Sunday, October 16, 2016

Beneath that turban is no bomb!

A high profile art exhibit in the US kick started on September 25 to spread awareness about the Sikh identity. On the same day, 41 year-old Sikh-American techie Maan Singh Khalsa was attacked by a group of five to six “white men”, who “cut a fistful of his hair with a knife and assaulted him”.
“Mr Khalsa was driving on the night of September 25 when a man in a truck threw a beer can at his car wholly unprovoked. At an intersection further up the road, three men got out of the truck and assaulted him through his open car window, knocking off his Sikh turban and hitting his face repeatedly. They shouted, “Cut his fu****g hair,” pulled his head out of the window, and cut a fistful of his religiously-mandated unshorn hair with a knife,” a press statement released recently by The Sikh Coalition, a Sikh American advocacy and community development organisation, read.
A few days back in Canada – whose  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau boasts of having more Sikhs in his cabinet than Indian PM Narendra Modi’s – posters titled, ‘F*** your turban’ were pasted all across the University of Alberta campus.
Released by the Immigration Watch Canada, the posters featured a face of a Sikh man and stated: “If you’re so obsessed with your third-world culture, go the f*** back to where you came from!”
Ballads of praises have been sung on the achievements of 105 year-old British Sikh runner Fauja Singh, 9/11 Sikh hero Sat Hari Singh, Canadian Sikh defence minister and combat veteran Harjit Sajjan and many more.
But at the same time, horror stories galore on the sufferings of gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi, actor Waris Singh Ahluwalia and US Navy veteran Kuldip Singh Nag – all attacked, targeted and shamed for their Sikh faith and identity.
According to reports, a Sikh abroad remains hundred times more likely to be targeted in cases of profiling, bigotry and backlash than the average American, Britain or Canadian, and this despite the fact that Sikhism is the fifth largest religion with more than 25 million followers across the world.
The Sikh diaspora
Sikhs, predominantly from the Punjab, have their presence in countries all across the world, especially the English-speaking and East Asian nations. While emigrating, the Sikhs have retained their distinctive cultural and religious identity.
Sikh migration from India began in the second half of the 19th century when the Britishers had annexed the whole of Punjab. The British Raj preferred Sikhs in the Indian Civil Service, particularly, in the British Indian Army, which led to migration of Sikhs to different parts of British India and the British Empire.
During this era, semiskilled Sikh workers were also transported from the Punjab to British East Africa to help in the building of railways. After World War II, most Sikhs from India and Pakistan emigrated to the United Kingdom and North America due to economic reasons.
Significant Sikh population now resides in United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Malaysia, East Africa, Australia and Thailand.
9/11 and the Sikhs
Prior to 9/11, the Sikh diaspora faced racial discrimination and a legal system that denied them citizenship on the basis of their skin color.
But the terror attacks ushered in a new reality where the Sikhs, mostly in the US, were targeted because of their looks and their articles of faith – their turban, their long, flowing beard and kirpan, or dagger, which they carry to protect themselves.
[su_pullquote]Sikhs have lived and worked in the United States for more than 150 years, but 60 percent Americans “admit to knowing nothing” about them, according to a survey by Hart Research Associates. Most of them confuse Sikhs with the Muslims.[/su_pullquote]
“… 9/11 has been a wake-up call for Sikhs deepening self perceptions as a perpetual minority group under siege… The response to 9/11 has served as a painful reminder for many Sikhs that they can never truly be ‘home’ within North America…,” says an extract from the book, Religious radicalization and securitization in Canada and beyond.
The book, edited by Paul Bramadat and Lorne Dawson, further states that post 9/11, “racist violence has spread beyond the borders of America into Canada”.
It further says, “Increased incidents (both reported and unreported) of Sikhs facing overt discrimination at airports and other public spaces since 9/11 have made Sikh community critically aware of public perception of Sikhs having a connection with Muslim extremists”.
So, it comes as no surprise when Canadian Sikh journalist Veerender Jubbal was wrongly named on social media as involved in a series of coordinated attacks that killed 130 people in Paris. This was after an innocent selfie Jubbal took in front of the mirror was edited to show him wearing a suicide vest and holding the Quran.
