुनौतियां और ज्यादा बढ़ गई थीं। उज्बेक सरकार सीमा पार से होने वाली गड़बड़ी को लेकर सशंकित थी तो उसने 1997 में मित्रता सेतु को बंद कर दिया जिसे 2002 में पुनः खोला गया। अमेरिका में 9/11 के आतंकी हमला इस क्षेत्र के हालात बदलने में निर्णायक रहा। उस समय उज्बेकिस्तान ने कार्शी-खानबाद में अमेरिका को एयरबेस उपलब्ध कराने के साथ ही सीमावर्ती शहर तरमेज में जर्मन इकाई को आधार उपलब्ध कराया। आंदिजान प्रकरण को लेकर अमेरिका-उज्बेकिस्तान में हुए मनमुटाव के बाद 2005 में हालांकि उज्बेकिस्तान ने अमेरिकी बेस बंद कर दिया। अमेरिकी सैन्य बलों के लिए आपूर्ति का एक प्रमुख मार्ग नॉर्दर्न डिस्ट्रिब्यूशन नेटवर्क (एनडीएन) का रास्ता मित्रता सेतु से होकर जाता था जिसके माध्यम से नाटो सेनाओं के लिए 70 प्रतिशत तेल की आपूर्ति होती थी। उज्बेकिस्तान-अफगानिस्तान रिश्तों में पिछले कुछ वर्षों के दौरान नाटकीय रूप से सुधार हुआ है जहां व्यापार, परिवहन, विद्युत इत्यादि क्षेत्रों में सहभागिता बढ़ी है:-
• तरमेज से हेरातन के बीच एक रेलवे लाइन के माध्यम से गेहूं-आटा, ईंधन, उर्वरक और उपभोक्ता वस्तुओं की ताजिकिस्तान से अफगानिस्तान को आपूर्ति होती है। • वर्ष 2011 में उज्बेक की राष्टीय रेल कंपनी तेमिर युल्लारी ने 75 किलोमीटर लंबे हेरातन-मजार-ए-शरीफ रेलवे नेटवर्क को तैयार किया। 1.5 अरब डॉलर की लागत से बनी इस परियोजना को एशियाई विकास बैंक (एडीबी) से वित्तीय मदद मिली। • काबुल और मजार-ए-शरीफ को जोड़ने वाली सड़क पर उज्बेकिस्तान ने 11 पुल और क्रॉसिंग भी बनाए। • उज्बेकिस्तान अफगानिस्तान को बिजली उपलब्ध कराने वाला प्रमुख आपूर्तिकर्ता है। काबुल को बिजली आपूर्ति करने के लिए 2009 में 150 मेगावाट क्षमता की एक विद्युत पारेषण लाइन की आधारशिला रखी गई। बाद में इसकी क्षमता बढ़ाकर 300 मेगावाट कर दी गई।
लगभग 3.2 करोड़ की आबादी के साथ उज्बेकिस्तान मध्य एशिया में सबसे अधिक जनसंख्या वाला देश है। अपनी गतिशील और विविधीकृत अर्थव्यवस्था के साथ यह अफगानिस्तान के राष्ट्रीय पुनर्निर्माण की प्रक्रिया में बहुत मददगार हो सकता है और विशेषकर खाद्य सुरक्षा, ऊर्जा और तकनीकी सहयोग में बहुत सहायक सिद्ध होगा।
उज्बेकिस्तान अफगानिस्तान की ओर से अस्थिरता को लेकर अभी भी आशंकित है कि वहां से अमेरिकी फौज की विदाई के बाद स्थितियां बिगड़ सकती हैं। अफगानिस्तान में असुरक्षा और अस्थिरता का बढ़ा भाव पड़ोसी मध्य एशियाई देशों के लिए भी चिंता का कारण बनेगा। भले ही बड़ी संख्या में उज्बेक अफगानिस्तान में रहते हों, लेकिन अक्सर यह पहलू द्विपक्षीय रिश्तों में निर्णायक रहता है। इस मामले में सुरक्षा चिंताओं और आर्थिक हित सबसे महत्वपूर्ण भूमिका निभाते हैं।
मिर्जियोवेव की पड़ोसियों को वरीयता देने वाली नीति
वर्ष 2016 में सत्ता में आने के बाद राष्ट्रपति मिर्जियोवेव ने दोहराया कि मध्य एशिया ही उनकी विदेश नीति के मूल में होगा। चूंकि उज्बेकिस्तान चारों ओर से जमीन से घिरा देश है तो वह आंतरिक और बाहरी वृद्धि के लिए काफी हद तक पड़ोसियों पर ही निर्भर है। इस बात को ध्यान में रखते हुए मिर्जियोवेव अन्य मध्य एशियाई पड़ोसी देशों के साथ ही अफगानिस्तान के साथ रिश्तों को सुधारने की दिशा में कड़ी मेहनत कर रहे हैं। एक साल में मध्य एशियाई देशों के 12 दौरे और इस दौरान द्विपक्षीय बैठकों के अनगिनत दौरों के साथ ही कई अंतरराष्ट्रीय सम्मेलनों से इतर हुई वार्ताओं से यह साफ तौर पर झलकता है।
वर्ष 2017 के पहले नौ महीनों के दौरान उज्बेकिस्तान और कजाकिस्तान के बीच कारोबार में 30 प्रतिशत की बढ़ोतरी दर्ज की गई। इसी तरह किर्गिस्तान के साथ भी उसके रिश्तों में सुधार हो रहा है जहां सीमाओं को खोलने और जल विवादों को सुलझाने की पहल हुई है। ताजिकिस्तान के मामले में ताशकंद और दुशांबे के बीच 25 वर्षों बाद सीधी उड़ान सेवा शुरू की गई। मिर्जियोवेव की संतुलित, खुली और व्यावहारिक विदेश नीति ने क्षेत्रीय सहयोग की दिशा में सकारात्मक माहौल का निर्माण किया है।
प्रगाढ़ होते उज्बेक -अफगान संबंध
पिछले कुछ महीनों के दौरान उज्बेकिस्तान और अफगानिस्तान के रिश्तों में उल्लेखनीय सुधार हुआ है। जनवरी, 2017 में उज्बेकिस्तान के विदेश मंत्री अब्दुलाजिज कामिलोव ने काबुल का आधिकारिक दौरा किया। उस यात्रा के दौरान दोनों पक्षों ने द्विपक्षीय व्यापार को एक अरब डॉलर तक बढ़ाने के लिए द्विपक्षीय व्यापार एवं आर्थिक रोड मैप पर हस्ताक्षर किए। वर्ष 2016 में व्यापार टर्नओवर 52 करोड़ डॉलर रहा। साथ ही परिवहन अवसंरचना, सुरक्षा और मादक पदार्थों की तस्करी रोकने के समझौतों पर भी सहमति बनी।
जून 2007 में अस्ताना में हुई शांघाई सहयोग संगठन (एससीओ) और सितंबर, 2017 में इस्लामिक देशों के संगठन (ओआईसी) के विज्ञान एवं प्रौद्योगिकी सम्मेलन से इतर भी उज्बेक-अफगान राष्ट्रपतियों ने द्विपक्षीय बैठक की। मई, 2017 में मिर्जियोवेव ने इस्मातिल्ला इर्गाशेव को अफगानिस्तान में राष्ट्रपति का विशेष दूत नियुक्त किया।
