This week has seen a number of key events and crises in
global politics that have made crystal clear once again the careening mess that
is US foreign policy under the current administration. The Trump administration
has no real overarching strategy—the argument that allies in Europe and
elsewhere should bear more of the costs of their defense was not articulated as
part of any coherent broader vision—and gutting of the diplomatic corps has
left the US devoid of expertise and key actors to confront crises when they
First, there were two big stories around nuclear powers this
week. The biggest being India and Pakistan’s clashes, which came on the heels
of a suicide bombing attack on Indian troops in Kashmir by a local man that was
claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. In a scenario that Toby Dalton and George Perkovichworried
about and predicted, an air raid by India into Pakistan resulted in bombs
dropped on an open field, with two Indian planes apparently shot down, and one
airman captured. Pakistan responded with a raid of its own across the Line of
Control in Kashmir, sparking fears
of escalation between the two nuclear-armed states. The Indian raid marked
the first known aerial attack by one nuclear power on the territory of another.
While Donald Trump has naturally dominated headlines across the world this past month, his chauvinistic brother-in-arms Narenda Modi has been just as active. The boss from Gujarat is taking a page from today’s global autocratic elite – exploiting international liberal norms to further illiberal ends. The BJP’s dramatic demonetization initiative leaves nearly 87% percent of Indian currency (the 500 and 1000 rupee notes) void, in a country where virtually the same percentage of the economy operates informally. The move is meant to curb the endemic corruption eating the Indian bureaucracy, and crack down on tax evasion and apparent (“Pakistani”) currency counterfeiting. The country is not quite following Modi’s modernization script. The country is stumbling toward recession while the burden is disproportionately placed on the poor, and, in particular, rural women for whom cash is the only way to escape abusive relationships. While the economy grinds to a halt, the legislature has been thrown into gridlock, US Congress-style, as the filibuster is now all the rage.
6. A call for partition of Central African Republic. Key quote: “‘The partition itself has already been done. Now there only remains the declaration of independence,’ said Abdel Nasser Mahamat Youssouf, member of a youth group lobbying for the secession of the north, as he pointed to the flag of what he said would be a secular republic.”
8. The Marshall Islands is suing the world’s nuclear powers (h/t Holly Gerrity). Key quote: “While the suit seems unlikely to end in any country being compelled to disarm, it will at the very least highlight the fact that while existing nuclear powers frequently invoke international law to argue for why countries like Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, they tend to gloss over the other part of the deal—that they will work to fully eliminate their own arsenals.”
9. A trade spat between the US and Mexico over sugar (h/t Rebecca Johnson). Key quote: “John W. Bode, the president of the Corn Refiners Association, ‘The political influence of the US sugar industry is legendary…. They may be only 4 percent of US agriculture but when you look at political contributions, they account for a third.'”
10. Writing a great abstract (h/t Brent Sasley). A lot of good advice. Key quote: “The ideal abstract…has three parts. 1. statement of the area of concern or disputation 2. statement of the thesis or argument 3. implications for further research.”
11. Interview with GRRM. The whole thing is worth reading, but I found this quote to be of particular interest: “The war that Tolkien wrote about was a war for the fate of civilization and the future of humanity, and that’s become the template. I’m not sure that it’s a good template, though. The Tolkien model led generations of fantasy writers to produce these endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes. But the vast majority of wars throughout history are not like that. World War I is much more typical of the wars of history than World War II – the kind of war you look back afterward and say, ‘What the hell were we fighting for? Why did all these millions of people have to die? Was it really worth it to get rid of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that we wiped out an entire generation, and tore up half the continent? Was the War of 1812 worth fighting? The Spanish-American War? What the hell were these people fighting for?'”
Good morning Ducks, here are your links from South Asia… (I am not even going to pretend I know what’s going on in the Ukraine, Syria, Somalia, or Venezuela. I’ll stick to what I sort of know…).
Redhead Duck and offspring. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Vasundhara Sirnate at The Hindu writes passionately in defence of the offensive. While Indian liberals will (rightfully) continue to be upset at Penguin India’s capitulation to the so called “offended” feelings of a small and obscure group of Hindu fanatics, the liberals fail to realize that the increasing pressure to censor and protect the sentiments of various religious communities is actually just an extension of the dominant state ideology, what Manjari Chatterjee Miller labelled as “Post-Imperial Ideology” in her recent book Wronged by Empire. Miller argues that Indian prickliness (in international relations) toward perceived slights in status and Indians’ desire to consistently frame relations in terms of victimizers and victims is a major legacy of the trauma of colonialism. So perhaps it should not surprise us that in the domestic arena, the work of a brilliant (foreign) scholar of Hinduism can be painted as little more than an attempt to humiliate and offend pious Hindus. India will need to change more than its censorship policies (which are actually pointless in a digital age), it will need to change its hegemonic ideology — which is of course highly unlikely. In the meantime, the lesson for foreign scholars and foreign diplomats is clear: speaking boldly in India will result in little more than squabbles in which the foreigner is accused of deliberately seeking to humiliate the Indian state or people.
Arwin Rahi at the Diplomat argues that Afghanistan must recognize the Durand Line as its permanent border with Pakistan. Rahi is at least correct that Afghanistan needs to come to terms with this boundary — because for better or worse South Asia has inherited Westphalian definitions of statehood, but if anyone thinks that Afghan recognition of the border will end Pakistani efforts at influencing the character of the regime in Afghanistan, they are forgetting the broader strategic orientation of the Pakistani military.
Javid Husain at the Nation (Pakistan) calls for national reconciliation in Afghanistan to avoid a civil war. Unsurprisingly, he claims that the Afghan Constitution should be modified to meet the “reasonable” demands of the Taliban. Umm… right. Moving on… He also says that Karzai has displayed a “belated eagerness” to reach a deal with the Taliban, which indicates that the author was mentally on hiatus for the last decade. Despite the howlers, the article may indicate that there is at least a faction in Pakistan that would settle for using the Taliban as a kind of veto player (as opposed to seeking outright hegemony) in post-Karzai Afghanistan.
Today’s thought experiment: A foreign national is killed in your state, igniting emotional protests and a road blockade by members of his community. Your state is almost entirely economically dependent on tourism. There’s standard boilerplate for these events, right? You express regret, you pledge to investigate the murder, you vow that locals who violently attacked protesters will also be brought to justice.
Now imagine that it was a Nigerian national who had been killed. And the death may have been linked to rival drug gangs fighting over territory. Does the picture change? Recent events in BJP-governed Goa seem to suggest that it does. Within a few days, one Goan state minister had referred to Nigerians as “a cancer,” one MP stated that Nigerians were “wild animals” who were hopped up on drugs, and another pointed out that Nigerians misuse educational schemes, overstay their visas, and “try to boss over Goans.” The Goan Chief Minister referred to Nigerians as “huge and aggressive” and “seven feet tall.” The state government started a campaign to round up and evict Nigerians without proper documentation, a dragnet that also caught legal immigrants in its wake. Some Goan villages began to ban the rental of housing to “foreigners” (read: Nigerians). Of course, this sparked a nasty diplomatic row, as Nigerian consular officials made unsubtle remarks about the security of Indians resident in Nigeria. Late last week, the Goan Chief Minister doubled down, saying that it was not racism since “you will see that more Nigerians are involved in drugs.”