‘Terrorists’ ‘Khomeinis’, ‘Talibans’ and ‘Osama’ are just few of the adjectives used by the local communities abroad to shame Sikhs, and the most vulnerable targets of bullying and racial profiling are the Sikh elderly and the children.
A 2014 report by The Sikh Coalition found that in the US 50 percent of Sikh students aged 12 to 18 experience bullying, compared with the national average of 32 percent of all schoolchildren who report bullying. That number rises to 67 percent if a Sikh student wears a turban.
Kirpans, turbans, unshorn hair and beards have a deep spiritual significance for Sikh men. They represent a commitment to service and justice. Sikh men have worn turbans since 1699, when the last living guru bestowed on the clothing item a unique Sikh identity.
Changing mindsets
Fifteen years after 9/11, the Sikh diaspora still struggles to explain the essence of their distinct religion, completely separate from Hinduism and Islam. The Sikhs believe in one god, equality of men and women, freedom of religion and community service.
“Due to our appearance, especially our turban, we are often associated with groups indulging in violence. Despite out best efforts to explain our separate identity there has been no let-up in hate crime cases,” SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar was quoted as saying in the media.
The Sikhs have often been characterized as a ‘model minority group’ and they have contributed immensely to the societies where they have lived – be it India, Canada, US or the Europe.
They need to develop a culture of reporting all discrimination and hate violence to avoid incidents of escalation. Reliable documentation of everyday discrimination can enable Sikhs to reach the root of the problem.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Burn the Ravana within you!

Each year, watching the colourful and gargantuan effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnad go up in flames with a sense of pride, does anyone ever imagine a scenario where those demons would spring back to life?
If they could, the demons would be amused to see a sea of Ravanas teaming up to burn their own kind.
That is the irony of the Dussehra of present times where one crafts and destructs ten faces of Ravana but does nothing about the masks of treachery, corruption and deceit that adorns his own face!
Lost in the loud chants of Jai Shri Ram and Jai Hanuman reverberating in the air, one stays oblivious of the painful hollers of women and children who are raped in broad daylight, children who are forced to beg, and people who are massacred for their caste and religion.
If Ravana was the wicked demon that he was, then what and who are these people who massacre others for eating beef, who butcher their children to save family’s honour, who nip a daughter in womb itself, who attack with acid at the slightest provocation?
How does one celebrate the victory of good over evil when good is a hard find?
A total of 34,651 rape cases were reported in India in 2015. The rape victims were among the age group of below six years to over 60 years, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data released in 2016.
Of the nearly 3.27 lakh cases of crimes against women were reported across the country, over 1.3 lakh were sexual offences – 1.2 lakh in states and 9,445 in union territories. The sexual offences cases included rape, attempt to commit rape, assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty and insult to modesty of women.
With these staggering numbers, our women must have felt more secure with Ravana, who did not out do the modesty of Sita even though he abducted her.
[su_pullquote]India is ranked 76 out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, 2015[/su_pullquote]. The data indicates that systemic corrupt practices are striking at the root of India’s development trajectory and preventing it from realizing its true potential.
Every year, we spend crores of rupees crafting the idols of Ravana, how much do we spend to uplift the poor on the streets? How much do we spend on providing safe drinking water and a clean environment devoid of vector borne diseases?
With the municipal corporation confirming 1,473 fresh chikungunya cases in the last one week, a record 6,712 people have been afflicted by the vector-borne disease in the national Capital this year so far. Nearly 578 dengue cases were reported in the last one week taking the total number of cases to 2,711 this year. The vector-borne diseases have claimed close to 30 lives in Delhi alone.
The Ravanas of today are much worse – they are unmindful of their own faults and lack the ability to rise up in the first place after a fall. The Ravanas of today don’t know what is it to rise and fight against rampant evils like corruption because they are too occupied filling their own coffers.
This Dusehra, don’t just set ablaze the effigies of Ravana; instead, smolder those who target our soldiers and their families; singe those who kill innocents in the name of jihad; char those who assault, molest, abuse and rape our women and children.
This Dussehra, watch the fireworks go up in smoke, but don’t overlook the blood, sweat and toil of children who spent hours making those firecrackers under hazardous conditions.