नवंबर, 2017 में अफगान राष्ट्रीय विमानन सेवा काम एयर ने ताशकंद और काबुल के बीच पहली सीधी यात्री उड़ान शुरू की। दोनों देशों के बीच विमानन सहयोग में अफगान पायलटों को प्रशिक्षण, काम एयर के विमानों का रखरखाव और ताशकंद में ट्रांजिट सुविधाएं उपलब्ध कराना भी शामिल है।
राष्ट्रपति गनी की दिसंबर, 2017 में उज्बेकिस्तान यात्रा उज्बेक-अफगान रिश्तों को आगे ले जाने का महत्वपूर्ण कदम रही। दोनों राष्ट्रपतियों ने छोटे से लेकर बड़े और व्यापक विषयों पर बात करते हुए संयुक्त बयान पर हस्ताक्षर किए। इस दौरान व्यापार, सुरक्षा, विद्युत और शिक्षा जैसे क्षेत्रों में 20 अंतरमंत्रीय समझौते हुए। इसमें कुछ अग्रलिखित बिंदुओं पर सहमति बनी:-
• हेरात और मजार-ए-शरीफ के बीच रेलवे लाइन निर्माण का अनुबंध। • 500 किलोवाट क्षमता वाली सुरखान-पुल-ए-खुमरी विद्युत पारेषण लाइन का निर्माण। • सुरक्षा मामलों पर संयुक्त आयोग की स्थापना। • हेरातन सेतु की सुरक्षा को लेकर सहयोग पर समझौता। • काबुल और मजार-ए-शरीफ में उज्बेक-अफगान ट्रेडिंग हाउस के साथ ही तरमेज में इंटरनेशनल लॉजिस्टिक सेंटर की स्थापना। • सीमावर्ती शहर तरमेज में अफगान काउंसलेट को खोलना।
दोनों देशों ने अंतरराष्ट्रीय आतंकवाद और विदेशी लड़ाकों, अतिवाद, संगठित अपराध, अवैध आव्रजन और अवैध चीजों और मादक पदार्थों की तस्करी को रोकने के लिए संयुक्त कार्रवाई पर भी सहमति जताई। दोनों राष्ट्रपतियों ने अफगान-नेतृत्व के माध्यम से अफगानिस्तान सरकार और तालिबान के बीच शांति के साथ कोई राजनीतिक हल निकालने पर भी जोर दिया। इस बात पर जोर दिया गया कि इसमें कोई भी राजनीतिक समझौता संयुक्त राष्ट्र चार्टर में उल्लिखित मूलभूत अंतरराष्टीय प्रावधानों और सिद्धांतों के अनुरूप होना चाहिए।
चूंकि उज्बेकिस्तान और अफगानिस्तान पड़ोसी देश हैं तो एक दूसरे की विदेश नीति में महत्वपूर्ण स्थान रखते हैं। अफगानिस्तान में सुरक्षा स्थिति का मध्य एशिया की सुरक्षा और स्थायित्व पर सीधा असर पड़ सकता है। ऐसे में शांति बहाली की प्रक्रिया में उज्बेकिस्तान अफगान सरकार को पूरा सहयोग दे रहा है। साथ ही अफगानिस्तान को क्षेत्रीय आर्थिक प्रगति का हिस्सा बनाने के लिए उसे परिवहन और ऊर्जा के क्षेत्र में भी मदद कर रहा है।
भारत ने भी अफगानिस्तान के साथ अपनी मित्रता को और गहराई दी है जिसमें राजनीतिक, सुरक्षा, आर्थिक, शैक्षणिक, सांस्कृतिक और मानवीय क्षेत्रों में संबंधों को नया क्षितिज मिला है। अभी हाल में ही हमने ईरान स्थित चाबहार बंदरगार के माध्यम से 15,000 टन गेहूं की शुरुआती खेप अफगानिस्तान पहुंचाई है। इसके माध्यम से अफगानिस्तान और मध्य एशियाई देशों के साथ व्यापार एवं आवाजाही हेतु भारत के लिए एक नया रास्ता खुला है। व्यापार, संपर्क, ऊर्जा और सुरक्षा जैसे क्षेत्रों में बढ़ता सहयोग भारत, उज्बेकिस्तान और अफगानिस्तान जैसी क्षेत्रीय शक्तियों को और करीब ला सकता है जो हजारों वर्षों के ऐतिहासिक एवं सांस्कृतिक संबंधो को और प्रगाढ़ बनाएगा।
(लेख में व्यक्त विचारों से वीआईएफ की सहमति अनिवार्य नहीं है)
India`s north-east is a fascinating geo-political entity in the country`s internal context. The developments in the region, or rather the sub-region, has continued to have ramifications since the first decade of India`s nationhood, both internally and in its south and south-eastern periphery. An interesting aspect is that each of the components of the region i.e., the North-Eastern States, have different attributes, politically and economically, as well as from the development and security perspectives. While the region has a predominant mongoloid ethnicity, the North-Eastern State of Tripura (Twipra in local Kokborok dialect, meaning `land by the water`), has been a melting pot of indigenous ethnic-tribal cultural collective of Tibeto-Burman stock – the Tiprasa, and of Bengali aspirations, traditions and way of life imbibed particularly from the migrants or settlers from the eastern districts of erstwhile East Bengal, now Bangladesh.
It may be worthwhile to appraise how the different strands coalesced into a mix of cultures and inescapably impinged on socio-economic development, political consolidation, economic growth and internal security milieu of Tripura. In a sense, Tripura is mini replica of West Bengal, but in many respects it is also substantially different. Tripura, at the government level and in its inhabitants’ psyche, has not been generally acknowledged as a `mini` West Bengal or even its sister state. This has been the outlook even when the Indian National Congress (INC) was in power in both the states. Same has been the situation after the Communists came to govern both the states, notwithstanding fraternalisation between the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) units of and West Bengal Tripura, and their leaders.