How might we look at this from an international relations perspective? How many incidents of “we wouldn’t want anything to happen to those pretty nationals of yours” occur between states? How much does being Colombian or Albanian or Nigerian increase one’s risk of xenophobic targeting? And have we adequately recognized the implications of transnational crime networks for the treatment of co-national minorities?
The world has payed attention to the gang-rape of a young woman (her name has not been made widely public) in Delhi and her struggle to survive over the last few weeks. The reports of the brutal incident on December 16th broke through the national news of India and set waves of reports through the rest of the world. The sheer violence, randomness, and horror of it seemed to fixate the globe.
Now, as we learn that this woman’s struggle to survive after multiple surgeries, cardiac arrest, and evidence of brain damage has ended, there seems to be an attempt to shift this story back into familiar categories of domestic sexual violence and out of the political sphere. Reports on the death of this woman consistently re-report the hospital’s claim that she ‘died peacefully.’ This may seem like a side note to the entire story, yet these words hold significant political value and raises some important questions, including:
Does the focus on her ‘peaceful’ death detract from the violent nature of her attack and her exhausting struggle for life over the last 2 weeks?
Two years ago, Der Spiegel published an audio recording of secret negotiations involving many of the world’s most important leaders meeting together on Friday, December 18, 2009, during the Copenhagen climate summit:
The world’s most powerful politicians were gathered in the “Arne Jacobsen” conference room in Copenhagen’s Bella Center, negotiating ways to protect the world’s climate. US President Barack Obama was perched on the edge of a wooden chair with blue upholstery, talking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The blue turban of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was bobbing over the tops of a few hastily assembled potted plants. The meeting was soon dubbed the “mini-summit of the 25.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was there, representing the African continent, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon was standing nearby. Only one important world leader was missing, an absence that came to symbolize the failure of the climate summit: Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao…
Now, for the first time, SPIEGEL is in a position to reconstruct the decisive hour-and-a-half meeting on that fateful Friday. Audio recordings of historical significance, in the form of two sound files that total 1.2 gigabytes in size and that were created by accident, serve as the basis for the analysis. The Copenhagen protocol shows how the meeting Gordon Brown called “the most important conference since the Second World War” ended in a diplomatic zero.
The video posted above includes many of the most important sound snippets, accompanied by photos of the speakers and some important contextual information.
Der Spiegel‘s online version of the article includes key quotations from the meeting. Essentially, European leaders like Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown were urging their colleagues to come to an agreement about both near-term and long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Asian negotiators, including top Chinese diplomat He Yafei, argued against the sizable emissions reductions target under discussion (50%), even though “Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg pointed out that it was the Indians who had proposed the inclusion of concrete emissions reductions for the industrialized nations in the treaty.”
European leaders and China’s negotiator Yafei had a surprisingly tense back-and-forth exchange that nicely summarizes some of the most important international politics undergirding the climate change debate. The western leaders accused the Chinese of seeking double standards, wanting to free ride on environmental commitments made by the affluent states:
The words suddenly burst out of French President Nicolas Sarkozy: “I say this with all due respect and in all friendship.” Everyone in the room, which included two dozen heads of state, knew that he meant precisely the opposite of what he was saying. “With all due respect to China,” the French president continued, speaking in French.
The West, Sarkozy said, had pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent. “And in return, China, which will soon be the biggest economic power in the world, says to the world: Commitments apply to you, but not to us.”
Sarkozy, gaining momentum, then said: “This is utterly unacceptable!” And then the French president stoked the diplomatic conflict even further when he said: “This is about the essentials, and one has to react to this hypocrisy!”
Angela Merkel also joined the fray, by referencing the scientific evidence necessitating that China join a binding agreement for significant emissions reductions:
Merkel took one last stab. The reduction of greenhouse gases by 50 percent, that is, limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, was a reference to what is written in the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. Then she directed a dramatic appeal at the countries seeking to block the treaty: “Let us suppose 100 percent reduction, that is, no CO2 in the developed countries anymore. Even then, with the (target of) two degrees, you have to reduce carbon emissions in the developing countries. That is the truth.”
China’s negotiator, He Yafei was unmoved, and placed the blame for climate change — as well as the responsibility to act — squarely on the shoulders of affluent states:
The Chinese negotiator… took on the French president’s gaffe, and said: “I heard President Sarkozy talk about hypocrisy. I think I’m trying to avoid such words myself. I am trying to go into the arguments and debate about historical responsibility.”
He Yafei decided to give the group a lesson in history: “People tend to forget where it is from. In the past 200 years of industrialization developed countries contributed more than 80 percent of emissions. Whoever created this problem is responsible for the catastrophe we are facing.”
Seeking to break the impasse, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke pragmatically about the need for action from both the advanced economies and the large developing states (India and China).
“From the perspective of the developed countries, in order for us to be able to mobilize the political will within each of our countries to not only engage in substantial mitigation efforts ourselves, which are very difficult, but to also then channel some of the resources from our countries into developing countries, is a very heavy lift,” Obama said. Then, speaking directly to China, he added: “If there is no sense of mutuality in this process, it is going to be difficult for us to ever move forward in a significant way.”
However, Obama also suggested in his remarks that the problem need not be addressed in the current meeting since “We will try to give some opportunities for its resolution outside of this multilateral setting.”
Indeed, not long after this meeting, the US, China, India and other players cut a deal involving near-term (2020) emissions reduction targets that countries would set for themselves. This was described by climate activist Bryony Worthington as a “voluntary ‘pledge and review later’ type agreement with minimum enforcement.” Worthington and many other observers thus considered the summit “a spectacular failure on many levels.”
The final deal was made, as Der Spiegel notes, without direct input from the Europeans. In other words, the key decisions were not made at the meeting documented in the audio recording. In fact, the high-level mini-summit adjourned at the request of the Chinese negotiator, and the major developing states met separately:
The Indians had reserved a room one floor down, where Prime Minister Singh met with his counterparts, Brazilian President Lula da Silva and South Africa President Jacob Zuma. Wen Jiabao was also there.
Shortly before 7 p.m., US President Obama burst into the cozy little meeting of rising economic powers.
At that meeting, everything that was important to the Europeans was removed from the draft agreement, particularly the concrete emissions reduction targets. Later on, the Europeans — like the other diplomats from all the other powerless countries, who had been left to wait in the plenary chamber — had no choice but to rubberstamp the meager result.
IR scholars rarely have access to this kind of (nearly) real-time “insider” data, though it is telling that virtually all of the world leaders make claims that we would have expected. In that way, this audio recording is like the Wikileaks documents. The evidence reveals what we think we already know about how the sausage is made.
Note: Thanks to Miranda Schreurs (posting on a mailing list) for pointing me to the audio recording.
So the US is supposedly going to pivot to Asia and start worrying more about China. This makes sense (which is probably why we won’t do it). The Middle East has become a pretty terrible sinkhole of American power. Increasingly the verdict on the war on terrorism is negative, and we should probably retrench from the Middle East (but we won’t because of the religious right’s interest in the region). Mearsheimer argued that if it weren’t for 9/11 we probably would have focused on China a lot earlier. Kaplan sketched how the US would defeat China in a war. I argued a few years ago, at the height of the ‘China-has-changed-into-a-scary-revisionist’ hype of 2009-11, that containment of China was likely (maybe even desirable ). And clearly China’s behavior over the last few years has raised the likelihood of at least soft containment; even the Vietnamese and the Filipinos are asking for US agreements now.