This Dussehra, do watch the Ravanas on fire and don’t miss the demons laughing back at your own imprudence.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Indus Water Treaty: A potent weapon against Pak

Some bilateral relations are never meant to be amicable. In the context of India and Pakistan, they are not even bearable anymore.
Smarting under the latest attacks of Uri and Pathankot, the strategically restrained India has finally stepped on the gas with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj making the right kind of noises at the UNGA, and back home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi giving one of his strongest statements ever – “Blood and water cannot flow simultaneously”.
With Pakistan trying to wash its hands off terror in Uri, as is its wont, India has taken its offensive a notch up by dropping strong hints to cut off the ‘generous’ supply of Indus water flowing into the terror heartland.
For 56 years, the warring neighbours peacefully shared the water of Indus and its tributaries, ever since the signing of the Indus Water Treaty in 1960.
According to the treaty, Beas, Ravi and Sutlej (eastern rivers) are to be governed by India, and Indus, Chenab and Jhelum (western rivers) are to be taken care of by Pakistan.
But because the Indus flows from India, the country is allowed to use 20 per cent of western waters, which it has not availed so far – much to Pakistan’s delight, which heavily uses the water for irrigation, power generation and drinking.
Experts seem to be divided over the treaty’s abrogation with some arguing that it would put pressure on Pakistan to scale back its proxy war against India and some believing that in doing so, India will burn its own hands, adding that using the treaty in the past (Kargil war and Operation Parakram) to pinch Pakistan has not exactly reaped desired dividends.
Why Pakistan must be worried
A water war with India will permanently push Pakistan’s fragile economy into the black. “About 40 percent of Pakistan’s outstanding debt — both local and foreign — is due to mature in 2016. That’s roughly $45 billion, of which about 4.3 trillion rupees ($41 billion) is in local currency,” says a February 2016 Bloomberg report. And, with an IMF debt of $6.6 billion coming up for repayment by the end of 2016, Pakistan will be doomed.
With agricultural sector being the largest employer, the 195 million people of Pakistan should be worried if the treaty is abrogated. Roughly speaking, the waters of Indus support 90 per cent of Pakistan’s agriculture – the mainstay of its economy, constituting 19.8 percent of the country’s GDP.
The absence of water will fuel unrest among Pakistani people and might lead to violence – an internally disturbed neighbour bodes well for India.
Also, India deciding to commence the Tulbul project will benefit Jammu and Kashmir, which has called out for a greater share of the Indus waters. India had started constructing a 439 feet long barrage at the lake’s mouth but it was halted in 1987 after Pakistan raised an objection.
In favour of Islamabad
China – China’s Himalayan part is the primary source of several rivers which flow into India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Any bid to revoke the treaty might invoke similar actions from Pakistan’s strongest ally China on the Brahmaputra river front. Known as Yarlung Zangbo river on the Chinese side, it supplies water to India’s Assam state. Also, 8 per cent of the Indus river basin is under Chinese territory and if Beijing plays its move, India will have to pay a heavy price.
Strong terror machinery – Pakistan’s strong Jihadist network cannot be taken lightly – no one can understand this better than India. Revoking the treaty might lead to another attack in India as it did in 2008, when India allegedly cut the flow of water to Pakistan to fill up the Baghliar dam’s reservoir, eventually leading to 26/11.
Regional isolation – India is in talks with countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and China to formulate a similar agreement on the lines of Indus Water Treaty. Abrogating the treaty with Pakistan might give a message to these countries that water could be used as a weapon against them.
Environmental threats – Scrapping the treaty will create drought in Pakistan and floods in India because the latter is not in a position to stop or divert the waters of Indus. It would take years to erect dams, reservoirs or canals to change the flow of water. Even if the dams are built, there would be imminent terror threats looming over them, and deployment of security forces there will burn a hole in India’s pocket.
International condemnation – In response to India’s move, Pakistan has threatened to take India to International Court of Justice, which doesn’t augur well for the Hindu majority nation. The Indus Water Treaty is an international agreement brokered by the World Bank. According to international law, India cannot unilaterally separate itself from the treaty. Any such move will invite global backlash and will draw the World Bank into the dispute.
