Peace and Stability in 2011: Turbulence will Continue

From the point of view of international peace and stability, 2010 ended on a positive note with the ratification by the U.S. Senate of the new START treaty that will further reduce deployed strategic nuclear weapons of Russia and the U.S. to 1,550 in seven years. However, in view of the ongoing conflicts and possible conflagrations, 2011 is likely to be a turbulent year.

The strategic stalemate in Afghanistan will continue with the Taliban and NATO-ISAF forces alternately gaining local ascendancy for short durations in the core provinces of Helmand, Marja and Kandahar. While U.S. forces may be expected to step up drone strikes in Pakistan against extremists sheltering in the NWFP and FATA areas, the results are not likely to appear justifiable in view of the diplomatic fallout in Pakistan. The Afghan National Army is still many years away from achieving the professional standards necessary to manage security on its own. Hence, it will be difficult for the U.S. to begin its planned drawdown of troops in July 2011.

The military stand-off along the 38th Parallel in Korea has further exacerbated the already unstable situation in East Asia caused by increasing Chinese assertiveness that appears out of character with its stated objective of a peaceful rise. Though the international community may be able to ensure that a major conflict does not erupt again between the two Koreas, the sub-region will remain volatile unless the Chinese use their influence with North Korea to persuade it to back off from the path of confrontation. As of now they do not appear inclined to do so.

Turmoil in West Asia will continue through 2011 as Israel stubbornly refuses to halt the construction of new settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinian militias are getting increasingly restive. Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the vaguely stated threats of several of its neighbours to follow suit will continue to add to instability in the region. Saudi Arabia, in particular, may fund Pakistan’s nuclear expansion programme as a hedging strategy against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. Such a course of action would be a disastrous blow to international non-proliferation efforts.

It can be deduced form recent arrests in the U.K. and elsewhere that international fundamentalist terrorists may succeed in launching another spectacular strike in the West. A successful strike would resurrect the al Qaeda and enable it to rally its wavering cadres. All in all, 2011 will see a continuation of ongoing conflicts without major let up.

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.)

How long will India play to maintain status quo?

It was like just another formality in the Sino-Indian relationship being fulfilled, as the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao concluded his “significant” “trust-building” India visit on Friday. The Chinese Premier brought along a huge entourage of 400 business leaders to India, signaling the only purpose of his visit – more business. India and China signed six business deals, announced plans to increase business to $100 billion by 2015 and established a Strategic Economic Dialogue. PM Wen Jiabao also announced that Indian and Chinese companies would be signing deals worth $16 billion. But at the end of three day tour, the fact remains that there is a huge trade deficit and imbalance between India and China, and no concrete announcements to reduce or eliminate it were made.

The trade between the two countries has almost tripled since 2005 and today stands at $60 billion. But India’s trade deficit with China is about $19 billion this year alone. This is explained by the two fold increase in Indian exports to China between 2005 and 2010($11.6 billion) and three-fold increase in Chinese exports to India ($30.8 billion). India has been largely exporting raw materials to China, and importing finished goods made mostly from the same raw materials. This pattern of trade, even if it results in large numbers for cumulative trade, is not good for Indian interests and business. Not to mention the large dumping of Chinese goods into India that damages local manufacturing, and against which India has launched various complaints with the WTO. Further, Chinese FDIs in India are only $52 million, whereas since 2005 Indian FDIs into China have been $879 million.

In the backdrop of this trade imbalance it would have been expected that the Indian side would demand and negotiate constructive mechanisms to reduce the trade deficit and balance out the balance sheet. However, the joint statement by the two leaders only made ambiguous references to working towards improving trade. Neither were there any signs of China conceding ground or supporting Indian in case of some of the other contentious issues such as the stapled visa for Kashmiri residents, terrorism emanating from Pakistan, China-Pak nuclear deal and dam on the Brahmaputra. Even during the Foreign Secretary’s Press Briefing her answers to these questions were full of diplomatic jargon and ambiguity, leaving one to conclude that India could not squeeze out even one favorable comment on contentious issues from China.