But I don’t see much Western discussion of how China would/should respond. So in the tradition of those old CIA A team/B team exercises, here are five ideas for how China should/could respond to its incipient encirclement: 1. Pull Korea into its orbit by dumping NK and supporting finlandized unity.
This is such a no-brainer. China’s big regional political problem is that no one really trusts it. So its allies are lame – NK and Myanmar, and even the latter is drifting now. The best way to head off the encirclement that hammered both the Germans and the Soviets in the 20th C is to break the ring with some decent allies, and nasty, dependent dictatorships are not enough. SK is a pretty central link in any containment ring around China, but one where China has a lot of leverage.
Before the 20th C, Korea was Confucian China’s closest ally/subordinate for a millennium. Korean culture is very close to China (even if modern nationalist Koreans don’t want to admit it): the language is shot through with Sinic roots, the philosophy of Confucianism comes from China, social traditions are similar (food, dress, etc.). Koreans will not tell you that China is a big enemy of Korea, no matter how many Japanese and US scholars, pundits, etc. say it is. I see this in class and at conferences all the time. Structural realism and liberalism both say that Japan and Korea should ally against China and NK. Nope! The average Korean just won’t buy that no matter how many times you repeat your IR logic. Instead, he thinks that Japan, and even the US, is a greater threat to Korea than China. Dokdo activates Koreans a lot more than China’s growth. Also Korea has a long tradition of anti-Americanism too. Yes, they are a good ally to the US, but mostly because they need us a lot more than most US allies, not because they really like us that much. Lots of Koreans that I meet think that the US is heavily responsible for the division of the country, bullies SK leaders, forces unfair trade deals on the country, sends pot-smoking English teacher to prey on their young girls, etc. All this may or may not be true – hold that thought – but consider what an opening this gives China.
Finally, Koreans really want unity, and China is probably best placed to give it to them (more so than the US actually). I have written about this a lot before, but if we accept that NK is all but dependent on China now, then China could basically force a deal in which Korea got unity on southern terms, but only if US Forces in Korea left. Yes, lots of Chinese see NK as a buffer between the robust democracies of Japan, SK, and the US. But NK is a losing horse. Someday it will crash and burn, and how much does it really help China now anyway? Its elites are so unpredictable than the CCP must always be wondering wth they will do this week. A Chinese-backed finlandized unification would electrify the region, neutralize a major link in the ring, isolate Japan, and confuse the US (would the US oppose unity to keep troops in Korea and Japan?).
2. Keep flattering India.
India and China will never be too close (barring a democratic revolution in China). Their long border and history of tension makes the relationship tough. But China would at least benefit if India did not throw in its lot completely with the US camp in Asia. In 2010, I predicted that India would have US bases within the decade because of the almost tailor-made fit between India and the US. That is, both India and the US share both values (liberal democracy) and security concerns (salafism and China). No other major US ally has that nice contiguity (see the chart below). But a tight Indo-US link would be clearly worsen China’s position, complementing the current tight US-Japan link and providing an obvious anchor on the other side to a ring running from Japan through Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia, and India. That really would be encirclement along the lines of what happened to Germany before 1914. But India isn’t really following this script. They’re hedging the US somewhat, and the evolution of the responsibility to protect into triumphalist western regime chagne in Libya looks to New Dehli like neocolonialism all over again. There’s an ‘BRICS solidarity’ opening for China here. Given the India is still pretty soft on American option, a charm offensive, however humbling, would be wise.
A few days ago I met the woman in the attached photograph. Her name is Karima. She is a college graduate who was born a male and, at 21, had gender reassignment surgery. Some time later she entered the “Miss Transgender India” contest and took fifth place. Her boyfriend, out of jealousy, set her on fire (her neck, torso, and upper arms show terrible scars) and broke her leg so badly that she can no longer stand unassisted.
After that experience, Karima joined a group of “hijra”. In India, hijra are communities of transgendered people who identify as women or who have actually had sex-change surgery. Shunned, or worse, by society, they survive largely by begging, by dancing and giving (or withholding) blessings at weddings, or through sex work. They normally have few other employment options, and can expect little protection from government and the police. Usually groups of hijra are led by “gurus” who exploit the “chelas”, or disciples, under them, taking their earnings and forcing them into sex work.
I met Karima because she was participating in a program, run by a local NGO and sponsored by the UN Development Programme, to teach the transgender community about their civil rights. The training, which took place over two weeks in the city of Raipur in Chhattisgarh state, included talks and exercises on legal remedies, community organizing, right to information issues, and petitioning for government action. It also had psychological social workers talk about building self-esteem, and an effort to build job skills. The NGO is talking to employers about finding jobs for hijras.
Why is the UN sponsoring such programs? The idea of a “human rights based approach to development” began with talk about many economic and social rights – the right to food, shelter, education – but has led UN agencies increasingly towards promoting civil and political rights as well. That means working with marginalized groups such as lower castes and untouchables, indigenous (“tribal”) peoples, and even hijra. It also means promoting social change, and challenging government power. This happens at the highest level – where, for example, UN agencies have quietly pushed back against Indian government opposition to providing aid in areas held by Maoist rebels – and at the local level – where NGO workers on UNDP projects have been roughed up for promoting lower-caste rights. Of course the UN agencies understand their limits, and in the past UN officials have been asked to leave – quietly – for speaking of rights too much. But its no longer a taboo topic.
The term “Indo-Pacific” has been used since the mid-seventies, mainly to refer to a biological ecosystem. In the last few years, however, “Indo-Pacific” has come to describe a set of interrelated maritime security challenges from the East China Sea to the Arabian Sea — particularly as India’s Navy makes forays into the South China Sea and China seeks to protect its supply routes through the Indian Ocean. But the geopolitics brought into focus by this “45 degree tilt” of the map is not restricted to India and China; it also includes the US, Australia, Japan, and the rising powers of Southeast Asia. As with the notion of “AfPak” that shaped the last decade, India is not the architect of this new cartography that displaces the notion of South Asia as a unified strategic space inherited from the British Raj, but India need not necessarily object to this new imagining.
So who is shaping this relatively new conceptualization? The origins of this new focus apparently date back to a 2009 speech by Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd at the Asia Foundation in San Francisco. (He may have been influenced in part by the recent writing of Robert Kaplan). Rudd argued that in the future, the Indian Ocean would become as central to maritime security thinking and defense planning for powers like the US and Australia as the Pacific is currently. Essentially, Rudd advocated replacing the notion of the “Asia-Pacific” theater, which is partly a legacy of WWII and Cold War era strategic thinking, with the concept of “Indo-Pacific” as an integrated theater of operation to focus on emerging security challenges. The new conceptualization anticipates the rise of India as a major naval power — an idea which is sure to flatter New Delhi — and as another counterweight to China. Rudd’s articulation was also an attempt to persuade the Americans to prioritize long term engagement with Asia (Weekend Australian, 17 September 2011). With no major maritime security threats in the Atlantic, and serious challenges from the Horn of Africa to the Korean peninsula, it is not surprising that the US would agree with Australia’s framing and seek greater engagement with the Indo-Pacific region — a framework which has the added benefits of not being wedded to any existing regional organization and of pivoting at the strategic choke points which are the domain of strong American allies: Singapore and Australia. Hence President Obama’s announcement a couple weeks ago that the US had agreed to deploy 2,500 marines to Darwin, Australia, just south of the Timor Sea. A move that the NY Times called “The first long term expansion of America’s military presence in the Pacific since the end of the Vietnam War.”