What India should do
India can arm twist Pakistan without abrogating the treaty. All this while, the generous nation has made minimal usage of its rights on the Western rivers, providing Pakistan more than what is mentioned in the treaty. So, it should persuade the world that the 1960 treaty is not based on any equitable distribution of water but guided by political “goodwill”.
India must lose no time in starting the Tulbul navigation project (known as Wullar Barrage in Pakistan) on Jhelum as it has been permitted to construct storage of water on western rivers upto 3.6 million acre feet for various purposes.
With a barrage in place, India gets to control the release of water into Jhelum.  Also, the project’s completion can create problems for our warring neighbour’s triple-canal project that connects Jhelum-Chenab with Upper Bari Doab Canal.
Abrogating the treaty is uncalled for. At best, India should use it as a deterrent to keep its unruly neighbour on leash.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cauvery row: When water ignites fire

With the 125-year-old hostility over sharing of Cauvery waters spilling onto the streets of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and both states crawling to a standstill for days — one is reminded of the famous quote by Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over!”
One person dead, nearly 100 buses burnt and nearly 20,000 crore worth of properties damaged, is a sad reminder of the fact that the wars of 21st century will be fought not just over water, but regional identities as well.
If this sounds like a hyperbole, picture this: In Karnataka, buses with Tamil Nadu number plates were torched, Tamil TV channels were taken off air, and movies starring Tamil actors were removed from theaters. Likewise, in Tamil Nadu, Udupi hotels and Karnataka bank branches attacked.
“Seeing all these barricades at the border… it feels less like two states fighting and more like two countries fighting,” D. Saravanan, a Bengaluru resident, who travels everyday to Chennai for work, told Lokmarg.com.
Even the vernacular journalists choose to wear their Kannada and Tamil identities round their neck and are seen furthering regional divides by saying things like, “What will happen if peace-loving Kannadigas take revenge?”
Originating in Kodagu district of Karnataka, the Cauvery flows through Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Kerala, culminating in a huge delta that opens into Bay of Bengal via Poompuhar in Tamil Nadu.
The two southern Indian states have been at loggerheads ever since agreements on water sharing were inked under British rule in 1892 and 1924 with each state claiming that the waters allocated to it were sparse. A poor rainfall, which brought down the river’s water level, would only worsen the situation, like it did in the years 1995 and 2002.
What hits below the belt is that India can resolve its water squabbles with countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, but not the ones emanating within its own territory.
The Cauvery dispute snowballed into mayhem when Tamil Nadu approached the Supreme Court in August, this year, after Karnataka stated that it had no water in the reservoirs to share. It was based on this complaint, that the Supreme Court asked Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs (later modified to 12,000 cusecs) of water for 10 days.
All it requires for the row to be solved is effective governance and immediate dialogue; instead, the issue has been blown out of proportion by fringe elements aiming for a political voteshare.
Vatal Nagaraj of Kannada Okkoota, an organisation that had called for Karnataka shutdown, told a TV channel that people who live in Karnataka “must support the Karnataka cause”, irrespective of where they hailed from.
Nagaraj didn’t clarify what he intends to do with a quarter of 10 million people in Bengaluru who are Tamils — the second largest community after Kannadigas. The veiled message was clear enough – “leave”.
The water row further seemed to take a jingoistic overtones when social media was asked to use hashtag #NammaKaveri (translates as our Kaveri, to stress on the river’s ownership) instead of #KarnatakaBandh.
The point is – why draw a common man on the street into the conflict? Where was the need for an educated 25 year-old mechanical engineer to immolate himself? He was probably just one in a thousand youths getting succumbed to false Tamil pride!
If anything, the way Cauvery water row has been tackled implies sheer failure of the state governance.
Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention in the issue and requested him to arrange his meeting with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa? Why couldn’t Siddaramaiah do that himself? Why didn’t he call Jayalalithaa, or the other way round?
The leaders need to take cue from MG Ramachandran, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in the eighties, who landed in person at the doorstep of then Karnataka CM Ramakrishna Hegde when the latter had refused to release water. The result of the meeting was that the water was released the very next day.