The state of administration, political processes and developments, economy and the security environment of the two provinces i.e. of West Bengal and Tripura, have been quite dissimilar. Tripura has been trying to evolve from its princely state antecedents and under-developed past to a province within the Indian Union yearning for development, and ethno-cultural and political stability, in harmonious juxtaposition with its neighbouring North-Eastern States. Being land-locked and at a distant South-East corner of the region have been the constraints for Tripura. Not that the different state governments of Tripura or union governments were oblivious to these impediments, but the geopolitical milieu around the North-East and the post-independence growth deficit have compounded the constraints. The unfortunate tribal uprising in the 1980’s and the Mandwai massacre in June 1980, when the ethnic tribals slaughtered a large number of Bengalis, were the outcome of politico-economic contestations between different segments of the State’s population; it was also indicative of successive State Administration`s inability to respond to the demand of its indigenous people for land rights, protection of their forest resource-base livelihood and culture. Notwithstanding a politically cohesive and livelihood issues-based approach of CPI-M governments of the past two decades - to the extent of broadly accommodating indigenous tribal interests harmoniously with those of the settler Bengalis - some underlying tension has remained in the socio-political realm of the State.
The State has been unique to the extent that it gave substantive political space to the indigenous tribals through the medium of the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), headquartered at Khumulwng in the West district. The TTAADC was constituted through an enactment of India`s Parliament, included in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, and made effective from 1st April, 1985. The TTAADC encompasses more than two-thirds of the State, with only a few fringe border areas in South-West Tripura outside its territorial ambit. This implies that, nearly the whole of Tripura has a dualism in its administrative structure and disposition. Though functional areas of governance and sanctioning powers are well demarcated between the State Government and the TTAADC, most of Tripura is administered vis-à-vis their respective domains by two entities, i.e. the State Secretariat at Agartala and the TTAADC. 15 departments, including management of land other than of government, forests, water resources, public health, school-level academic institutions, and some more, are under the control of TTAADC, with nearly 15 lakh people served by this autonomous body. It has revenue raising powers of taxing goods, animals, vehicles, boats and professional earnings to mobilise funds for executing programmatic functions pertaining to the areas devolved to it. The State Government also shares a part of its revenue with the TTAADC, apropos central and state finance commissions’ recommendations. The institutional arrangements cited above have been quite farsighted and has stood the test of more than three decades of governance.
However, a devolutionary arrangement like the TTAADC would not have succeeded had not the bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh been conducive. The problem of insurgency, which arose consequent on alienation of the indigenous tribal people, was aggravated because of the sanctuary provided by Bangladesh governments to the armed cadres of the local insurgent outfits, viz. the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and All Tripura Tiger Force (ATFF), and their leaders. These outfits spearheaded the insurgency and espoused the indigenous peoples’ cause, infiltrated into Tripura from across an Tripura-Bangladesh Border traversing riverine terrain, agricultural tracts and forests, and virtually unfenced till the border fencing programme was taken up seriously in the 1990’s. The fact that the border guarding forces of India and Bangladesh were not in really friendly disposition, particularly during the regime of Sheikh Khaleda Zia and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party, aggravated the internal security situation in Tripura.