A cartographic reorientation on this scale is not something which can be achieved by fiat. It will require regional powers to embrace and integrate this new framing of the map. Indian security elites, for example, have only recently begun to think strategically from an “upside down” map or an “ant hill” perspective of South Asia. The reflexive desire is to prioritize immediate and long-standing security challenges over emerging challenges. And these reflexes may not be ill placed for countries like India and China which have long unsettled borders and a history of conflict (as well as cooperation). Moreover, an overemphasis on the potential for conflict in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea ignores the ways in which Chinese infrastructural investment in Pakistan may help China to circumvent the long sea route for a portion of its imports and exports — although China will still have an interest in new sources of energy off its coast. There is also the risk of overplaying the growing strength of China while ignoring the ways in which it is also becoming more vulnerable.
Even though India did not invent this new conceptual map, it need not view it in a hostile light. India’s maritime priority will always rest in Indian Ocean, but its ships will increasingly need to move freely outside the Indian Ocean to maintain India’s access to resources and markets. As such, India will benefit from a stable and uniform order that extends well beyond the Straits of Malacca. An Anglophone dominated order in the Indo-Pacific may be more comfortable for India given its regime type, distrust of China, and growing ties with the US and Australia. Expanding ties with other rising powers in the Indo-Pacific that share some of India’s concerns about China is also prudent since America cannot be relied upon to retain its attention in the region over the long term.
I remember once when I was exploring the Indian hill station of Shillong in Meghalaya, I read a random factoid in a guide book which said the town was geographically closer to Hanoi than Delhi. It was not actually very difficult to believe that in the remote states of Northeast India, the gravitational pull begins to shift towards Southeast Asia. I also knew that India’s Nicobar Islands were less than 100 miles from the coast of Indonesia. Myanmar and Singapore were once part of British India. Etc., etc… Those random factoids make it seem that regional integration between India and some of the dynamic countries of ASEAN is both natural and inevitable. In reality, however, due to protracted insurgency in India’s northeast, a relatively closed regime in Myanmar, and a general focus on trade with Europe and America, the prospects for regional integration have seemed unrealistic for decades. Nevertheless, with the adoption of India’s “Look East” policy in 1991, there have been some efforts to enhance ties between India and ASEAN over the years which are beginning to bear fruit — the real question is whether India will shift its posture to exploit these opportunities to shape the architecture of Southeast Asian regional integration.
The main goal of the 9th India-ASEAN Summit this year was to prioritize a services and investment pact set to be completed by March 2012, which would pave the way for an India-ASEAN Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. The 2009 India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in goods has already come into effect; current trade between India and ASEAN is about $50 billion and rising very fast. Visa on arrival facilities in India for ASEAN nationals has also been established. Of course, as even intra-ASEAN trade is riddled with non-tariff barriers and financial investment impediments, these kinds of trade agreements may not be sufficient to open up markets until there is genuine support for free trade by states in the region. But from a long term perspective these kinds of agreements are essential to at least begin the process of integration. The 2005 Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between Singapore and India, for example, has led to an exponential increase in investment and trade.
From a political perspective, there is increasing warmth between India and its ASEAN neighbors. It may be worth noting that India invited Susilo Bambang Yudhyono to be the guest of honor at India’s Republic Day parade this year. Some commentators believe that strong bi-lateral relationships with countries like Indonesia and Singapore may be benchmarks for India’s ability to engage with ASEAN states more broadly.
The reasons for India’s interest in these emerging markets and resource rich countries like Indonesia is perhaps obvious at a time when the West is in recession and the competition for access to energy is intense. Indian energy firms and even some manufacturers are already heavily invested in ASEAN members like Indonesia and Singapore.
However, ASEAN members’ interest in India appears to mainly be driven by a desire to purchase additional insurance against China’s growing influence particularly in the South China Sea. India has a dog in the fight with China because Indian and Vietnamese firms have signed agreements for oil and gas exploration off the coast of Vietnam. There has even been tension in recent years between the PLAN and Indian Navy off the coast of Vietnam. But, of course, the real balancing occurred simply by inviting the US to participate in the East Asia Summit (EAS). The US quickly helped to foreground security issues that highlight tensions between ASEAN states and China. India by contrast continues to appear indecisive as it remains concerned about being dragged into a confrontational American containment strategy directed against China. India’s fear about being used as a pawn in an American game are valid, but India needs to clearly decide the role that it wants to play in Southeast Asia. If ASEAN is vital to India as a source for energy and a market for Indian goods, then a more robust posture is required. While China will rightfully defend its own interests, it is quite sensitive to the limits of its power and has already demonstrated that it does not wish to trigger a hard containment strategy by alarming all of its neighbors (see Goldstein, Rising to the Challenge, 2005).
Of course, some ASEAN members also see India as a lucrative market. Singaporean firms, for example, have invested in India’s technology parks, telecommunications, and manage some of India’s infrastructure, including major seaports and airports. Singapore is the second largest source of FDI in India with a cumulative investment of around $18 billion and it is India’s 8th largest trading partner. India is Singapore’s 10th largest trading partner, and with $16 billion invested in Singapore, India is the second largest Asian investor after Japan (Business Times Singapore, 11/19/11). But Singapore’s relations with India remain exceptional for the most part.
Even with some progress on liberalizing trade with Pakistan in recent weeks, India future lies as much in the East as within South Asia given the lack luster integration within the Subcontinent so far. India needs to make its markets more attractive to a broader range of ASEAN members if it hopes to be able to have much influence in shaping the regional architecture. This is will probably require, at the very least, simplifying licensing requirements which act as Non-Tariff Barriers. Politically, India can free ride on America’s willingness to confront China for now, but a stronger level of leadership will be needed as the US declines.
India remains “the dispensable nation” in Southeast Asia, but it probably cannot afford to be so.
The din of the Great Rebellion of 1857 will continue to echo into our era, marred as it is by ongoing wars and insurgencies in Muslim lands. I believe that a careful study of those events are pertinent for American and European students of global politics today as they attempt to contextualize the challenges to American military might and Western cultural hegemony continuously pulsating onto the global stage from the remote corners of South Asia. A chronicle of 1857 is also useful to understand the fragility of a multicultural society in the face of contending religious fundamentalisms and unrelenting militarism.
In this light, William Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal (2006) provides an accessible and compelling history of the events which led to the final collapse of a tolerant and refined Indo-Islamic civilization. The book has been controversial among professional historians — particularly South Asian historians, but given the enormity of the subject matter it is digestible for an undergraduate audience and a decent entry point into an unending discussion.
The Great Rebellion, when it is not diminished and dismissed as a “mutiny,” has often been simplified as a confrontation between British imperialists and proto-nationalist Indians, but this is a drastic over simplification — if not an outright caricature of history. Dalrymple’s book helps to lay out the complex array of forces, communities, and individuals that confronted one another during the uprising — from Britons who had converted to Islam and married into notable Muslim families to Hindu soldiers who rallied to fight and die for an ageing and indecisive Muslim emperor alongside 25,000 Wahhabi-inspired jihadis/ mujahedin; and including Hindus and Muslims who had converted to Christianity and adopted British manners and sartorial accoutrement. The book intelligently and consistently resists attempts to read history through a simplifying lens or the meta-narrative of a clash of civilizations.
Nevertheless, goaded on by Christian and Islamic fundamentalists, the war did create horrificatrocities by the Britons and their Sepoy adversaries that polarized communities. In particular, Dalrymple provides an unflinching and detailed account of the crimes perpetrated by British officers and their allies after they sacked the imperial capital — belying any claims by Anglophiles that the Britons were a civilizing force and interrogating the notion of a “just retribution” for the (at times exaggerated) crimes of the rebels. A lesson to take away from this rich and nuanced history is the role of religious fundamentalists at home and abroad in paving the pathway for slaughter — even though Dalrymple may overplay the religious element of the conflict at the expense of other important causal factors. The devaluation of foreign customs, vilification of rival religious practices, and outright attempts to insult the faith of others set in motion the rumors that would spark the rebellion and cut the last restraints on civilized behavior during and after the uprising on all sides. One often hears international relations scholars diminish the importance of words and labels in favor of material and aggregate behavioral factors. However, it is clear in Dalrymple’s account that discursive violence shaped and facilitated the return of medieval barbarity to the point that the Britons aspired to slaughter all of the inhabitants of Delhi (many of whom had remained steadfastly loyal to them even when the city was occupied by Sepoys) and to “delete” the entire city. If nothing else, the book alerts the reader to understand the very real consequences that accompany a rhetoric which denigrates the culture, faith, and traditional forms of political legitimacy in other communities. This is a simple lesson, but one that is often lost on policy makers, scholars and students committed to a modernist discourse.
India appears to be continuing to shift its West Asia policy away from a once budding partnership with Iran, which aimed among other things to stabilize Afghanistan. It is rumored that in late March, the Indian National Security Adviser, Shiv Shanker Menon, delicately delivered a message to the Islamic Republic that India’s PM would not be making a state visit later this year (Telegraph [Kolkata] 3/10/11).
If the news reports are correct, the diplomatic maneuver comes only a few months after India abandoned the practice of paying for its crude oil imports from Iran through the Tehran based Asian Clearing Union, a central bank clearing mechanism, apparently under direct pressure from President Obama. India was so hasty in acceding to US demands that it failed to set an alternate mechanism in place or even to consult private petroleum importers. India asked Iran to find a set of banks that were not under US sanctions in order to reroute financial payments. For its part, Iran did not retaliate and continued to supply crude oil on credit to India until a new payment arrangement was agreed through branches of both countries’ state owned banks in Germany. Iran is the largest single supplier of crude oil to India (importing ~$12 billion / per year), and India still has plans to invest heavily in Iranian oil and gas fields. India has also abstained from voting on Iran’s human rights situation in the UN Human Rights Council and it voted in 2010 in support of the IAEA censure of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The latter vote elicited a “nasty” letter from the Iranian government even though India had tried to indicate that it did not support punitive sanctions and favored dialog (PTI, 5/17/2010). The censure vote reinforced a decision in 2005 by India to support taking the issue of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program to the UN Security Council. Although India might ideally prefer to retain its friendship with Iran, India appears to be signalling a shift toward further alignment within the American orbit at the expense of its ties to Iran.
A portion of the tension between India and Iran may also relate to technical details in the proposed IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline) project. India wanted Iran should to guarantee delivery of gas across Pakistani territory and Iran has been unresponsive (Doordarshan, 5/15/2010). However, these disputes are likely to be a consequences of India’s position at the IAEA rather a completely separate point of contention.
In addition to the fact that India’s partnership with the US has already begun to provide dividends, India’s foreign policy establishment must also weigh the value of its growing security ties with Israel as well as robust economic relations with the Persian Gulf countries relative to the value of potential future energy imports from Iran. Indian non-oil trade with the GCC countries (~$24 billion) dwarfs its non-oil trade with Iran (~$5 billion). The GCC countries also supply approximately 2/3 of India’s oil imports and are a major source of remittance income (Indian Express 8/9/2007). Finally, as a permanent member of the IAEA Board of Governors, India has a strong interest to defend its own reputation as a responsible nuclear power in order to legitimate its own questionable entry into the nuclear armed club.
If the shift in Indian foreign policy continues, it will be tantamount to a retreat from its considerable efforts to stabilize Afghanistan (India is the 5th largest donor to Afghanistan). It is already evident that the Delaram-Zaranj road built by Indian paramilitary forces at considerable risk and cost in Western Afghanistan to reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan has been taken over by Taliban militants. Lowering India’s profile in Afghanistan marginally harms America’s objective of stabilizing Afghanistan, particularly as India remains one of the most favored donor countries among Afghans.
American policy toward Iran, which is almost exclusively a reflection of the interests of allies in West Asia, may come at the expense of stability in South Asia. Although Iran has no interest in destabilizing its eastern neighbor, American attempts to isolate Iran diplomatically mean that an opportunity to use the stabilizing influence of a Muslim majority state which has historically had tremendous influence among Dari speaking Afghans and a strong anti-Taliban disposition are being squandered.
The US and Iran were able to work together in 2001 to help overthrow the Taliban. And despite some reports of munitions from Iran being shipped to insurgents (none of which have been successfully traced back to the Iranian government), Iran has mostly acted as a stabilizing force in Afghanistan — even allegedly supplying direct cash support to the Karzai regime. In fact, as Ambassador James Dobbins has recounted, it was the Iranians who reminded the Americans at the Bonn conference that the new Afghan constitution really ought to mention the word “democracy” at least once. And for all of the moralizing American rhetoric about women’s rights, it is also worth recalling that in the early years of the Taliban, when the US sought to cozy up to the brutal movement to secure pipeline contracts, only the Iranians championed the rights of Afghan women which were being trampled. This is not to argue that the Iranian regime’s record on democratic governance, human rights, and civil rights is without very serious problems, but it is to show that Iran is not America’s “other.”
A more balanced US foreign policy toward Iran (which would also give India greater political and diplomatic room for maneuver), despite decades of animosity and the potential for further horizontal nuclear proliferation, is most likely in the best interest of the US and most of the regional players in South and Central Asia. Iran could also contribute by climbing down from its current position on nuclear enrichment.
The visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna, to Afghanistan a few days ago overlapped the Afghan High Peace Council’s visit to Pakistan to establish a joint Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Jirga. Although the overlap of the two events appears to be coincidental, it highlighted the complex trilateral dynamic that must be negotiated.
India has now fully backed the reconciliation process with the Taliban in Afghanistan, although India asserted reconciliation could only happen with those who “abjured” violence and broke links to terrorist organizations. In the past, India had reservations about the Taliban, who were viewed as a pawn of the Pakistani intelligence organization, the ISI. Most likely, the Indian government’s change of heart is related to its concern to limit the resurgence of Pakistani influence in Afghanistan.