It is for the Cauvery Management Board, respective state authorities and Cauvery Regulation Committee to iron out the technicalities of water-sharing, not power hungry politicians and rioters, not people of the two states and definitely, not the big ticket celebrities and film stars. Mind it!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Crime, not caste, could decide Uttar Pradesh

With 2017 assembly elections in mind, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has promised free smartphones to the state’s rural poor. But little does the Yadav scion know that this time, it is not freebies – not even the oft-played caste card – that is going to swing the tide.
In the election-bound Uttar Pradesh, it seems like rules of the game are set to be rewritten – this time with netas readying to test a fresh poll ammo – crime.
Even as the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) tries to unify OBCs and upper castes and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) swears by its Dalit votes, the state’s law and order situation is snowballing into a major sticky issue in the run-up to the election.
Four parties are vying to rule a state that elects the most number of members in the Lok Sabha, with strongest contenders being Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) and Mayawati-led BSP. While the BJP strategises to regain its lost charm, Congress hopes for a miracle.
Ever since the announcement of poll dates, more than caste, it has been the rising crime graph in India’s most populous state has been constantly grabbing the headlines – the barbaric Bulandshahr and Badaun gang rape cases, murder of a deputy superintendent of police in Pratapgarh and Jawahar Bagh clash in the holy city of Mathura to name a few.
“In the past five months, 1,012 cases of rapes and 4,520 of harassment of women have been registered in Uttar Pradesh,” the Uttar Pradesh government said in a written reply to a question by Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) member Satish Mahana in the state Assembly.
Nearly 60% of the rape survivors in Uttar Pradesh since 2010 were minors, said the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report which was released recently. The districts with highest number of rape cases in 2010-15 were Aligarh (392), Moradabad (377), Allahabad (348), Meerut (346), Agra and Lucknow (328 each), according to the report.
According to the recent estimates by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Uttar Pradesh reported 35,527 cases of crime against women in 2015, or 10.9 per cent of the total such crimes in India.
The latest figures available with the Union Home Ministry mentions that Uttar Pradesh experienced 104 incidents of communal violence that left 34 people dead and 456 injured, in the first 10 months of the year 2012.
A state-wide survey carried out between April 12 and April 25, with a sample size of 25,000 people to gauge the general mood of the masses, showed that 25 per cent of the respondents identified law and order as the biggest problem.
As Akhilesh, who became the youngest UP chief minister in 2012, struggles to take stringent action against the perpetrators – with just 1.8 lakh police personnel available to take care of UP’s 21 crore population – the opposition has begun volley of attacks.
“It is true that crime and misbehaviour against women happens all over the country, but difference is that in UP the leaders give pro-racist remarks and shield people who commit crimes against women,” senior BJP leader Uma Bharti was quoted as saying in media reports.
Congress MLA Akhilesh Pratap Singh said law and order in the state was at its lowest ebb and the government’s claims proved to be hollow.
In a bid to project a clean image ahead of the election, the parties are taking extra efforts to remove members with criminal past. The Samajwadi party’s parliamentary board called off the alliance with alleged gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari’s Quami Ekta Dal, just three days after the merger.
The target is not just the Samajwadi party. Addressing a grand rally in Allahabad, BSP supremo Mayawati said: “BJP has made Keshav Prasad Maurya as their state unit president. He is himself facing serious criminal challenges, would such a party improve law and order situation in the state?”
The BJP returned favour by stating said that Mayawati had “run her past governments in the company of criminals and is still keeping them with her”.
Nearly 20 percent of the political candidates who ran in the last parliamentary elections faced criminal charges — with some as serious as rape, murder and extortion — according to a study by Association for Democratic Reforms, an independent think-tank.
With impending election, crime has been given political undertones in the decisive state with key SP minister Azam Khan hinting “political conspiracy” behind the gang-rape of the mother-daughter duo in Bulandshahr.
Khan, infamous for making insensitive and vituperative statements, said that “a desperate opposition could stoop to any level to defame and disgrace the government since the state elections are approaching”.
In a nutshell, increasing crime has somewhat replaced the traditional caste factor – at least prior to the next assembly elections – in a state that generally decides which way the political wind will flow.

India's Baloch gambit a double edged sword

If India’s facilitation in East Pakistan’s freedom struggle led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, it remains to be seen what India’s support to Balochistan – Pakistan’s disturbed south western province – might lead to.
The possibilities debated by policy enthusiasts range from helping the region gain autonomy, to setting up a Baloch government in exile – very much on the lines of Tibetan regime based in India’s mountainous region of Dharamsala.
As highly placed government sources remain tight lipped about their ‘game plan’, Balochistan begun to assert itself prominently in the Indo-Pak quagmire, especially after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech, which rattled Pakistan.
But what hit harder were his remarks at the recent all-party meeting on Jammu & Kashmir, where he said: “Pakistan forgets that it bombs its own citizens using fighter planes. The time has come when Pakistan shall have to answer to the world for the atrocities committed by it against people in Balochistan and PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir).”
A red-faced worried Pakistan escalated its diplomatic lobbying on Kashmir by announcing to send 22 special envoys to various countries to highlight the “brutalities and human rights abuses committed by Indian forces” in Jammu and Kashmir.
Why is India forced to rake up Balochistan?
Over the years, India’s Balochistan policy has remained evasive with India hardly making a reference to the freedom struggle in the state. Despite Pakistan’s allegations, India has consistently denied any tacit support to the secessionist movement in Balochistan.
It is interesting to note that in 2014, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit K Doval had almost issued a threat to Pakistan when he said, “you do one more Mumbai (2008 attack), you lose Balochistan”.
Cross border terror and Kashmir have put India’s patience to test.
The “B” word made its way into Modi’s lexicon following the recent turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir, in which 72 people have been killed. New Delhi has steadfastly maintained that the unrest was being fanned from across the border.
Balochistan’s mention is a clear “expression of his (Modi’s) personal frustration at two years of fruitless effort at dialogue with Pakistan,” Rajesh Rajagopalan, professor of International Politics (JNU), writes in an article in Observer Research Foundation.
Pakistan has been consistently bringing up Kashmir on the international fora. The Islamic nation has even said that it is going to bring up human rights violation in Kashmir at the upcoming G20 summit. Pakistan has the audacity to question India’s human rights record in Kashmir without checking its own backyard. The USA based organisation, Human Rights Watch describes the atrocities in Balochistan as “having reached epidemic proportions”.
So by poking in our neighbour’s troubled province, Modi gave a clear message – you meddle in our internal affairs, we are not going to sit and watch. Tit-for-tat!
How the strategy works in India’s favour
A harsh stance on Balochistan will discourage Pakistan from taking a strident position on Kashmir and isolate the rival on global stage.
Also, according to Rajagopalan, “supporting the rebellion in Balochistan will help India in expanding its intelligence and covert action footprint within Pakistan”.

Pakistan needs energy-rich Balochistan more that the latter needs Pakistan. Now, with New Delhi being able to provide moral support to the Balochi separatists, the picture looks drab for India’s nuclear-armed rival.
Experts agree that any further unrest in the restive province could completely destabilise Pakistan and its geopolitical position. To begin with, the $46 billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project will take a sure shot hit.
Analysing strategically, an independent Balochistan would create a pro-India and a progressive Muslim country in the region.
Fallouts for India and the road ahead
If India bolsters its stand on Balochistan, it spells more trouble for Kashmir, Indo-Pak ties, and also the Balochis. There have been fears that following Modi’s move, Islamabad will intensify crackdown on the strategically-crucial province.
Of concern, The China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, an influential Chinese think tank , has warned India that Beijing will have “to get involved” if New Delhi “plots” to disrupt the CPEC project.
To contain China – Pakistan’s all-weather friend – India must keep its ties with the US in check.
On the other hand, India must build trust with China by holding frequent bilateral visits, which might just ensure Beijing softening its stance, if not whole-hearted cooperation. One good thing that has happened is that China seems to have distanced itself from the Kashmir situation, much to Pakistan’s disappointment. According to reports, Chinese state media has begun using the term “Pakistan-occupied Kashmir” rather than what was used earlier – “Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
While crafting a new narrative on Balochistan, India must not upset Iran and Afghanistan – the two allies, which play a critical role in our policy to surround Pakistan. The Balochis live in territory that is criss-crossed by the borders of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. The Baloch warlords, who seek independence from Pakistan, also want to liberate Sistan Balochistan from Iran. This is foreign policy walking on egg shells.
But in all this, Nuclear-armed India has to remind itself that it has a neighbour whose nuclear power rests in wrong hands. This means doom.
New Delhi should continue to internationalise the issue further to create more pressure on Islamabad but in the process, it should not end up using Balochistan as a pawn. The concern for human rights situation in the troubled province should be genuine, unlike Pakistan, which tries to wean away world’s attention from terror on its soil by bringing up Kashmir – all the time!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

India's options in the South China Sea


With a string of summits lined up in the upcoming months – G-20 in China, ASEAN in Laos and BRICS in India – Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s recent New Delhi visit came at an opportune moment.

China has suffered a major global backlash ever since it rejected last month’s United Nations court ruling on one of the busiest commercial shipping routes in the world – the South China Sea.
In experts’ opinion, that a suspicion that India might join other countries in raising the controversial South China Sea dispute during these summits, especially the G-20 summit to be held in Hangzhou (China) next month, is a source of constant worry for the Asian giant that wishes to portray itself as a ‘responsible power’.
All this despite India’s balanced and guarded stance on the issue which asks all parties involved to resolve their disputes through peaceful means “without threat or use of force” and show “utmost respect” to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which establishes the global legal order of the seas and oceans.
India’s crucial commercial and strategic stakes has kept its interest alive in the disputed waters despite it being not a party to the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. India’s involvement in the issue serves it economically, helps it to counter China and maintain good relations with the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Nations).
India’s dilemma
However, a more proactive role by India may incur the dragon’s wrath and a neutral stance may not go down well with its allies like the US, Japan and ASEAN littorals.
Global Times, a state-run Chinese daily widely seen as the government’s mouthpiece, has clearly stated that India’s focus in the South China Sea will harm bilateral ties.
Broadly, this would translate as more skirmishes along the LAC and a greater bonhomie with India’s arch-rival, Pakistan. Also, our bilateral trade with China worth USD 100 billion will take a sure-shot hit.
Incurring US wrath means endangering the nuclear deal, losing upper hand over Kashmir vis-à-vis Pakistan and a severe blow to the Indo-US trade.
Joint naval exercises and friendly port calls to other claimant countries apart from China – Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines, and Vietnam – bring the Indian Navy into these disputed waters, and trade with these nations also matters.
Also to meet its energy needs, India has been searching for hydrocarbons in the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam, in which case, it can neither antagonise China, nor Vietnam. It is also selling patrol vessels to Vietnam and considering sale of the BrahMos missiles.
Way forward
So far, India has deftly handled the issue and displayed a competitive degree of diplomatic acumen, which it must continue with. The implications of Asia’s evolving maritime order have to be rightly assessed, along with engaging cautiously with Beijing. Frequent bilateral visits by Indian and Chinese diplomats are imperative to bring down trust deficit.
India scored a plus with China by refusing to US proposal of Joint Navy Patrols in the South China Sea, and on the other hand, it stood by the US stance of freedom of navigation. India also takes part in the Malabar exercises – a trilateral naval drill involving US, India and Japan. India’s effort to placate both these behemoths in tandem with its own interest is a masterstroke in foreign policy.
“The stakes of what happens in the waters around South China Sea are as high for India as they are for the regional states,” says Harsh V Pant, professor of international relations at King’s College, London.
Keeping this in mind, New Delhi has to play up the ASEAN card to keep Beijing in check. Owing to China’s aggressive foreign policy, its relation with the ASEAN is not exactly on good terms. On the other hand, ASEAN nations, particularly Singapore and Vietnam, see India as an influential nation that can counter China and can help in peaceful negotiations.
Herein is India’s chance to build up strong ties with the ASEAN nations, and also Japan, which wants to counter Chinese hegemony in the Asian region. More than anything, these nations will stand by when China creates troubles for India.
India’s next course of action depends on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Vietnam and Hangzhou next month for the G-20 meet, particularly after China’s recent refusal to discuss the South China Sea row at the summit.
As an aspiring superpower, India must take a “well calculated” stand, not sides, because India is neither a claimant nor an ‘external’ power in the conflict.