Consequent on the Awami League Government coming to power in Bangladesh in 2009, there was substantial improvement in bilateral relations between the two countries. Dhaka took decisive action to close down the hideouts of the NLFT and ATTF insurgents in Bangladesh and deport some of their leaders to India, leading to stability in border management and the security scenario in Tripura. Enhancement of professional prowess of the State’s police personnel and effectiveness of administration, with a conjoint approach by the Union and State Governments, notwithstanding that they were of different political orientation, facilitated this positive change. This is borne out by the National Crime Records Bureau data of the recent years (post-2016) which indicate less than 5000 cases of reported cognizable offences for a population of approximately 40 lakh.
The issues which presently require attention or intervention are : (a) political adjustment or understanding on the enhancement of powers and functional capacity of the TTADC; (b) further strengthening of the State’s rights-based economic delivery systems; and, (c) greater institutionalised development along the India-Tripura frontier areas in terms of sustainable growth, welfare and security. The salience of these issues are highlighted in the backdrop of the recent demand for full statehood encompassing the existing TTAADC area - notwithstanding the demand being politically inspired and projected on narrow ethnic considerations - for integrated development of the State and obviating sectarian tension. Among the North-Eastern States, Tripura has been performing well towards putting in place effective grassroot delivery systems, agricultural growth, mobilisation of investible resources with a credit-deposit ratio of nearly 35 percent insofar as the banking network is concerned, and management of the State’s finances. However, towards boosting its informal economy and its progressive formalisation, employment generation and having a garland network of small-scale development hubs along the Tripura-Bangladesh Border, there is a need to reinforce the present scale of development activities and for the authorities at Agartala and New Delhi to work as part of one continuum.
In the heat of the approaching State Assembly elections, the demand for statehood of the TTAADC area has been escalated by the Indigenous People’s Front of Twipra (IPFT) and the situation in parts of the State become contentious. The IPFT demands are for introduction of an Inner Line Permit system to control inflow of non-indigenous people to Tripura and their settling down into economic activities in the State, recognition of Kokborok tribal language as a medium of official communication and education, and 50 percent reservation of seats for the tribals in the State Legislature. The Central Government has constituted an internal committee to delve into the demands to obtain a viable solution for the indigenous peoples’ demand for statehood, as projected by the IPFT, without eroding the structure and basis of the Tripura State. The demand, if acceded to in its entirety, will have repercussions on the State itself, apart from triggering further demands on similar lines in many other North-Eastern States having ethnic diversity like Assam, Mizoram and Manipur, and perhaps also in the West Bengal areas affected by the Gorkhaland agitation.
Furthermore, a Twipra Tribal province will substantively disrupt the integrity and cohesion of the present Tripura State and pose issues on its effective administrative management from politico-economic and security perspectives. The State shares a 856 km long frontier with Bangladesh. There is presently a high level of coordination between the state and central armed police forces deployed in Tripura. Gradual extension of border ‘haats’ (markets) is a welcome phenomenon for Tripura`s development, stability of the border and bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh. Border haats are already functional at Srinagar (South district) and Kamalasagar (Sipahijhala district), and two more at Palbasti (North district) and Kamalpur (Dhalai district) are on the anvil. The haats are informal markets for exchange of local produce of the border and near-border areas and items of household usage in Tripura and Bangladesh on barter basis; to an extent, currencies of the respective countries are validated based on informal understanding on exchange value, without customs duty, that is intended to improve livelihood of the border area residents. An annual turnover of approximately Rs. 10 crore from these four haats is anticipated. Substantial improvement in rail connectivity to Tripura through Assam, and to the border point of Agartala-Akhaura for trans-shipment of men and material is also in progress. An integrated check post and transit facility at the Agartala-Akhaura Border Point, is also functioning. The impact of creation of a separate State for the Tripura indigenous people on these institutions and facilities need to be carefully appraised before altering the political and constitutional disposition of the State.
While the above-referred issue of indigenous peoples’ demand for statehood has to be dealt with a mature holistic approach, because of its ramifications as mentioned above, the juxtaposition of the State with regard to development and stability of India’s North-Eastern region, as well as apropos `Act East Policy`, have also to be suitably reckoned. The upswing in India’s relations with Bangladesh during the Awami League regimes of Sheikh Hasina has enabled the fruition of the former’s inescapable need for a riverine linkage to Tripura from West Bengal, expeditious transportation of men and material, and infrastructure project stores to Tripura. People-to-people relations through the Agartala-Dhaka bus service and numerous strands of cultural exchanges within the ambience of Bengali language and culture have also blossomed. It is in India’s interest to reinforce these achievements and explore further opportunities for viable linkages, viz. through air and sea connection between, say, West Bengal, Tripura and South-East Asia. This could be achieved within the canopy of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multilateral Sectoral Technical & Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and India`s `Act East Policy`.
The development model being followed in Tripura can accommodate such linkages. The characteristics of the people of Tripura and the state of its economy are likely to facilitate local employment generation in back-end activities of economic ventures and export-oriented establishments of the State in commerce with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. In the process, a gradual formalisation of the Tripura`s economy will also take place. Increasing the economic viability of the state`s rubber plantations, improved latex and other bi-products’ processing, and increasing the productivity of the State`s agriculture and allied sectors, viz. horticulture and fisheries, are some of the activities which can be gainfully attempted within the framework of Government of India’s development policies for the North-Eastern Region - thus leading to higher employment within Tripura and trade linkages with Bangladesh and the ASEAN region. All these activities can co-exist for some time with the rubric of grassroot exchanges through the medium of border haats. In such a scenario, Tripura can serve as a model of stability and growth in India’s North-Eastern Region, while performing a reasonably contributory role towards promotion of the country’s `Act East` initiative.
Within the intra-north-eastern domain, Tripura has geographical and socio-economic linkages with Assam and Mizoram, States with which it shares inter-state boundaries of 53 km and 109 km respectively. Till recently, National Highway-44, linking Guwahati, Shillong, Badarpur and Agartala, was the only durable road link between Assam and Tripura. It is necessary to improve this arterial link to all-weather condition and international surface standard. This infrastructural link has a relevance towards promoting inter-state commerce within North-Eastern Region as well as for providing a lateral connectivity to the prospective Trans-Asian Highway which is to eventually link the region with Myanmar and Thailand. As regards Tripura and Mizoram, there is a need for ethnic harmony in both the States. The travails of the Reangs and Chakmas in Mizoram in the 1990’s and the last decade, consequent on impediments imposed by that State on their cultural expression and lack of development, are required to be redressed on a long-term basis. Otherwise, internal displacement of these communities to Tripura, as in the late 1990’s, will only strain the State’s resources and adversely impact its internal socio-political harmony. Instituting effective autonomous councils for these ethnic communities in Mizoram is the most viable way to prevent negative fallouts in both these states.
Tripura is a energy storehouse of the North-East by virtue of its substantial petroleum and natural gas reserves. A common market approach, based on an integrated power grid system, is an inescapable need. Already electricity transmission has commenced from the gas-based power projects of the State to Bangladesh. An institutional arrangement is necessary for joint India-Bangladesh management of a Tripura-energy based network under an agreed equity partnership of assets. Such an arrangement will not require periodic negotiations between India and Bangladesh on product or output pricing, but instead be based on the overall economics of the joint venture. Tripura State Government will perforce have to be the main Indian stake holder apart from Indian investors who evince interest. Energy development and marketing on a partnership basis as above, is likely to provide opportunities and resources for upgrading and modernisation of the gas wells in Tripura, apart from additional employment in the state in ancillary activities.
(The author is a retired senior IDAS officer who has served as Adviser to a North-East State)
(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)
When George F Kennan wrote his ‘Long Telegram’ from the Moscow embassy in February 1946, soon after the death of the three-term president of the USA, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), it was early in arriving. The legendary President was one of the primary makers of the post-WW II international architecture of institutions that held up the post-war international order. Winston Churchill, wartime Prime Minister of Britain, was not yet ready to declare the ‘Cold War.’ Eventually, in another fortnight, he did that in a speech at the Westminster College in Missouri, the USA. Kennan’s formulation of ‘containment’ was a strategy against the Soviet Union and its coalition - called Warsaw Pact.
The Quadrilateral relationship – Quad for short – comprising the USA, India, Japan and Australia is geared towards ‘containment’ again – this time against China. Rise of China as an economic superpower and its process of consolidation and expansion has threatened the US the most in terms of its hegemonic interest over the Indo-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean. By the same token, New Delhi, that has looked ‘small’ in the way China is increasing its influence in continental South Asia, is making forays to heighten its footprint in the region that Beijing has considered its own backyard. This is thus a ‘coalition of willing’ of the four powers. For the other two, Japan and Australia have their own axes to grind in the Indo-Pacific. Apparently, this may seem to be a fit case of clashes of interests between these four members of the Quad and China. But India has not shown the same eagerness to become a ‘regional policeman’ as it did in Rajiv Gandhi’s regime in the mid-1980’s. Instead, it has sought to create a group that can provide ‘stability’ in a potential battlefront with China as it seeks to become a military superpower by 2049 on the occasion of 100-year anniversary of China being liberated by communist forces, thus leading to the formation of People’s Republic of China (PRC).
New Delhi has designed to make the Quad counter maritime insecurity, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and terrorism. India is on a short leash trying to define the objectives of the new alliance in a way that doesn’t directly threaten the Chinese elite leadership and their People’s Liberation Army (PLA). That country too has an apprehension of the post-1989 Tienanmen Square generations who have found solace in a kind of hyper-nationalism, as evident in various social media fora. In other words, if this population is made to call at arms, it could prove a disaster for not just the ‘regional’ security and stability, but would also have global ramifications.
Clearly, India recognises the limitations of its reach in the Indo-Pacific region that encompasses the high seas of the South China Sea (SCS). During a 2016 conference the Chief of Naval Staff (CNS), Admiral Sunil Lanba had stated that the Indian Navy (IN) did not have any scenario built for engagement with the Chinese Navy. Nor did the IN have the asset-capacity to patrol the Indo-Pacific region with any intensity. Instead, its primary task of looking after ‘national interest’ is in the littorals of what it calls the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR). This would entail the country to cater to its ‘strategic autonomy’ while avoiding any conflict, as both the big nations of Asia, China and India ‘rise’ peacefully.
These principles seem applicable to the US – for whom Beijing is like a bank of last resort since it holds nearly two trillion dollars of the declining superpower’s treasury bonds. The Chinese seem to enjoy the vicarious pleasure – though State policies are supposed to be made not on the basis of emotions but cold calculations – by enjoying a huge economic edge over Japan. Thus Tokyo, a former occupier of Chinese mainland, which seeks to rise from the ashes of the economic meltdown of 1990’s, needs hand-holding by the former subject nation. Australia, as the Western outpost in the Asian continent, is also a wedge in the Indo-Pacific security scaffolding called the Quad.
From One Camp to Another
India had been historically viewed as being against the idea of the USA enjoying privileges in the Eastern ‘near abroad’ and having the Indian Ocean included in its area of operation. On the other hand, anyone can recall Indira Gandhi’s discomfiture evidenced in periodically raising the Diego Garcia base of the US issue in public. The island base was originally owned by the British, later leased to the US government for its Seventh Fleet headquartered in Hawai since 1940.
Idea of India’s ‘Look East’ policy gained traction only during the Barack Obama Administration when he declared greater attention to what was called the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region. History suggests that the coinage of the term was credited to a British geographer and war strategist, Douglas H Mackinder. Even the naval strategist, Alfred Thayer Mahan, embraced the idea of Indo-Pacific. Mackinder and Mahan were almost in unity on the categorisation, being almost contemporaries in the late 19th century.
With the coming of the NDA II to power at New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was more active in terms of the country’s national interest, thus transforming the notion of ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East.’ Along with Obama’s ‘pivot’ to what the Americans called the ‘Asia-Pacific’ and ‘rebalancing’ US policies towards the region from Europe and the Middle-East, India’s ‘Act East’ became to be known as the driving force in terms of trade, commerce and security.
Real Emergence of the Indo-Pacific
In the binary world of the two superpowers, before the breakdown and the breakup of the Soviet Union and its system evidenced in the functioning of Warsaw Pact, the Asia-Pacific was still a frontier in the gargantuan battles of the ‘Cold War.’
US dominance of the region was established in the institutional knowledge of the parties involved in the Quad as a memory of the demise of South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO). The organisation that was made out to be the Eastern NATO was much weighed down by the US’s Vietnam War. While a detailed history of the organisation of States is not quite relevant here, one factor must not be discounted: The SEATO (formed in 1954) had amongst its members Australia and New Zealand, who according to the US State Department history, became members because of their presence on the Pacific Ocean, albeit being in the Southern hemisphere. They were bundled together to destroy any communist revolution in the Asia-Pacific, where China already was like a colossus. Pakistan had joined the organisation early on in search of US largesse to take on India, eventually leaving the organisation and join the band wagon of the Chinese, who is their current keeper of solvency.
Considering the fraught political transition in Europe and the Americas, Asia too is searching for a world order. India clearly is one of the primary movers of choices in the continent. Also, since it’s a member of Shanghai Cooperation Organsition (SCO) and the East Asia Summit (EAS), New Delhi would have the capability to safely balance between the rising power of China and occasional hyperpower of the US.
Russia, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. Though a majority of its military technology programmes was being to a large extent funded by China, it has by now understood that its influence amongst the younger lot of PLA officers – who can be called the post-MiG generation – are less inclined to cut corners for Russia. Instead, they prefer the Americans and the Israelis for their hardware. Moscow is hence seeking to emerge out of the zero-sum game in the sub-continent, by which it retains special, albeit intermittent, strategic partnerships. It also wishes to open the Pakistan line, thus riding on the back of China to Islamabad/Rawalpindi. While that is worrisome for India, it helps to choose its sides, albeit as a balancer.
A certain appreciation has found its way into the consciousness of some of the decision makers in New Delhi that the country has already yielded much space in Continental Asia to China. But is still in the game, in the maritime domain. A crucial element in India’s race for influence in the Asia-Pacific – a backyard of the regional hegemon – is like extending a deep dive into the realm of South East and parts of East Asia. China moved faster and nimbly in the South Asian region and is already reaping dividends. Rightly, Indo-Pacific is thus on the current drawing board of the country. It should behoove India to push for creating permanent institutions for the Indo-Pacific region, overseen by the Quad.
(Pinaki Bhattacharya is strategic security researcher and analyst.)
(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)
Indians take pride in the fact that they are citizens of the world’s largest democracy and that despite poverty, under-development and fairly high levels of illiteracy, the democratic spirit in well and truly ingrained in the people.
While all this is true, it is also true that there are many nations in which the people exercise far greater vigilance and the democratic system functions far more efficiently. Currently, a mind-boggling 840 million citizens are on India’s electoral rolls but the country is way behind some other democracies when it comes to transparency in funding of political parties and spending in elections. As a result, while one can see democracy at work from the village to the national level, one can also see the vulgar impact that dirty money has on the working of political parties and on the electoral system. Some years ago, the Association for Democratic Rights (ADR) had estimated that 70 per cent of the funds flowing into political parties came via cash donations from unknown sources. Unless this is reversed, there will always be a question mark on the quality of India’s democracy.
Further, notwithstanding the frugal limits set by the Election Commission on election spending, candidates in the Lok Sabha and state assembly elections are known to routinely flout these directions. Until 1974, the limit set by the Election Commission for campaign spending in a Lok Sabha constituency in the big states was Rs. 1,50,000. However, we were told that all serious contenders in the fray spent around Rs. 2 million. Later, this limit was enhanced to Rs. 4,50,000 and revised yet again in a bid to bridge the gap between the legally permitted limit and the ground reality. Currently, the legal limit for election spending in a Lok Sabha constituency in the larger states is a fairly reasonable Rs. 7 million – more than what an “average” aspirant can muster to give a good fight – but successful Members of Parliament tell us that their election cost them Rs. 50 to Rs. 100 million!
In other words, electoral spending has completely spiralled out of control and is now beyond the reach of ordinary citizens. Needless to say that unless politics is funded by clean money and political parties, in turn, pick up “clean” candidates and provide them financial support, the system will remain hostage to the most corrupt elements in society and make good governance an unattainable dream.
The absence of transparency and accountability in the working and funding of political parties has been commented upon by the judiciary and various institutions over the years, but no one at the top has pondered over these issues and suggested corrective measures. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been pressing for electoral reforms for some time now to bring down election spending. He has suggested that we restore the system of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies. Another small but important step taken by his government in this regard is the introduction of electoral bonds to fund political parties.
These bonds may not be solve the problem entirely, but it’s the first important step to deal with the issue of political funding. The Interest-free electoral bonds can be purchased from State Bank of India for 10 days in the months of January, April, July, and October. They are available in various denominations including Rs 10 lakh and Rs one crore. The Finance Minister, Mr. Arun Jaitley announced this scheme during his budget speech last February. A donor can buy these bonds and give it to registered political parties. The parties can redeem them through their designated bank accounts and the identity of the donor is protected.
Alongside this measure, the government has taken a few more steps to cleanse political funding. It has banned cash donations of over Rs. 2000 to political parties (the earlier limit was Rs. 20,000 and was the source of huge inflow of black money into political parties) and also amended the law to ensure that companies are not required to disclose the names of the parties to which they make donations.
Discussing how political parties work in the country, the Minister has said that round the year working of political parties involves huge expenditure. Political parties run offices all over the country and have to incur large expenses on staff, salaries, travelling expenses of party leaders etc. Further, there is not a single year when elections are not held in some state or another and besides the expenditure incurred by candidates, political parties have to spend huge sums on election campaigns, publicity, tours etc. These expenses run into hundreds of crores, “yet there has not been a transparent funding mechanism of the political system… . The present system ensures unclean money coming from unidentifiable sources. It is a wholly non-transparent system. Most political groups seem fairly satisfied with the present arrangement and would not mind this status-quo to continue. The effort, therefore, is to run down any alternative system which is devised to cleanse the political funding mechanism”.
Explaining the scheme of electoral bonds, Mr. Jaitley has said that all such bonds can be encashed in a pre-declared account of a political party and all parties have to declare the amount of donations received through such bonds. “As against a total non-transparency in the present system of cash donations where the donor, the donee, the quantum of donations and the nature of expenditure are all undisclosed, some element of transparency would be introduced” in as much as all donors declare the amount of bonds they purchased and all parties declare the quantum of bonds they received. However, how much each donor has given to a political party would be known only to the donor. Defending this amount of secrecy that is built into this scheme, the Finance Minister says this is necessary because once this disclosure is made, past experience has shown that donors do not find the scheme attractive. It is a substantial advance on the present system of substantial cash donations which involves “total unclean money”, he says. The minister has also promised that the government will consider further steps to cleanse political funding in the country.
The bonds may not be the panacea for all ills dogging the political/electoral system, but it’s a beginning. For democracy’s sake, we must earnestly hope that it works!
(The author is Chairman, The Prasar Bharti)
(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)
Central Asia is India’s extended neighbour and a geo-strategically vital region. India’s relations with this region go back for centuries, and are based on commercial, cultural, and civilizational links. In June 2017, India received full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which has given India a fresh opportunity to engage with this region.
Strategic location of the Central Asian Republics (CARs) makes them potential bridge between the Asia and Europe, and between various regions of Asia. Russia has traditionally acted as the Security Provider in the CARs. It continues to play pivotal role through organizations like Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). In recent years, China has enhanced its presence in the region mainly through infrastructure projects, pipelines, trade and investments. The CARs factor significantly in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
2017 proved to be a remarkable year for Central Asia, for domestic environment in CARs, intra-CARs relations as well as their engagements with the world.
Major Events in CARs in 2017
Two of the five CARs, namely Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, witnessed national elections in 2017. Former Kyrgyz Prime Minister Soroonbay Jeenbekov was elected as the new President on 15 October. It was country’s first peaceful transition of power from one popularly elected president to the other, after undergoing two violent revolutions (2005 and 2010). As per the constitutional provision that restricts the President to only one term, incumbent President Atamirat Atambayev was ineligible to contest these elections. Thus, he had supported Jeenbekov’s candidature, who received 54 percent of total votes polled.
In Turkmenistan, President Gurbanguli Berdimuhamedov was re-elected to power in the national election on 12 February 2017. He received 97 percent of the total votes casted in the election. Berdimuhamedov has ruled the country since 2006, following the death of first President Saparmurat Niyazov. These elections put him in office for the third consecutive term. Number of presidential terms and age limit was relaxed prior to election, making it possible for Berdimuhamedov to contest for yet another term.
Apart from elections in two CARs, 2017 was an important year for Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who was elected to office in December 2016 after the sudden demise of First President Islam Karimov. In February, Mirziyoyev signed a decree on Development Strategy of Actions in five Priority Areas for 2017-2021. In last one year, he has introduced number of key reforms aimed at modernization of public administration and judicial system, and liberalization of the economy. Uzbek currency ‘Sum’ was made freely convertible, which was a path-breaking step giving serious blow to the black economy.