The Afghan perspective on the India-Pakistan conflict taking place on their soil is complex. While Afghans are wary of Pakistan’s hegemonic aspirations, and grateful for Indian assistance in reconstruction, they are also disconsolate about their territory being used for another proxy war. Here is a small sample of opinions in the Afghan Press: In the pro-government, Pashto language newspaper published out of Kabul, Weesa, M. Shafiq wrote an editorial on 9 January arguing [translation by BBC Monitoring]:
“… it is a fact that Afghanistan is the victim of negative rivalries between Pakistan and India besides other problems. Pakistan blames India for the unrest and violence in Balochistan and even Waziristan and claims that Indian intelligence agency carries out subversive activities in Pakistan from Afghanistan. Pakistan’s media, politicians and even senior government officials complain against the Afghan government. Actually, Pakistan wants Afghanistan to cut off its ties with India and they have openly announced that Afghanistan’s close relations with India are a matter of concern for Pakistan.
India also blamed Pakistan’s intelligence for the attacks on its embassy in Afghanistan. There are concerns that if the Taliban join the system, it will undermine their [probably Pakistan’s] interests. Afghanistan is the victim of rivalries between two countries. Unfortunately, the structure of system following the Bonn Conference should also be blamed for this. The then foreign minister, Dr Abdullah, who was a member of Northern Alliance, based relations with India on his hostility with Pakistan. Unfortunately, India still expects such relations from Afghanistan. Pakistan also expects the Afghan side to have friendly relations with it just as the mujahideen leaders had with them during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
This is the outcome of the failed diplomacy of our Foreign Ministry. Afghanistan is suffering from the war of intelligence and is the victim of negative rivalries between the regional countries. Our senior officials, in particular the Foreign Ministry and the president, should persuade the two countries that Afghanistan needs to maintain friendly relations with all countries of the region and world, and to reach reconciliation and end war inside the country. The Taleban, Hezb-e Eslami and the armed opponents of the government, who are the sons of this soil, cannot be eliminated on the instructions of one or another country.
The door for peace and reconciliation cannot be closed. Every country has its own interests, will and independent position. Why should a country expect the Afghans to sacrifice their will for its interests in the name of friendship? One country should not undermine the national interests of another country. India and Pakistan can ask the Afghan government and system not to allow any country to use its soil against it. However, neither of them has the right to say: If you have friendly relations with that country, it will mean that you are our enemy; or if you reconcile with your opponents to end the internal fighting, it will harm us.
India and Pakistan have historic disputes. Their main dispute is over water resources in Kashmir. Actually, the dispute of Kashmir is also because of water. It is not a geographical issue. Both countries should pay attention to the present situation. Peaceful life and a new phase in friendly relations are in their interest. However, if they still want to continue their rivalries and fighting, they can test their strength on their long joint border. Why do they cause problems in our country? Our senior officials should persuade the two countries not to continue their rivalries in our country.”
While Shafiq’s analysis of the Kashmir dispute is clearly flawed, simplistic, and narrow, one senses a deep desire for “neutrality” in order to create the space for reconciliation and reconstruction. The author implies that Afghanistan has been caught up in the proxy fight because of the personal politics of the first foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. In essence, the editorial does not realize the larger regional dynamics at work which have displaced the rivalry from the Vale of Kashmir to the valleys of Afghanistan.
An editorial in Hasht-e-Sobh, an independent, secular, daily, published in Dari on 9 January [translation by BBC Monitoring] states:
“The Afghan government has repeatedly announced that it will not allow its country to turn into the ground for attack against any country, but does Pakistan seek and wait for permission! Pakistan controls the Taliban who do not stick to any principle. Unfortunately, the geographic location of Afghanistan is such that it has turned into the battleground between Pakistan and India.
… Pakistan, as the inheritor of the colonial power, hopes that Afghanistan will not take any step in its foreign relations without the permission of Pakistan. Otherwise, it will be the negation of the existence and identity of a country called Afghanistan and a stigma none of our countrymen will accept. The fact that it is said that Afghanistan wants “honourable or respectable peace” means that we do not want peace at any cost. The peace that denies our identity and existence is not peace but it means that we are under the yoke of slavery, thus a dignified death is better than that.
… India is one of those countries that have made the most contributions to us, unlike Pakistan which launches aggression against our country. Of course, it is clear that Afghanistan also takes into account the legitimate concerns of Pakistan.”
While the editorial is generally hostile toward Pakistan in particular, it is not necessarily advocating a pro-Indian position. In essence, from the Afghan perspective one sees again a desire for “neutrality” even though the immediate threat to sovereignty and autonomy is seen to emanate from Pakistan.
From the Pakistani perspective, a “neutral” and autonomous Afghanistan is de facto hostile to its interests, because Pakistan’s military would have to contemplate a two-front war if another round of hostilities occurs with India. Even though such a full scale war is unlikely given that both Pakistan and India are nuclear powers, the Kargil War demonstrates that both states are willing to continue a confrontational posture even in a nuclear era.
A few Afghan analysts seem to understand that a neutral foreign policy harms Pakistani interests. One analysts who does see the dynamic clearly is university lecturer, Fardin Hashemi. He stated on Tolo TV on January 8th that creating a balance between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan would be a setback for Pakistan. He expanded that the Taliban’s preconditions for peace talks (i.e. the withdrawal of foreign forces and discarding the Constitution) served to protect the interests of Pakistan. The idea that the Taliban’s is under the control of the Pakistani ISI is probably an over simplification of a rather complex relationship, but it is certainly true that a weak government in Kabul is better for Pakistan and generally more challenging for India.
Afghanistan has yet to articulate a clear regional policy, perhaps with good cause. An openly hostile policy toward Pakistan would be counter productive, particularly at a time when Afghanistan must rely upon Pakistan to destroy havens for the insurgents on Pakistani soil. However, it is also doubtful that a policy of “neutrality” will placate Pakistan. Given the gradual withdrawal of US/ISAF forces in the coming years, an externally imposed solution is also unlikely. India seems to lack the will and perhaps even the capability for a military alliance with Afghanistan. An expansion of the Indo-Iranian partnership in Afghanistan might help limit Pakistani influence but it would create its own round of headaches…
I attended a forum on the math and science curriculum last night at my kids’ school and we had an interesting presentation and discussion on the general state of math and science education in the United States. Several of the parents present at the forum were math and science faculty members from Smith College and from UMass. One prominent theme was the lament that the US was falling behind China and India in the math and sciences.
One of the parents referred me to an article and data published last summer in Money magazine. A key finding:
As math and science talent accumulates abroad, companies do more of their hiring there, reducing demand in the U.S. That’s partly why undergraduate engineering majors are a shrinking proportion of the total, down from 6.8% to about 4.5% over the past 20 years. Employers then claim they can’t find engineers in the U.S. — so they have to hire abroad.
Another passage generated a sharp response from several parents:
The fastest-growing college majors in America as of 2007, says the U.S. Education Department, were parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies, as well as security and protective services.
Then this morning, Thomas Friedman’s column added another plug for the decline of American math and sciences in American education.
I’m certainly not pollyannaish on the state of math and science education in the United States. My 12-year-old son loves math and sciences but complains about “math limbo” at his school — as he puts it: “They keep lowering the bar and asking us to go under it.” OK, that may be a bit of pre-teen bravado speaking, but in the era of underfunded No Child Left Behind mandates, teachers are increasingly incentivised to teach to the state tests and discouraged from using a range of differentiated teaching techniques to meet a broad range of student interest and aptitudes.
But, my broader objection to this discussion and to the broader debate on relative decline, power transition, and the “rise of China and India,” is the failure to understand or examine the complexities and challenges that both China and India face. No one can dispute the extraordinary economic transitions and growth rates realized by China and India over the past twenty-five years. But most of the political discourse on power transition (and the lament of American decline) seems to assume linear trends over the next twenty-five to fifty years.
I’m not sure I see it that way. I co-edited a volume last year on China and it included interesting chapters by Iain Johnston and Sheena Chestnut from Harvard, by Susan Shirk from UCSD, by Cheng Li from Brookings, and by Kelly Sims Gallagher at Tufts among others, that all presented significant internal contradictions within China and questioned the viability and sustainability of current trend lines. With all due respect to the challenges facing the United States, both China and India face far greater obstacles in terms of internal political challenges and vulnerabilities, in terms of the relative disparities in the distribution of wealth, in terms of dealing with abject poverty, in terms of rural to urban migration and the subsequent social and cultural dislocations, as well as in terms of environmental degradation and resource scarcity. Given these challenges, I’m not sure I see China’s rise as inevitable — we may see it, but we may not….
All of this has implications for the more immediate discussion on the current state of American math and sciences. Prachi Patel has a nice summary of some of the contradictory indicators in last month’s issue of IEEE Spectrum Magazine (the flagship magazine of the leading professional organization for advanced technologies). She writes there remain significant quality gaps in the education standards in India and Chinese engineering programs. While students at the elite Chinese and Indian institutions graduate with skills on par with the top American students, these elite students account for only a fraction of the total graduates with these degrees:
Lower-tier colleges and universities in both India and China suffer from passive learning styles. Design and project work is typically absent, the curricula do not focus on problem solving or building project management and communication skills, and there are no internships or other work experience….
….[Vivek]Wadhwa [an executive in residence at Duke University’s engineering programming] adds that the quality of the educators is very poor, and there’s not enough depth or funding. The main problem, though, is the sheer mass of students enrolled in engineering classes. ”When you have 100 students per teacher, you really can’t get hands-on and be interactive,” he says.
The result is that most of the engineering graduates in these countries are not landing jobs nor are they fundamentally transforming their societies at the expense of the United States. I understand the instrumental claims, but we (especially Thomas Friedman) invoke(s) national security imperatives for everything these days. We should be able to discuss and address the current problems and weaknesses of math and science education in the United States without the constant drum beat of power transitions and interstate competition — especially when the analytic claims are so dubious.
Since the Nineties, Indian elites have been increasingly described as “pro-American.” While attending a mini-conference of a segment of India’s foreign policy and security elite in New Delhi last week, I kept noting how widespread the “pro-American” sentiment seemed to be. In fact, I heard one of the intellectuals argue that India’s rise would naturally be assisted by other secular, pluralistic, constitutional democracies and resisted by states which adhered to the principle of harmony. Such a statement would have been unthinkable in the recent past (although it may still be terribly naive). And yet this general warmth toward the US and the West does not seem to have translated into a significant shift in the commitment of India’s military resources.
(Now of course I need to state at the outset that there is still a segment of the political and intellectual spectrum in India which remains reflexively anti-American, but they are a distinct minority among decision makers and policy pundits today.)
So the real issue is what does it mean when Indian elites say that they are pro-American? I would argue that being pro-American in the Indian context means primarily a lack of hostility toward the foreign policies and economic influence of the United States in the developing world and South Asia in particular. What it does not necessarily mean is open or overt support for the American agenda in the region or in international fora except where American and Indian interests directly converge. In other words, Indians have no plans to displace the British lapdog (or the ever-purring Israeli lap-kitten).
Indian elites increasingly take what they describe as a “business-like” attitude toward the US. It is well understood that America will look out for its own interests and India does not expect the US to protect Indian interests. Indians know that they must engage actors and issues on their own to safeguard their national interests, but there is no longer an assumption that the US is hostile to the rise of India (although some strong suspicions remain that the US is trying to use India in a soft containment policy targeted at China). Similarly, India does not necessarily view the presence of great powers in its backyard with fear or anger as it once did. There is no longer a strong desire to proclaim a “Monroe Doctrine” for South Asia, from what I have seen. Naturally, there is concern that resources contributed to America’s partners in the war on terror or militants mobilized against the US may be directed against India once the US withdraws,but it is also acknowledged that in a globalized world terrorism will not be so easily confined to one region through a “forward policy.” So the US is not seen as a stabilizing force in the region, but few question the need for the US to fight the war on terror — although many question the way it is fighting that war and the partners the US chooses to work with.
Pro-Americanism does not imply significant responsibility for India, at least in the mind of Indian elites. In other words, Indians do not feel much pressure to help support US foreign policies through troop deployments. In most cases, overt Indian military involvement (e.g. in Afghanistan) would not be welcome by third party actors anyway. Moreover, any external troop deployment would have to confront a strong domestic bias against deploying troops abroad outside of the UN umbrella, not to mention a complex legacy from the disastrous Indian mission in Sri Lanka which culminated in the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Retired military officials with whom I spoke stated that India has the capability to project power into countries like Afghanistan, but other policy experts were skeptical of that claim. India is willing to give financially (for example it is the largest regional donor to Afghanistan and one of the top five internationally), but this is realtively painless compared to sending troops.
Pro-Americanism also does not imply any serious constraints on Indian policies. For example, Indians will continue to work with Iran on most issues regardless of US pressure. While India can be convinced that a nuclear armed Iran might be against its interests, a general policy of isolating and demonizing Iran will be quietly rejected.
Thus, when an Indian says they are “pro-American” what this really means is that they are not reflexively hostile to American policies and influence. There is a sense of affinity based on the similarities between the regime types and common threats, but India is not likely to simply bandwagon with the hegemon.
I am in New Delhi doing research on elite perceptions of India’s strategy in Afghanistan. I just thought I would share a few quick observations from conversations with Indian security experts…
One of the greatest benefits of coming all the way out here is to help situate research questions within a broader political discourse. Here is what I have noted so far:
First, one quickly realizes that the voices which are most accessible to us in the US are often the ones which are the flashiest and most aggressive in the local context. However, these personalities are not necessarily the most influential or thoughtful. Like the barking of stray dogs which is clearly discernible in the night, the incessant voices of security policy hawks becomes less audible once the city wakes from its light slumber. Foreign policy issues are one of only a myriad of pressing concerns and they are hardly the most prominent concern for much of the population. Thus, inverting the gaze, one has to wonder about the representativity of the American voices which are most readily accessible to Indian analysts sitting in Delhi.