Wen Jaibao’s visit was symbolic of the ‘cordial’ imbalanced relationship between the two countries. The Indian government’s reactions and remarks showed more a willingness and desire on its part to not antagonize the Chinese and maintain status quo, rather than stand up for its rightful claims and risk retaliatory actions by the Chinese in international forums or along the borders. It is unfortunate that in spite of the much touted personal rapport between Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao, home-ground benefit, India’s growing clout in the world, and two recent successful visits by President Obama and President Sarkozy, India could not stand up for its demands and make its  presence felt during this Chinese visit. It is time, after 60 years of being together, that India steps up its game, and works towards not improving relations, but developing a mature relationship with China where it does not play second fiddle and pussyfoot around it.

(This post originally appeared at the FPA’s India blog.)

Continuing Instability in South Asia Hampering Development

Though this past year has been relatively peaceful in South Asia, the unstable regional security environment, India’s unresolved territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan, and the continuing internal security challenges are a cause for concern. After West Asia, this region is perhaps the most trouble prone region in the world. With a history of four conflicts in 60 years and three nuclear-armed adversaries continuing to face off, South Asia has often been described as a nuclear flash-point.

The regional security environment in South Asia continues to be marred by Afghanistan’s endless civil war despite the induction of additional troops in 2010 by the U.S.-led NATO-ISAF coalition forces. Pakistan’s halfhearted struggle against the remnants of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, fissiparous tendencies in Baluchistan and the Pushtun heartland, continuing radical extremism and creeping Talibanisation, the unstable civilian government, the floundering economy and, consequently, the nation’s gradual slide towards becoming a ‘failed state’, pose a major security threat to India. The collusive nuclear weapons-cum-missile development programme of China, North Korea and Pakistan as also Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons are serious issues of concern.

Sri Lanka’s inability to find a lasting solution to its ethnic problems despite the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) has serious repercussions for stability in the island nation. Bangladesh’s emergence as the new hub of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism, even as it struggles for economic upliftment to subsistence levels, could trigger a new wave of terrorism if left unchecked. The Maoist ascendancy in Nepal and its adverse impact on Nepal’s fledgling democracy, as also Nepal’s new found inclination to seek neutrality between India and China, are a blow to what has historically been a stable India-Nepal relationship. Simmering discontentment in Tibet and Xinjiang against China’s repressive regime is gathering momentum and could result in an open revolt. The peoples’ nascent movement for democracy in Myanmar and several long festering insurgencies may destabilize the military Junta despite its post-election confidence. The spillover of religious extremism and terrorism from Afghanistan and political instability in the CARs are undermining development and governance.

Other vitiating factors impacting regional stability in South Asia include the unchecked proliferation of small arms, nurtured and encouraged by large-scale narcotics trafficking. India’s standing as a regional power with global power ambitions, and one that aspires to a seat on the UN Security Council has been seriously compromised by its inability to successfully manage ongoing conflicts in its neighborhood, singly or in concert with its strategic partners.

These conflicts are undermining South Asia’s efforts towards socio-economic development and poverty alleviation by hampering governance and vitiating the investment climate. Here’s hoping that the new year will bring in better opportunities to reduce tensions in the region, and improve the socio-economic conditions.

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.)

India China Economic Union – An open letter

Dear PM Wen Jiabao and PM Manmohan Singh,

Only a sixth sense of mutuality and common sense can help China-India relations today. While the realities are being resolved and negotiated, we simultaneously and urgently need a powerful new idea of joint interest to both countries.

Economic entanglements are the surest guarantor of peace and development. India and China must start exploratory discussions of any variation of an economic union between the two countries. Working towards such a framework will ensure peace and economic development between both countries.