Since coming to power, President Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan has tried to improve relations with the CARs and Afghanistan. There have been number of high-level visits, meetings on the sidelines of the international summits and telephonic exchanges, between Presidents of Uzbekistan and its neighbors. This has led to significant improvement in trade and connectivity within the CARs. In first nine months of 2017, trade between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan increased by about 30 percent; and that with Kyrgyzstan by about 60 percent. Highest point of the Uzbek-Kyrgyz relationship was Agreement on Delimitation of the state border, which was an unresolved issue since independence. President Ghani’s visit to Tashkent in December 2017 resulted in signing of 20 agreements between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan in fields of trade, transit, security, electricity and education. President Mirziyoyev’s activism has led to creation of favorable environment for regional cooperation.
On the other hand, Kazakhstan made its mark on several multi-lateral platforms. It assumed the Non-Permanent Membership (NPM) of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in January 2017. It has become the first CARs to join the apex body. As a leading initiator of peaceful settlement of international disputes, Kazakhstan hosted rounds of ‘International Meeting on Syrian Settlement’, which was attended by government and opposition forces from Syria, and representatives from the UN, Russia, Turkey and Iran. This year, Astana also hosted chain of events including SCO Summit, Expo 2017, Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) Summit on Science and Technology, and 25th anniversary celebration of the Conference of Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
The year 2017 was remarkable in development of several land, rail, air and energy connectivity projects in the Eurasian region. Some of these are listed below:
1. Direct passenger flights were started between Tashkent- Dushanbe (after 25 years) and between Tashkent- Kabul (for the first time). Air connectivity increased within CARs and with the outside world, in qualitative as well as quantitative terms. 2. Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (B-T-K) Railway was inaugurated in October, as part of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Corridor. Considered to be the shortest link connecting Europe and Asia, B-T-K is an important leg in the southern section of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB). 3. Agreement on Lapis Lazuli Transport and Trade Corridor was signed in Ashgabat in November, between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. This multi-modal transport network shall potentially be the quickest connection between Asia and Europe. 4. Projects under the BRI are making fast advances, including the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan-China railway and automobile corridor and fourth energy pipeline from CARs to China. Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan participated in the BRI Forum in Beijing in May 2017. China remains the largest trading partner and largest source of investments in the CARs.
India’s Engagements in Central Asia
In recent years, India has tried to enhance its engagements in the CARs, which was evident from announcement of ‘Connect Central Asia’ policy in 2012 and Prime Minister Modi’s ‘first of the kind’ visit to all five CARs in July 2015. These Republics are vital in India’s connectivity projects in Eurasia, like International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the Chabahar Port Agreement. India’s planned accession to the Ashgabat Agreement is also crucial in this regard. Building connectivity is the only solution to enhance trade which is miniscule at present. Being abundant in natural and mineral resources, CARs can be vital in India’s energy security. Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project is being talked about for more than a decade now. Nonetheless, because of the security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, India has to look for alternate evacuation routes.
In the Astana Summit in June 2017, India received full membership of the SCO along with Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi travelled to Kazakhstan for participating in this Summit. During visit, he also held bilateral meetings with the leaders of Central Asian member-states. Various Indian Ministers also visited the region, mainly in the SCO framework. For example, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj attended SCO Head of Governments Summit in December in Sochi, Russia, and Home Minister Rajnath Singh attended SCO Disaster Relief Meeting in August in Kyrgyzstan.
Nevertheless, after successful visits of the Kyrgyz and Tajik Presidents in December 2016, India did not receive any Head of State or Government from CARs in 2017. Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, and Foreign and Trade Ministers of Uzbekistan paid official visits to New Delhi, both in the month of August. They held meetings with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Vice President Venkaiyya Naidu and some other high-level officials. Foreign and Trade Ministers of Uzbekistan also met with the then Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and discussed impediments in trade and business and measures to improve it.
Way Forward for 2018
In 2017, there was considerable increase in high-level visits, political dialogue, trade and connectivity amongst the CARs, the trend shall continue for this year also. President of Uzbekistan will continue to reform internally and engage externally. With his enthusiastic, balanced, equal and constructive foreign policy, and efforts to improve relations with the neighbors, Uzbekistan is a country to be watched in this year.
Kazakhstan has assumed the presidency of the UNSC for the month of January. Under this presidency, a UNSC delegation visited Kabul on 13-15 January 2018. This was the first visit of UNSC to Afghanistan since 2010. The delegation, led by Kazakh ambassador Kairat Umarov, reiterated support for efforts to restore peace and progress. There is still one more year of Kazakhstan’s non-permanent Membership at the UNSC. Apart from its priorities like nuclear non-proliferation, peaceful settlement of disputes and counter-terrorism, it is likely to promote the interests of Central Asia while strengthening regional security and cooperation.
Chinese engagements in the region are likely to enhance after Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power in the aftermath of 19th Party Congress. This can culminate in higher trade, investments and also strategic partnerships. Chinese infrastructure projects will be the key factor in this relationship. Russia will continue to engage with the CARs, militarily and economically (mainly within the EEU). However, its own economic hardships and upcoming Presidential election shall make Russia take a backseat over China.
Rising threat of the Islamic State, increasing number of Central Asian fighters, concerns about returning foreign fighters, and instability in Afghanistan continues to haunt the region. Radicals belonging to Central Asian nationalities were found guilty in various deadly attacks, including Stockholm, Istanbul, St Petersburg and New York. The recently released National Security Strategy of the United States (US) highlights the importance of the CARs in US’s counter-terrorism efforts. Peace settlement in Afghanistan and cooperation in counter-terrorism will surely play an important role in Eurasian regional dynamics. In this context, SCO has potential to assume a bigger role. However, its success depends on relationship between its powerful members, Russia, China and India.
(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)