Second, we make a great mistake when we assume that the security policy community in a foreign country is as influential or central as the security policy community in the United States. The body of the Indian state has multiple heads (political, security, economic, etc), and while the voice of the remarkably small security community is occasionally given a hearing it is not necessarily prioritized by the politicians who adhere to a very different logic (as evidenced by the politician’s (non-) response to a series of major terrorist attacks in recent years). The voices of the security community is also not in dialog with the economic community. One might say that one head looks with anxiety to India’s unstable western neighbors while the other head looks east to lucrative trade opportunities and emerging markets. Using economics to achieve security objectives (and vice versa) is not highly developed.
Third, the security community is not static. There is clearly a rapid evolution underway here. In part the growth of the policy community is being fueled externally by the US (and to a lesser extent the European) defense industry which is keen to expand its business in India. The security community circuit visited by American defense contractors tends to inflate the voice of those who concur with an American vision of what a great power’s military looks like. In the long run this may lead to great influence for this community in the national dialog. Fourth, it is well known that Americans are not skilled in the art of diplomacy — this is one of the greatest shortcomings of the way IR is taught in the US. Representatives of the US, both official and semi-official, tend not to be very self aware about how their words are received in the local context. Americans do not seem to realize how sensitive issues of sovereignty can be in a post-colonial country. Thus, telling Indian elites that “the world is watching” how they will vote at the UN on Iranian sanctions is treated as deeply offensive and intrusive. It would be refreshing if Americans did not openly attempt to twist the arms of friendly nations without an appreciation of the priorities and interests of these countries. It would be ideal if Americans on the security community circuit came to listen instead of lecture.
Although the story has garnered relatively little attention in the US, the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) is probably one of the most important developments impacting the medium-term economic and political health of Afghanistan. As the US State Department correctly noted,
“This agreement is one of the most important, concrete achievements between the two neighbors in 45 years and represents the most significant bilateral economic treaty ever signed between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will undoubtedly bring great benefit to the people of both countries and is also a major milestone in promoting regional trade.”
The 2010 APTTA, which has been in the works for several years, was pushed through with strong pressure from the US last Sunday. Basically, in exchange for Pakistan’s cooperation, the US has provided Pakistan with…
“… significant investments in health, water, agriculture, government-to-government partnerships, support for the private sector, energy, security, gender equality, and a wide range of programs to help those who have been displaced by the ongoing fighting in Pakistan.”
The 2010 APTTA replaces an “outdated” agreement from 1965. Under international law, states bordering landlocked countries are required to provide transit facilities, however legitimate Pakistani fears of smuggling corroded the 1965 agreement. The new agreement is actually a reciprocal agreement that permits Afghanistan to export products duty-free through Pakistan to India, while allowing Pakistan to conduct transit trade through Afghanistan to states in Central Asia. Pakistan objected to Afghanistan’s request to be allowed to import products overland from India via Pakistan (nominally because India has not extended Pakistan transit rights to landlocked Nepal). Nevertheless, Afghanistan is permitted to import products from India (and any other country) via Pakistani seaports. Of course, India will soon have the ability to transit its exports to Afghanistan via Iran. So Pakistan’s objection to Indian exports to Afghanistan will become largely irrelevant as road (and some rail) links from Iran’s Chabahar port to Delaram are completed.
The new APTTA is carefully designed to limit opportunities for smuggling which corroded the old agreement. In the past, imported duty free goods (e.g. tea, tires) that were supposed to be sold in Afghanistan ended up flooding the Pakistani market. Smuggling of duty free goods resulted in major losses of customs revenue for the Pakistani government. Hence, the new agreement lays down precise measures to counteract those practices. According to the Associated Press of Pakistan,
“… Afghan trucks will be allowed to carry Afghan Transit Export Cargo on designated routes to Pakistani seaports and [one of the only India-Pakistan border crossing points at] Wagah.
The Afghan transport units, on return, will be permitted to carry goods from Pakistan to Afghanistan under the same expeditious procedures and conditions as Pakistani transport units.
It was also decided that all Afghan transit goods will be exported in containers of international specifications. For a period of three years, the cargo will be allowed to be transported in internationally acceptable and verifiable standards of sealable trucks while the oversize and bulk cargo which is not imported in containers – shipload will be transported in open trucks or other transport units. It was also agreed that export of perishable goods in transit will be transported in open trucks or other transport units.
According to the record note signed, the drivers and cleaners will be allowed to enter/exit the two countries on permits, identified by the biometric devices installed at the entry points.
It was also agreed that an arbitrator tribunal will be established bilaterally. In case of failure to agree on a common name of third arbitrator, two names of non-nationals and non- residents will be proposed by each side and the third arbitrator will be selected by drawing lots from the four proposed names.
To tackle the issue of unauthorized trade, it has been agreed that tracking devices on transport units will be installed and a mechanism for custom to custom information sharing (IT data and others) will be established. In this context, it has also been agreed that financial guarantees equal to the amount of import levies of Pakistan have to be deposited by authorized brokers/custom clearing agents to check the unauthorized trade and these deposits will be released after the goods exit the country.
In case, the goods do not exit the country within specified time, the guarantees will be encashed by the custom authorities.”
The agreement is significant for Afghanistan because it provides Afghans with access to a vital emerging market and reduces its economic and hence political dependency on Pakistan. The government of Pakistan’s exercise of hegemony over Afghanistan prior to 2001 and its clear preference for shielding certain Taliban elements even after 2001 provide ample reason for Afghanistan to seek to break free of its dependence on Pakistan.
The government of Pakistan potentially also benefits from the agreement for two reasons. First, the new agreement may reduce some smuggling of duty free goods into Pakistan. Second, Pakistan gains access to the landlocked states and resource rich states of Central Asia via Afghanistan.
Given the massive corruption in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, one must remain skeptical that this new agreement with its high tech tracking and biometric provisions will successfully curb smuggling over the long run. Nevertheless, the agreement can be seen as a medium-term “win-win” for both countries and for South Asia as an artificially divided economic region.
Any long term solution for sustainable transit trade would require building stronger states in South Asia that are less dependent on customs duties for revenue and capable of generating greater revenue from their better-off citizens. Although tax reform initiatives have been seriously debated (for example in India), unifying and widening the tax base to cover the emerging middle class (and thus creating space for lowering customs duties on imports) in South Asia will probably take many years. Faithfully ratifying and implementing the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement would also be a major prerequisite. At the moment the political will and mutual trust necessary for removing barriers to intra-regional trade are weak, but the APTTA is a step in the right direction.
“The prospects for an end to the protracted conflict between India and Pakistan appear as remote as ever. In fact, it is likely that there will more deadly provocations in the future by terrorist groups based on Pakistani soil. In a recent op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal, C Christine Fair noted that in the future “Pakistan is likely to become more reliant, not less, on nuclear-protected jihad to secure its interests. Pakistan’s fears of India are chronic and are likely to deepen as India continues its ascent on the world stage.”
The notion of “nuclear protected jihad” is simultaneously chilling and perplexing.
The perplexing aspect of the rivalry is that Pakistan’s anxieties about India should have been alleviated once it tested nuclear weapons in 1998; thereby negating India’s conventional military superiority and achieving a level of strategic nuclear parity. However, instead of creating a “hard shell,” the possession of nuclear weapons seems to have only heightened paranoid anxieties about further dismemberment and even dispossession of its nuclear arsenal. It is as if Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons in “a fit of absent mindedness” and forgot to update its strategic posture.”