* The reality of the India China Economic Union may happen in 50 years or 100 years, but by progressing towards such an objective both countries will accelerate friendship and socio-economic development of one-third of global population.
* It is but obvious that in 20-30 years or by 50-100 years the relationship and economics will be so different that we cannot even imagine today. But one thing will be sure – the two countries and our people will be far deeply integrated and inter-connected in their economies, cultural understanding, people-to-people linkages, and global challenges.
* Sirs, you can see the future – kindly seize the moment and take a bold step.
* In advance of this summit in Delhi, we had been researching and modeling various thoughts to protect and advance the national interest of each country, as well to make a generational change towards friendship, peace, socio-economic and cultural relations between both countries.
* Our research shows that the first thing both our countries need today, is a sixth sense. The current and historic issues are too deep and will take time to resolve. While these issues are being resolved, it is now time to introduce, in parallel, a sixth sense in our relationship and to create a vision for an India China Economic Union.
* Other research, including a small web-based sample, shows that the topmost problem in relations between China and India is of mutual images, and mutual trust. Apart from the government in each country, this is the top concern in the publics too.
* Therefore the top priority of our leaderships today must be to find a solution to these two problems. By promoting this sixth sense of the imminence of an economic union, our leaders will guide the policy and publics of both countries towards peace, people-to-people relationships, and socio-economic development.
* Such a vision will lay the foundations for harmonious growth for hundreds of years ahead. Both countries should set up a joint working group and think-tank, funded with US$ 10 million by each country, as first step. This economic union may be modeled after the example of European Union or any variation, and the working group should present reports of the progress on sidelines of annual PM level meetings.

Premier Wen Jiabao is visiting India along with a business delegation of over 300 businessmen. Geopolitics, business and people-to-people linkages are all on the agenda. In all these meetings and discussions, the key underlying dynamic will be mutual images and trust.

Mutual Imagery and Trust

To improve mutual imagery and trust, both countries need to take several urgent steps. Each country should take responsibility to take 3 specific steps to build trust and image. These steps should be reflected in the joint communiqué which shall be issued during the visit.

* India has already announced introduction of Mandarin as an optional subject in schools. China must similarly introduce Hindi language in its school system. Also, China must ramp up English speaking skills among its citizens. Lack of English is proving an obstacle to better understanding and business with China.
* Both countries must promote people-to-people linkages. Through tourism, even a weekly flight with free seats; through cultural exchanges, even promoting film shoots in each other; and through youth and business exchange programs. The expatriate communities in each country must be guided by embassies to engage more with the host society.
* India must encourage its communist parties to act as a bridge in building relations with China. U.S.-India relations improved in large part due to a unique presence of an over 3 million strong Indian-American community. Similarly, with China, the communists of India can play a unique role in building image and trust between both countries.
* Any delegation which travels to the other country must be provided a three hour orientation and cross-cultural understanding of the country they will visit. The embassies should provide this service to their host country government. The chambers of business must provide this service to the business delegations they take.
* More Chinese students must be given generous scholarships to come and study journalism and MBA in India, and similarly Chinese government must attract Indian students to China. These future businessmen and media leaders will help to promote understanding and economic activity between the two countries and many may settle down in host country.

India China Economic Union

Improvement in mutual images and trust shall further pave the way for reducing fears and concerns of each country, and for creation of the India China Economic Union. India fears China’s “string of pearls” strategy, and China fears India is ganging up with the U.S. to restrain its growth. China is troubled by India’s stance on Tibet and Taiwan, and India is concerned with China’s behavior on its Western and Eastern borders.

Both countries also need to take fresh confidence building measures. China must vacate the portion of Kashmir which Pakistan ceded to it. India must clarify and settle the Tibet and Taiwan issue with China.

Thus a sixth sense of Indo-China relations will need a troika approach – all in parallel:

* Improvement of mutual imagery and trust,
* Fresh confidence building measures, and,
* A vision for creating the India China Economic Union.

Much of these may not happen in our lifetimes, or even for several generations. But some such framework will be a reality 100-200 years from today. By taking this visionary step, Sirs, you will leave an imprint on history for ever.


Robinder Sachdev

The Meera Shankar Incident – The Difference in Indian and U.S attitudes

It is widely acknowledged that American & Indian societies are similar in many ways. But there are a number of differences between these two societies, differences that lie at the core of their democratic practices. Such differences keep creating controversies between the U.S and India. The latest controversy is the security pat down of Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar at Jackson Airport in Mississippi.

The facts are clear. Ambassador Shankar was singled out for a security check because she was wearing a sari. When she presented her diplomatic status, she was taken to a VIP room for the security pat down. The Indian Government was angered by what they termed as “unacceptable” treatment of an Indian Diplomat. The U.S. expressed regret and promised to ensure that such incidents are not repeated. But the U.S. has not apologized. This has created an uproar in India and perhaps rightly so.

But this issue might illustrate a significant difference between the ways these two countries treat their own citizens. Look at the complaints lodged by the Indian Government against what it considers mal-treatment of its citizens. Every single complaint is about what the Indian Government calls a VIP – a Very Important Person. Forgive me, I mean to say VVIP or Very Very Important Person.

This is no joke. These words are commonly accepted in India and used by the Indian Government. Check out any Indian Government event or any event organized by Indians. You will see a special section for VVIPs and VIPs; you will notice special handling of people of these categories. The ordinary Indian is always treated as a lower class person with a lower level of care.

Who are these VIPs? Apparently any one with “connections.” So many VIPs were created in this process that the Indian Government had to create a special category called VVIP.

How many times has the Indian Government publicly complained about how ordinary Indian citizens are treated in other countries?  Forget about treatment by other countries. Ask Indian-Americans how the Indian Consulates treat them. Stand in line at any Indian Consulate and you will hear horror stories. Try calling the Indian Consulate, say in New York. Unless you are a VIP or a European-American, you will be ignored at best. This is also the attitude you see at any security checkpoint in India. There may be a long line but VIPs routinely bypass the line and go through.

This VIP type handling also extends to foreigners in India. The Police, the Security Staff and most local government officials are careful not to subject foreigners to any trouble. Recently, the Australian Cricket team, after losing its series against India, went on a rampage. According to media reports, they broke furniture and threw it out of the windows. The police saw this but did nothing. When asked, a police official replied they did not want to embarrass the Australians.

The U.S. is very different. The Australian Cricket Team would not have had the gumption to do in the U.S. what it did in India. Had they done so, the police would have acted immediately. The Australian Government would have apologized and the Cricket Team would have been subject to fines or punishment.

This is because there is no VIP culture in America. Almost everyone has to go through the security checkups and while that might be offensive, it applies to virtually everybody. Senior ex-diplomats go through the same security check that the regular folks go through.

Indian Media often use the word “commoners” to distinguish them from VIPs. This word says it all. The U.S treats all Americans as VIPs and others as commoners. India treats Indians as commoners and foreigners as VIPs.

America is relentless about its focus on security. Its overriding mission is to prevent a terrorist attack on America. This is why security guards at airports are given the license to search anyone they feel should be searched. This is due to the realization that the local security guard is the critical part of the security chain. If their behavior hurts feelings of some people, so be it.

India is relentless about how its VVIPs are handled. Foreign officials are included in the VVIP status. Protecting the feelings of VVIPs is far more important to India than preventing terrorist attacks on Indian citizens. This is why airport security procedures are centralized and airport security staff is not given the license to stop and search any one they feel should be searched.

Rather than complaining loudly about who gets frisked in America, the Indian Government should establish a policy of randomly and regularly frisking Foreign Diplomats and VVIPs at Indian Airports. If a senior American Diplomat is subjected to a physical frisk, I suspect that diplomat would at least publicly welcome the high level of security at Indian airports.

But would Indian VVIPs publicly welcome such random frisking? I doubt it. Because that would put Indian VVIPs at the same level of the common Indian. That is a consummation to be devoutly avoided in democratic India.

I await the day when the Indian Government begins treating the ordinary Indian as a VVIP. Perhaps, Ambassador Meera Shankar can begin this process with ordinary Indian-Americans at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC.