Disillusioned Ladakh seeks to search within

Phunchok Stobdan
Former Envoy and Trans-Himalayan Affairs Expert

Ladakh is passing through a very difficult time. The recent resignation by Thufstan Chewang, Ladakh’s only Member of Parliament and also the BJP is indicative of the protracted nature of political crisis confronted by this strategic region.

For a long time, circumstances never allowed Ladakh to shape its own political identity and instead it had to remain steadfastly under the political patronage of external political groups and agenda.

Of course, intermittent attempts by people to voice their local aspirations were either ruthlessly crushed or they were skilfully outmanoeuvred by political masters from outside. None of the demands raised by Ladakh, some of them predating the J&K’s merger with the Indian Union, still remain unfulfilled.

A battlefield for political agendas 

The reasons are numerous, but essentially they have succeeded in exploiting the simplicity, backwardness, fragility and also played on local fault-lines to keep Ladakh under their thumb. Such proclivities are seemingly encouraging others (outsiders) to find space for playing mischief and bring friction in Ladakh’s social fabric. We are now witnessing rival political/ideological interest groups and parties from outside increasingly making Ladakh a battlefield for pushing their political agendas.

The present situation is an early sign of how Ladakh is likely to get torn apart by factional strife. People are indulging in petty and divisive politics to the detriment of social cohesion and unity. Confusion among people is palpable. The balance and maturity that existed in Ladakhi society seems to be fast receding.

Such tendencies are already vitiating the peaceful atmosphere of Ladakh with serious consequence of putting a great deal of strain on its society. Clearly, Ladakh can also no longer allow itself to walk consciously or be driven by the force of self-destruction. If not restrained, fear is that Ladakh too will regress into needless disorder, social upheaval and chaos.

It becomes, therefore, imperative and also a moral obligation to restore and return to the era of peace, stability, brotherhood, communal amity between communities. Urgency demands that people make serious interventions to prevent further deterioration of the situation.

Limit to pulls of political dynamics

It is also clear that being a small community, there is a limit to how much Ladakh can withstand the pulls and pressure of political dynamics taking place elsewhere at the national level. Whereas, Ladakh has its own social, political and economic issues that are specific and distinct that cannot be addressed by juxtaposing or over-identifying with the larger trend.

At the same time it is very important to care and participate in politics, for Ladakhis should know not only what is going on around them but also to ensure that political decisions made at various levels do not adversely affect their lives. Ladakhis have to exercise our democratic rights carefully because every vote that people make will either make or break society.

However, Ladakh cannot allow its political aspirations to be driven by external motivations, which seems easier but not an ideal choice, for it will amount to exposing its political bankruptcy.

It is of utmost importance that people of Ladakh are proud of their regional identity which is more distinct by any yardstick compared to Jammu and Kashmir. The situation around Ladakh has changed rapidly in the past 20 years, and the time has now come to deal with the widespread shortcomings in our political approaches that are not without detrimental to Ladakh’s interests.

Clearly, Ladakh’s problems can only be addressed through its own political ideas, thoughts, actions and wisdom that would in a way enable the people to reflect their own regional distinctiveness and aspirations. Ladakh has a strong political leadership which can guide the people on the right path with a clear sense of future.

Against the backdrop of these impinging political concerns and without going into merits and demerits of the past experience, several responsible people have been mulling over the idea of creating a local political platform under the rubric Ladakh Rangyul or simply the Rangyul with the following objectives:

“To nurture a political expression and outlook for Ladakh to be able to uphold its identity and interest first;

“To fill the void of identity politics in Ladakh;

“To steer an alternative political discourse based on local aspirations and challenges;

“To work towards the removal of prolonged political neglect of Ladakh by putting the key issues on the forefront of national attention;

“To strive for changing the political status quo of Ladakh within the Indian Constitution;

“To identify, articulate and exude Ladakh’s core issues through its own voice and platform;

“To cater to growing to rising expectations of the people especially the younger generation to prevent them falling adrift;

“To exploit the full political potentials and economic interests of Ladakh;

“To enable Ladakh to play a greater political role both in the Centre and state;

Any person or groups wishing to push for a transformational change Gyur-ja in Ladakh and believes in the principles, aims and objectives of the Rangyul should come forward to take the idea further.

Ladakh’s long wait for more

Posted at: Oct 30, 2018, 12:04 AM; last updated: Oct 30, 2018, 12:04 AM (IST

P Stobdan
Former Ambassador 

Protecting Ladakh against prolonged troubles in Kashmir was long overdue and so was the imperative of addressing some of the aspirations of the people there. Ladakh holds 60 per cent of J&K’s territory and plays critical role for national security that can’t be overlooked. Also inconceivable has been how Independent India (at the behest of Nehru) reduced Ladakh’s profile of being one of the five kingdoms in the Himalayas into a mere neglected district of the Valley.

Joseph Korbel, father of former US Secretary of State Madelaine Albright, wrote in 1950 that Kashmiri leadership was playing a trick on the people of Ladakh, if not frightening them to surrender under their control. For seven decades, New Delhi has turned a blind eye to Kashmiri sabre-rattling and the trickery upon the people of Ladakh — perhaps even worse than Pakistanis’ exploitation of the people in Gilgit & Baltistan. In the late 1970s, Sheikh Abdullah drove a wedge between Kargil Shia versus Leh Buddhist, besides creating a nefarious ‘Greater Kashmir’ concept to obliterate Ladakh.

The myth of J&K as a unitary state (a heritage of Dogra fiefdom) has outlived its historical inviolability. India should have thought about doing away with any subjugation links that Ladakh notionally had with J&K. After persistent articulation for the status of a UT, the Union government finally agreed in 1993, as interim measure, to create the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council. In 1995, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs announced the Act enacted by the President under the powers conferred by Section 3 of the Jammu and Kashmir State Legislature (Delegation of Powers) Act, 1992, to provide for the establishment of Autonomous Hill Development Councils and an Inter-District Advisory Council in the Ladakh region.

The Act had to be passed during the phase of the third and longest Governor’s Rule (1990-1996). But the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Act in 1997, passed by the NC government, was toothless. It was in 2002, during the time of the PDP-led coalition government in J&K, that a semblance of power was devolved to LAHDC of Leh district through an amendment to the 1997 Act.

It was remarkable that then CM, Mufti Sayeed, within two months of his coming to power, decided to delegate greater financial and administrative powers to LAHDC (Leh) and create a similar LAHDC for Kargil as well. Under the new Act, the LAHDC chief executive councillor was given the status and perks of a Cabinet minister and executive councillors of a deputy minister’s rank. The council was empowered to decide on the allotment and distribution of land, superintendence and control over the council employees.

The LAHDCs of Leh and Kargil have been functioning well, rather in an exemplary way since. But in a major decision on September 27, the State Administrative Council (SAC) — equivalent of a Cabinet in Governor’s rule, under the chairmanship of Governor Satya Pal Malik, has approved yet another LAHDC (Amendment) Bill, 2018, to fully empower the councils with greater administrative and financial powers. Inter alia, the amendments gave more powers to the LAHDC to levy and collect taxes, more administrative control over the staff and more allocation and flow of funds from Centrally-sponsored schemes.

While the people of Ladakh had been seeking a separate legislative arrangement in the form of a UT status since 1951, which the ruling BJP agreed to fulfil prior to 2014, constitutional changes seem unattainable. Since the matter is perceived as linked with the Kashmir issue, it can’t be realised for now. Regions like Ladakh, which are in favour of deeper integration with the national mainstream, cannot be allowed to drift against the current context of destabilising forces in the state.

The Centre also cannot punish the region any longer on the ground of its demographic deficiency (low weight in electoral politics). Considering Ladakh’s geo-strategic significance and in the light of Pakistan recently promulgating the Gilgit Baltistan Order 2018 (entrusting it with an assembly with legislative power) a change in Ladakh is critical. New Delhi has to be mindful of China blustering its way through the region under its CPEC projects which will have direct consequences for Ladakh.

While UT status would remain a long-drawn process, strategic articulation and national security imperative should propel the government to upgrade the administrative status of Ladakh at least to a divisional level. Currently, only a DC-level officer in Leh and Kargil acts as the chief executive officer of the respective council, who, in turn, reports to the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir and Ladakh based in Srinagar. The Commissioner sitting in Kashmir supervises and controls 12 districts, including Leh and Kargil, in terms of administrative, developmental and law and order situation.

Separating Ladakh from Kashmir Division and setting up a Divisional Commissioner’s office will go a long way in meeting the regional aspirations of the people. The launch of the overarching national vision of a tunnel through Zoji La (11,578 ft), connecting the Valley with Ladakh, in addition to building a high-elevation all-weather Bilaspur-Manali-Leh rail axis and Srinagar-Kargil-Leh axis will go a long way in removing Ladakh’s isolation. The projects are of great strategic, economic and developmental significance. The biggest spin-off will be the region opening up to better influx for tourism.

Time for a new Tibet story

Posted at: Dec 8, 2018, 12:22 AM; last updated: Dec 8, 2018, 1:41 AM (IST)

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/time-for-a-new-tibet-story/694958.html

India should look at normalising ties, now that ice with China is broken

  • Time for a new Tibet story

A New start: China certainly requires India’s support to resolve the issue in its favour. Perhaps, the Wuhan meet was just about that!

P Stobdan
FORMER AMBASSADOR

At a recent academic presentation at Tibetology Research Centre, Beijing, Chinese experts on Tibet said when Deng Xiaoping was seeking an accommodation in Tibet in the 1980s, the Dalai Lama was exploring other options in the West to play mischief against China. On his part, Tibet expert Xiaobin Wang claimed that the most belligerent attempt at confronting China came from the Dalai Lama immediately after the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was the year when George HW Bush took a stance against China’s repressive religious policy after he became the first-ever US President to receive the Dalai Lama officially at the White House.

The Tibetan spiritual leader was perhaps prompted to believe that the mightiest of empires could be pulled down by shared power of religion. Whether or not such assessments are accurate, there was no doubting the Dalai Lama’s optimism about a Soviet spinoff effect to either opt for a ‘political process’ or face ‘bloody political struggles’ as he also decided to drop the dialogue path.

The US Tibet Policy Act Bill (2001) and Congressional gold medal to the Dalai Lama (2007) ensued worst riots across the plateau in 2008. 

Wang insinuated how the West fostered the Dalai Lama to become a potent force and an icon of resistance against China to wage a psychic war against the Communist regime. China’s vitriol against the Dalai Lama as an ‘evil separatist’ never stopped until Xi Jinping came to power in 2013. But the dialogue interrupted in 2010 has never been resumed.

Tibet’s history and polity is rooted in China’s ritualistic order that can’t be changed, Wang asserted. The confusion arose after the British Empire (through eight key conventions between 1876 and 1914) tried to alter Tibet’s status, from a territory of China to a de facto independent nation. 

The Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way’ policy is an attempt at regaining a ‘suzerainty’ status like ‘trying to change the liquid, but not the drug’,  the Chinese said.

The briefing was a part of the rare trip to Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture organised by China’s foreign ministry to showcase China’s achievements in Tibet. Ganzi (thrice the size of Punjab) proved its economic vitality: the middle class population here drew income from hydropower, geothermal, mining and tourism. The world’s largest methyl card lithium ore reserve is found here. Its agro-products directly go to Hong Kong, to cite few examples.

One could feel the churning — ethnic Chinese own shops everywhere. Tibetans are moving towards Chengdu to buy properties. Most Tibetans were discreet in making political comments. A lama in Xiede town said Xi was revered as lingxiu (wise man) and people are ‘very respectful of Xi’.

Asked discreetly why they were not inviting the Dalai Lama back, the reply invariably was ‘why should we invite him, he left the country by himself!’ Any prospect of his return would be resisted by the power elite network; people are more interested in better living than risking uncertainty, an official said.

Obviously, China still suspects the Dalai Lama’s covert intention to split Tibet from China. It is wary of his ‘disruptive potentials’. It is not ready to risk the chaos ensuing upon his arrival. ‘Tibet is an outlying region and its vulnerabilities could be exploited by anti-China forces,’ noted an official in Khanding.

Yet, I felt, he is still revered as a ‘god-king’ by Tibetan folks, though this question was met with polite reticence by local Tibetan officials.  Nobody I spoke to in Ganzi and Beijing thought reconciliation is coming anytime soon. No radical policy change is visible though more and more ordinary Chinese are seemingly getting drawn towards Tibetan Buddhism. I was amazed by the area’s development and natural beauty. But as for the political takeaways, a bit of self-censorship in observation is needed, not only to avoid blocking access by China, but also to be careful to not hurt Tibetan sentiments about narrating China’s ‘Tibet story’.

On the downside, despite China’s high development achievements, some unsettling elements could be felt. The situation concealed as much as it revealed. I could understand the Tibetan obsession for an epistemological and metaphysical-driven life, but failed to figure out why, as practitioners of the most erudite Buddhist philosophy like the Indians, Japanese, Koreans, Chinese and others, they fail in adopting the transformative changes.

Perhaps, the greatest challenge before the younger Tibetan masters should include: firstly, to recognise the hard geopolitical reality; secondly, to employ their brand of Buddhism as a bridge to find a common ground; and thirdly, to catalyse Buddhism for bringing about a transformative change in Tibet.

After all, Asian societies have succeeded in spurring an enduring socio-economic change this way.

As for India, the Tibet issue seems no longer a crucial sticking point in its relationship with China. But, China definitely requires India’s support if the issue is to be resolved in its favour. Probably, the Wuhan process was just about that!

The visit has given rise to the idea that it is now time for India to normalise its traditional trade and cultural ties with Tibet that should include reopening of an Indian Consulate in Lhasa. Equally apt to find ways to send high Tibetan lamas back to Tibet if the fruits of investments made by India on them for such a long time are to be reaped fully.

 

Tibet Diary – Former ambassador P. Stobdan’s diary on a trip to Tibet.

P. STOBDAN 05 DECEMBER 2018

Ticket to a Tale

This could happen! China inviting me—the long-time sceptic of the country’s policies—for a visit to Tibet! A four-day trip to Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture organised by China’s foreign ministry was probably meant for influencing perception, to ensure China’s “Tibet story” reaches the world outside. The full-time security detail never prevented us from walking out of the hotel to talk to ordinary Tibetans, despite our tightly packed day itineraries. The chalked routine was more of a leisure trip, exciting sightseeing tours to religious sites, herdsman dwellings, schools, hospitals, scenic spots, Tibetan delicacies et al.

The Walls look Fine

Our official briefs, as opaque as the Chinese internet firewalls, talked mainly about achievements in Tibet. But there was scope of some affable smoke passing through: a lone Lama of the Bon sect present at a meeting smiled when I gifted him with a packet of Indian sandalwood incense sticks. Also, there wasn’t full scope for entirely disagreeing with the ‘achievements’. There is no doubting the impressive economic progress the region has made. Ganzi’s capital, Khanding, is like any other modern Chinese city, with high-rises, hotels and department stores, all finished with a traditional Tibetan touch. And Khanding has a growing middle-class population. Ganzi’s major revenue comes from hydro and geothermal power, mining and tourism sources. The world’s largest met­hyl card lithium ore (3 million tonnes) reserve is found here.

Holy Ganzi! A Seller Scheme

The Ganzi officials say the ‘Holy G’ brand brings in billions—of dollars—in revenue. Han tourists flock from all over to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes and the stunning engineering marvels of tunnels dug through those mountains. It took just three hours to reach Khanding from Chengdu, which is almost 400 km away. But the traffic on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway was very heavy. However, the planned Sichuan-Tibet Railway will reduce travel time to Lhasa from 48 to 13 hours.

One could feel the churning in Tibet—the ethnic Chinese own shops everywhere and Tibetans are moving in every direction, buying properties in Chengdu and other cities. I got the sense that Tibetan esotericism was gradually failing against China’s development reasoning.

Mild Mystery Cousins

My wish to visit Khanding’s Jili monastery couldn’t be realised, but on the way upwards next day, I got a chance to see the ancient Lhagang monastery of the Sakya sect. In Daofu, the 300-year old Gathar Shangbaling monastery where the seventh Dalai Lama spent seven years from 1728-1735, was a sight to behold. The head monk pointed out to me the birthplace of the 11th Dalai Lama, Khedrup Gyatso (1708), located a little away from Gathar. The house in which Gyatso was born is being rebuilt now, said the monk.

In another monastery in Danba country—the 17th century Song’an—I stumbled upon some preferential treatment too. The Lama in-charge from Amdo stopped all foreign tourists but me from entering the Palden-Lhama (Kali Devi) temple. Could it have been my accent in Tibetan that warmed me so to the lama, I thought, since I was told by some locals that my spoken Tibetan was closer to the Amdo dialect.

Whatever it was, I cherish the moment, because I thought before my trip that Tibetans would be generally excited to meet an Indian Buddhist. But I got a somewhat mild response. I had even brought some sacred items from the Tibetan shops in Delhi, including chin-labs (blessed items) of high lamas, to gift people in Tibet as I had heard they really liked the holy objects available in India. But, nobody seemed too impressed.

The Policy Plateau  Chamber

I felt whenever I spoke in Tibetan with locals, the officials listened with keen ears. The Tibetans I met were very discreet in making political comments. A lama I met in the town of Xiede told me that President Xi Jinping was referred to as “lingxiu”—a wise man. “People in general are very respectful towards Xi,” he said.

My ears caught some criticism of the Dalai Lama too. When I discreetly asked someone why they aren’t inviting the Dalai Lama to return home, the reply was: “Why should we invite him, he left the country by himself?” In the past, the Chinese have said that all doors are open “if hegives up the call for independence.” This line is not repeated now.

Yet, I felt the Dalai Lama is still revered as god-king by local folks although this question was met with polite reticence by local officials. Though, nobody I spoke to in Ganzi or in Beijing thought reconciliation is coming anytime soon. I wasn’t sure about my takeaways from the trip. To be sure, I was amazed by the area’s development and natural beauty but a bit of self-censorship in observation was needed to neither highlight nor undermine China’s successes in Tibet. The rhetoric apart, I felt neither any sense of exuberance among the Tibetans nor any sense of nervousness among the Chinese.


(The author is a former ambassador and an expert on strategic affairs)

 

Gas And The Greater Game

Indian diplomacy during Putin’s visit was masterful, but defence cooperation alone cannot sustain the relationship—more economic content is vital

Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to tack on the highly modified foreign policy course begun by his Wuhan initiative with China. The outcome of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit has been dramatic: not only has the government set right India’s waning ties with Russia, it has also stood for reaffirming India’s strategic autonomy. This was a diplomatic masterstroke; Indian foreign policy seemed to have regained its rigour and our mandarins learnt to play the new global power game rather skilfully.

Visibly, the comfort level between Putin and Modi exuded the bonhomie gained after their six-hour informal ‘agenda-less’ talks in Sochi last May when they had thrashed out most of the critical issues. PM Modi’s pronouncement that ties with Russia are “top priority” is a change from his earlier foreign policy team virtually dis­missing Russia as a spent force. Interestingly, according to one former official, even Manmohan Singh, after years of hobnobbing with Washington, finally felt more at home in Moscow when he was there in October 2013 for the 14th annual summit.

Of course, the spotlight this time was on the procurement of the S–400 air defence system. But the contract deal was concluded without much fanfare and without giving any impression that New Delhi was under pressure from the US. Yet, only a single-line paragraph is devoted to the deal in the 550-word joint statement text, while the fate of other defence transactions—the four Krivak/Talwar frigates, 48 Mi-17 helicopters, 200 Ka-226 helicopters, and AK-103 assault rifles production—does not even figure.

New Delhi has approached the deal as a transactional one, driven not by geopolitics but by what it can get out of Russia. With that said, is India keen on turning around its ties with Russia in a big way? Not really. The decision to procure the S–400 system may have been triggered more by strategic compulsion than by necessity, as China’s early operational induction of the S–400 would have undermined India’s strategic deterrence, especially when the Indian Air Force is facing acute shortages of combat aircraft. Russia, however, has demonstrated masterly strategic prowess by reaping the benefits of playing on the India–China strategic rivalry, while at the same time tying the two countries’ fate closely towards Moscow vis-à-vis Washington for decades to come. And for Russia, the sale of the S–400 system was a big geopolitical feat.

The Moscow-Beijing-New Delhi triangle game surely serves to offset America’s global influence—but New Delhi remains the weakest link in this. Russia’s sale of its top-of-the-line weapon system to China is worrying for India. The sale of more than $15 billion worth of weapons, including 10 upgraded Su-35 combat aircraft and a set of S–400 missile systems, was concluded in 2017. Moreover, seven Kamov Ka-32 multirole helicopters, among many other purchases, were finalised in 2016. Second, China’s reverse engineering abilities are well known, and it has reportedly acquired a new elemental technological capability to use tiny super microchips that could infiltrate an adversary’s system. Third, the Russia-China trade turnover reached $84 billion in 2017 while Russia-India trade was a paltry $10 billion, with an $8 billion balance in favour of Russia—finding an alternative payment system to skirt the dollar payment is likely to remain a challenge. And looking ahead, bilateral ties will be hamstrung by a lack of sufficient economic ­content. Putin has set a new target of $30 billion in bilateral trade, and mutual investment of $15 billion in each country, by 2025. He has also ­invited Modi to the 2019 Vladivostok Economic Forum as the chief guest, ostensibly to boost ­economic content.

Russia-India trade was $10 billion in 2017, with an $8 billion balance in ­favour of Russia, while Russia-China trade was $84 billion.
On the strategic front, it is important to see to what extent Moscow has been able to capitalise on New Delhi’s strategic ambivalence over the ‘Indo-Pacific’, ‘quad formulation’ and others. The joint statement with Russia supports the idea of a regional security architecture that provides ‘equal and indivisible security’ to all countries in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions. Any consultation on this issue would be made within the framework of the East Asian Summit and other multilateral fora such as BRICS, G20, SCO and RIC. It is unclear whether Moscow has nudged New Delhi on Afghanistan. The statement referred to both sides having agreed to work through the Moscow format and the SCO Contact Group on Afghanistan (both exclude the US) to find an early solution. The word ‘Taliban’ is conspicuously missing from the text.

The two leaders also noted the importance of widening energy cooperation, with Indian companies buying stakes in Russian energy fields. Taking the long view, Putin has also invited Indian participation in the joint exploration of Russia’s Arctic shelf, with the belief that “as the climate continues to change, the northern sea route will offer growing opportunities for ensuring reliable LNG supplies to the Indian and world markets.” Good rhetorical appeals, perhaps, but India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation has been involved in the exploration of the Sakhalin offshore fields, as well as northeast Siberia’s Vankorsky field, for years. It is time for Russia to offer India onshore oil and gas fields in eastern or western Siberia. Curiously, it is unclear why the result of the 2017 joint study on building gas pipeline supply routes from Russia and other countries to India is not being considered seriously.

Defence supplies are unlikely to remain the lynchpin sustaining the Indo-Russian friendship for long. For New Delhi, only a blockbuster deal with Russia on energy (both upstream and downstream cooperation), besides the prospect of ­laying the proposed $40 billion long-distance oil and gas pipeline, can turn around the trade prospect to exceed $100 billion. For its part, Russia can only use its energy as a powerful weapon to counter the threat of Western sanctions. Such a deal would be a watershed moment.

But this would require a clear vision and a sincere effort on Russia’s part to bring its strategic ties with both China and India into a single geopolitical alignment, abandoning the subtle game of extracting the maximum it can from its relations with the two Asian giants. Will Russia do that? Obviously, this would upset the existing international order, but that is another point altogether.

Meanwhile, a worthwhile agreement signed this time includes cooperation in outer space—Roscosmos’ willingness to assist ISRO for a manned spaceflight by 2022, and setting up an Indian monitoring and data collection station near Novosibirsk city in Siberia. Russia certainly matters to India’s national interest—something this government seems to have realised lately, for there is also an unequivocal national political consensus on maintaining good ties with Moscow.

What remains to be seen now is whether Modi will be able to handle the Americans with same astuteness. So far, the US reaction to the S–400 contract deal has been guarded—suggesting that its intentions in slapping sanctions on Russia is not aimed at damaging the interests of its “allies or partners”, but to penalise Russia for its ‘malign behaviour’, namely its activities in Ukraine and its alleged interference in American elections. In all probability, the S–400 contract deal will make India’s defining partnership with US even more robust. This is how the game is being played.


(The author is a former ambassador and an ­expert on strategic affairs)

As Uzbek President Visits, India Must Rethink Its Central Asia Policy

Uzbeikstan is fast getting linked to the global market for production, supplies of raw materials and services. Several excellent opportunities exist for Indian investment in non-ferrous and rare-earth metals industry.

P. Stobdan

Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev is paying a visit to New Delhi on Sunday, seemingly to give yet another shot for cementing strong economic ties with India. He and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also met in Qingdao during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.

Make no mistake, Central Asia is India’s natural partner in every respect. But ties between the two countries have never been too strong. Geopolitically, the region still provides potential ‘strategic depth’ against India for any power seeking this, it is certainly an Indian-adjacent glacis that can’t be left to the Chinese alone.

So far, India’s diplomatic ingenuity served to check the countervailing forces in Central Asia, including Pakistan’s underlying policy thrust of approaching the region, along with Afghanistan, as an adjunct to its rivalry with India.

If Mirziyoyev has a fresh perspective to offer, India should grab the chance seriously. But this time, India must have a clear vision. Thus far, India has been citing obstructions of physical connectivity, Pakistan’s hostility and the instability in Afghanistan for its desultory attitude towards Central Asia. But such excuses can no longer hold true as distant countries like South Korea are doing enough business with the region.

What is required is the more efficient use of instruments of economic leverage, though Central Asia is not a key market or investment destination for Indian companies. However, it is fast getting linked to the global market for production, supplies of raw materials and services, besides getting integrated into the Trans-Eurasian transit corridor. Several excellent opportunities exist for Indian investment in the non-ferrous and rare-earth metals industry in Uzbekistan.

Perception of India is that it opposes connectivity

The perception in Eurasia that India is opposed to connectivity needs to be removed. New Delhi should keep in mind its historic Silk Route ties with the region and make all-out attempts to break the bottlenecks, although the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and the Iranian Chabahar port projects are inching closer to becoming a reality.

Mirziyoyev is likely to push for a Trans-Afghan Railway line to connect Uzbekistan with Chabahar, which would be a welcome move. With the first phase of the Shahid Beheshti terminal ready for operation by India Ports Global Limited (IPGL), Chabahar becomes the nearest sea port for Uzbekistan by land.

The Uzbek state Railway Company O’zbekiston Temir Yo’llari seems keen to extend the existing 75-kilometre single-rail track between Hairatan and Mazar-i-Sharif to Herat – a gateway to Iran for both Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

India is committed to building a 610-kilometre north-south railway (Chabahar to Zahedan). Uzbekistan joining the project as a direct stakeholder would broaden the prospect for India optimally using Chabahar as a vital gateway to access Eurasian markets.

But what should worry Uzbekistan is that its trade with India is a paltry $323 million. In fact, India’s current trade figure of about $100 billion with the SCO is grotesquely asymmetric – about $90 billion with China, $8 billion with Russia and only $1.5 billion with the Central Asian states, of which $1 billion is with Kazakhstan. Uzbekistan is a distant second. President Shavkat needs to address this skew in the regional trade pattern.

Notwithstanding political goodwill, a stake in Central Asian energy is yet to be achieved for India.

In 2006, then prime minister Manmohan Singh was the first high-profile dignitary to visit Tashkentin the wake of the bloody crackdown by president Islam Karimov on demonstrators in Andijan on May 13, 2005. Karimov was faced with tough Western pressure demanding an international investigation, for which he even broke the strategic partnership with Washington.

Karimov had then promised exploration acreages to Indian firms in Uzbekistan’s energy and mineral sector, including production sharing agreements (PSAs) between ONGC Videsh Limited and Uzbekneftegaz Company. The exploration status is still unknown, even after 13 years.

To deepen the partnership with India, Tashkent has been promising to supply 2,000 metric tonnes of nuclear fuel uranium to India since 2014. We don’t know whether the deal is being fulfilled.

In 2017, President Mirziyoyev made a promise to Modi to elevate bilateral ties and offered several incentives. A good thing is that the political outlook in Central Asia in the post-Karimov era is changing in favour of intra-regional cooperation.

Already, Mirziyoyev’s high points of achievement include holding of a high level conference on Afghanistan in March this year to draw a roadmap for the Afghan settlement through engagement of the Taliban and holding the first regional summit of Central Asian leaders in Astana (at Mirziyoyev’s behest) to resolve all regional issues – much to the surprise of the world community.

Quite clearly, Mirziyoyev’s visit to Delhi may be linked to his Afghan settlement agenda. He could also be on a mission to build bridges between New Delhi and Islamabad under fresh regional/sectoral diplomacy being stepped up in the aftermath of the post-Qingdao SCO summit.

Tashkent should know that multiple conflicting interests intersect at the SCO and here, India doesn’t see challenges posed to the region by the Taliban as any less threatening than that by ISIS.

The Uzbeks need to tread with caution on the Taliban, lest it boosts the morale of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in the Ferghana Valley. Besides, the Uyghur issue, seemingly flaring up in Xinjiang, could open up the next frontier of the Islamic arc of instability that could engulf other Central Asian states as well.

New Delhi should be cautious not to let the SCO become a smokescreen to drum up support for the Pakistani stance. Any thought of making the SCO a pivot for a closer India-Pakistan entente would be hasty, for the Uzbeks should be reminded how even the famous January 1966 Tashkent Declaration failed to produce enduring results.

Instead, President Mirziyoyev should be asked to make the Tashkent based SCO-RATS (Regional Anti-Terror Structure) more robust so that tangible and hard information can be shared among member states to deal with the menace of terrorism, especially on terrorist hideouts in the Afghan-Pak region.

P. Stobdan has served as India’s ambassador in Central Asia

Way Ahead: Only A Perception Change Can Prevent Rise Of Anti-India Sentiments in J-K

The political narrative in Kashmir has changed after youths took over the reins of dissent. Unless New Delhi changes tack, Kashmir will slip away.

P. Stobdan

16 JULY 2018 NATIONALJUMP CUT

Way Ahead: Only A Perception Change Can Prevent Rise Of Anti-India Sentiments in J-K

The political narrative in Kashmir has changed after youths took over the reins of dissent. Unless New Delhi changes tack, Kashmir will slip away.
Way Ahead: Only A Perception Change Can Prevent Rise Of Anti-India Sentiments in J-K

The country has withstood the worst period of militancy in Kashmir, but, given the fraught situation that currently exi­sts, an urgent political intervention is needed. New Delhi seemingly failed to grasp the change in Pakistan’s strategy since China’s launch of the $62 billion CPEC project in April 2015, aimed at bolstering Pakistani economic growth.

Pakistan’s support to separatist militancy in Kashmir remains unabated, but since 2016, it has attempted to indigenise the movement. While India has stuck to “meeting fire with fire”, Pakistan may have rebooted its strategy by effectively creating new layers of indigenous groups involving fresh recruits. Islamabad’s aim was to wriggle out of Kashmiri militancy, at least outwardly.

From India’s perspective, a popular uprising in Kashmir cannot be controlled despite using hard force since 2016. Instead, it may have resulted in permanently losing the hearts and minds of people. The political narrative in Kashmir has changed after youths took over the reins of dissent. Things seemed to have worsened in the abs­­ence of any political process. Unless New Delhi changes tack, Kashmir will slip away.

Read Also: The Human On The K-Table: Time For A New Narrative To Break Logjam in Kashmir

Trifurcation of J&k will face various tensions and faults within. Any attempt will only magnify problems manifold.
New Delhi, for the time being, can only manage the problem, but that would also demand political skills—the ability of the top leadership to demonstrate or lev­erage relationships with multiple stakeholders with a clear vis­ion. Of the solutions being discussed, that of reverting to the 1952 status is untenable because that constitutional arrangement was undemocratic and anti-people.

As for the trifurcation of the state, it would be as difficult as creating the state through a historical process 170 years back. Not only will the idea of trifurcation have to face tough constitutional hurdles but also the political contradiction within the state. Jammu & Kashmir may have an image of a coherent geo-political identity, but the state is anything but homogeneous. Besides, none of the three regions are monolithic in their ethnic, religious, linguistic and political composition. There are inter and intra-regional tensions along multiple faultiness. Trifurcation will magnify the existing pro­­blems manifold. But any attempt at a political solution would require a profound change in perception. Now that J&K has been placed under governor’s rule, it is time to bring about a change in perception about the functioning and responsibilities of the state.

It is popularly believed that power brokers or rich Kashmiris, either of the PDP, NC, Congress or the BJP, have systematically exploited the situation. The governor should revitalise all anti-­corruption agencies and open all pending cases against politicians, separatists and bureaucrats. Also, New Delhi should eva­luate thoroughly the cultural dimension of Kashmir vis-a-vis the nation positively, not behave like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. Essentially, the Centre needs to visualise what it wants instead of envisioning what it doesn’t, so that cycle of mistrust can be broken. It needs to heal the wounds in Kashmir in an explicitly political and practical way. The first step is to set something positive in mot­ion by engaging in a dialogue process. Kashmiris are not sufficiently empowered; even a political representation at the Centre is missing. This leaves no space even for ordinary people to communicate with the leadership.

Economically, too, a development pathway like the one mooted by Mehbooba Mufti to revive the “traditional trade routes of Kashmir” could propel a change. Initiatives have to support Kas­hmir’s development aspirations and reduce vul­­nerability, especially tackling inequalities ind­uced by decades of mismanagement and corruption.

Another critical issue is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and, especially, the Public Safety Act (PSA), which has led to wrongful detentions of thousands of young people without charge and trial, including minors branded as ‘stone-pelters’. Preventive detention under the PSA has mostly become a ‘pun­itive’ rather than ‘preventive’ measure. In fact, those det­ained are being feted by public and treated as heroes. So, despite such laws, resistance levels have only grown stronger.

The government must revisit the PSA. A positive perception can be built among people by sending PSA for either a judicial review, amendment or annulment. Instead, it can be replaced by the more humane National Security Act (NSA). Also, diluting the AFSPA in favour of the army can make things worse. There are many examples of errant armed personnel being dealt softly, giving rise to great resentment among Kashmiris.

Only a perception change can now prevent a further rise of anti-­India sentiments. A careful appraisal of building an alternative is needed to prevent Kashmir from being alienated irrevocably.

Averting India’s Fall into a Geopolitical Trap

July 06, 2018

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a foreign policy course-correction after realising that the strategic tilt towards the United States has not only grossly upset India’s geopolitical image but also undermined national interests. Indian interests are being particularly affected by the US decision to link its sanctions on Iran and Russia with India, with the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) having the potential to damage India’s defence preparedness. India has decided to defy the US diktat and made it clear that Trump’s “me first approach” is not acceptable and that it would not be guided by any other country on its import of weapons. It has decided to go ahead with the purchase of the Triumf missile and also announced its commitment to follow UN sanctions, not US sanctions on Iran.

There has been an overwhelming impression that India is stooping to become a regional ally of the US in the latter’s new strategic theatre of “Indo-Pacific” to keep the sea lanes of communication open, albeit in the pretext of countering China. But moving closer to Washington has been seen as having had a wide-ranging adverse impact. Firstly, it is forcing India to walk a diplomatic tightrope between the US, Russia and China. The policy of intentional ambiguity in conventional terms does play a valuable role, but a prolonged play can also lead to uncertainty, for it can be hard to maintain the balance between coherence and ambiguity. It could also potentially obscure potential harm and threats. Secondly, relying too much on fickle US policies appears risky. As can be seen on the trade front, Trump is backing out on his commitments to other US friends and allies. And there is a lurking feeling that the US was not forthcoming in articulating clear support for India during the Doklam standoff. Thirdly, closer military ties with the US could draw India into a larger political quagmire in terms of attracting the attention of global Islamic terrorist groups which are committed to undermining the interests of America and its allies wherever possible. And, lastly, the process could eventually result in the US making a Pakistan (a long-time client state or banana republic) out of India and the attendant loss of standing in the world as a great nation.

Atop all challenging issues lies the escalating trade conflict between New Delhi and Washington. India has decided to retaliate against the US by increasing import tariffs on 30 American products amounting to $240 million. This is in response to the US imposing tariffs on aluminium and steel imports from India in March 2018. But Donald Trump has threatened to impose further retaliatory import duties on Indian products. The US trade deficit of $21 billion with India is a sore point for the Trump administration, which seeks full reciprocity in trade ties. Any move by Washington to levy retaliatory tariffs would hit India’s exports to the US market. With nearly 16 per cent of India’s total exports going to the US, further and more expansive US tariffs would have implications for the political environment especially when general elections are around the corner and public discontent is rife.

So far, Indo-US trade frictions have remained at the level of posturing only. For example, among the notable items on which the import duty has been raised by India include US products like Harley-Davidson motorbikes. These retaliatory ‘protectionist’ measures seem simply symbolic in nature and are not comparable to the US-China trade war. While trade issues could still be resolved through dialogue, any escalation of retaliatory steps could widen the friction and even spill over into other areas of cooperation.

The recent talks between Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu with US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and US Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer have failed to resolve the trade dispute. The abrupt postponement of the first 2+2 dialogue between India and the US, earlier scheduled for July 6, appeared to have everything to do with the issues of trade and sanctions, among others.

The above issues have probably triggered a change in New Delhi’s thinking, for they not only caused serious unease in India but also upset its strategic calculations.

Russian Displeasure

Obviously, the Russians couldn’t have been pleased with India switching over to the American military supply chain system. However, Moscow hasn’t made this a critical issue and continues to transfer the most sensitive strategic armaments to India – although it could have virtually brought the entire Indian defence system to its knees by stopping its supply chain including spares.

What really appears to have miffed Russia was India’s decision to forego its strategic balance by joining the ‘Quadrilateral’ talks with the US, Australia and Japan since 2017. India’s steps to joining this bloc-type security architecture in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ has evidently raised hackles in Moscow, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov strongly advising India to stick to “non-bloc principle”. Putin too was obviously not convinced that India’s role in the ‘Quad’ isn’t about aligning against Russia. In Sochi, he had obliquely reminded Modi of the obligation the two countries share under the “special and privileged strategic partnership” in “military, security and nuclear energy fields”.

China has been scornful of India joining the US bandwagon. Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed the ‘Quad’ and ‘Indo-Pacific” formulations as only “headline-grabbing’’ ideas soon to “dissipate” like the “foam on the sea’.

New Delhi seems to have realised the mistake of prematurely denouncing the traditionally followed multi-engagement foreign policy or a “balancing” approach in the global system, even though conceding a space for the US had begun in 2001 when Vajpayee offered Indian bases for US military operations in Afghanistan and Advani wished to send a division to Iraq in 2003. Prime Minister Modi’s “informal” meeting with President Xi Jinping in Wuhan and “agenda-less” talks with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi proved a masterstroke and turning point for his diplomacy.

In particular, Modi’s keynote speech at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore seemed a calibrated move to prevent India falling into a dangerous geopolitical trap vis-à-vis US, Russia and China. The subtext of the speech was to reaffirm India’s commitment to multi-polarity, uphold the principles and values of peace and progress, and fight against “global dominance”. The world knew that India was as a power bloc in itself with nations around the world looking up to New Delhi for guidance and support. Modi’s Singapore speech was welcomed by every country including China.

Importantly, Modi avoided making a reference to the ‘Quad’ in Singapore and instead spoke out strongly against “protectionism” – an oblique reference to the Trump policy. Although he praised the US “Indo-Pacific” strategy, he also made it clear that India does not see it “as a club of limited members (or) as a grouping that seeks to dominate” which strongly implied that India is not seeing it as an alliance system. In fact, when US officials described India as the “fulcrum” of or “central” to US Indo-Pacific strategy, Modi deflected the idea by affirming the centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Prime Minister played down the China threat except for exhorting Beijing to play by the rules, saying an “Asia of rivalry” would hold all its players back. And, in contrast to US Defense Secretary James Mattis warning China over maritime ‘intimidation’, Modi talked about seeking closer ties with China and termed “stable relations” between the two countries as “an important factor for global peace and progress.” Modi went a step further and advised other powers to avoid taking a confrontationist line to prevent “great power rivalries”. These statements were significant given that they were made about a week ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao. At Qingdao, he joined other leaders in committing to the “Shanghai Spirit” – a term coined in 2006 to invert the Cold War-era mentality.

India’s Options

New Delhi needs to be mindful of the fluid nature of the dynamics in security relationships in the Asia-Pacific. Indian interlocutors seeking exemptions from higher tariffs on Indian items in the US market need to understand that Trump is likely to agree to such a step only if he is able to make enough profits by selling US arms to India. This explains the US attempts to scuttle India’s ongoing defence deals with Russia. Trump knows that America can sell India a glut of arms by playing up Indians’ Sinophobia.

Though his dexterous diplomacy, Modi has deflated the hype created by certain sections of Indian and American think tanks and media outlets which enjoyed a great sense of vanity and smugness about the strategic importance of India for America in counterbalancing China.

To be clear, there can’t be an Asia without China just as there can’t be an Asia without India. In fact, most Asian nations, despite their disputes and differences, do not approve of all-round hostility against each other.

Instead, India’s fellow Asian societies seemed to have learnt and continue to practice Nāgārjuna’s non-dogmatic precept of Madhyamaka (fundamental verses of the Middle Way) that accepts the nature of reality and ‘interdependent co-arising or dependent co-origination’ to overcome problems.

Realising that India can no longer continue with the old habit of remaining a geopolitical bystander in Asia, a nuanced shift in Modi’s policy of moving away from the West-led confrontationist approach is a welcome move. What Modi essentially lacked until recently was a wise and level-headed foreign policy advisor.

Yet, one should be cautiously optimistic about the Wuhan process moving forward in the right direction. Possibly it does not represent a change of hearts but only a tactical adjustment with both sides buying a temporary truce due to the imperatives of their respective external and domestic agenda. For the overall atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust to go will take time and require sustained efforts by both sides. But the process of resetting the ties may have begun in Wuhan, probably with India’s willingness to stop playing the Dalai Lama card in return for China’s willingness to end using Pakistan as a proxy. India should try and avert further challenges posed by China from multiplying. One hopes that the new team led by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale is able to navigate engagement with China in good faith and not indulge in tactical ploys.

Whither the Indo-US Defence Partnership

June 25, 2018

The Indo-US defence relationship has been growing since the signing of the New Framework for Defence Cooperation in 2005 and more particularly after the US Congress passed the Hyde Act in December 2006 to enable bilateral cooperation on nuclear issues. However, of late, bilateral ties are seemingly going out of balance to the extent of impinging on India’s sovereign interests. A strong opinion has grown in India that the strategic tilt towards the US has not only grossly upset the country’s geopolitical image but is entailing the high risk of undermining national interests as well.

The process of forging closer politico-military relations was set in motion with the signing of the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) in 2012, which was followed by the renewal of the ‘Framework for India-US Defence Relations’ in June 2015. Taking the defence relationship further required India signing the so-called three “foundational accords”. The first of these is the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA), which the US signs with allies to facilitate each side’s military operations including basing arrangements. The next in line is the Communication Inter-operability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) – a legal framework that enables the transfer of critical, secure and encrypted communications between weapon platforms to facilitate “interoperability”. And the third is the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) for sharing sensitive geospatial intelligence gathered from satellites and other space-based platforms.

Although discussions on the “foundational accords” had begun during the previous UPA government, talks were stalled due to both political and technical reasons. Politically, it was feared that these agreements will indirectly make India a military ally of America. The trouble is that the LSA, CISMOA and other accords are carefully crafted to mainly achieve the American objective of building military relations with other countries based on the systemic imperatives of harmonising defence strategies and foreign policies. Technically, the signing of the LSA and CISMOA demanded access to each other’s bases and integrating each other’s communications networks. Apprehensions were, therefore, raised that signing the CISMOA would allow America to intrude into Indian military communication systems. Besides, the existing Russian-origin and indigenous Indian military platforms would not be compatible with CISMOA.

From the US perspective, these accords were not only meant to ensure the protection of US military interests but also create a string of dependency for the client state. If we look at the cases of many client states like Pakistan that have a history of importing high-technology and cutting-edge weapons from the American supply chain, they have had to considerably compromise on an array of sovereign choices. Invariably, these nations get forced into accepting the American diktat in their foreign and defence policies. In other words, the client loses its sovereign authority to wield independent power over its own territory. For example, the intrusion of US Special Forces into Pakistani territory during Operation Neptune Spear in May 2011 and the series of targeted drone strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban hideouts are instructive cases of violation of Pakistan’s sovereign airspace.

Essentially, the intent behind the US insistence on the foundational agreements is to make India dependent and ultimately a client state.

The India-US Defence Relationship regained its momentum following the signing of “Joint Strategic Vision” between Barack Obama and Narendra Modi in January 2015 for a shared vision for peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region. This also coincided with India’s declaration of its ‘Act East’ policy. In December 2016, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and the US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter issued a joint statement finalising India’s designation as a “major defence partner” of the US. Since then the process of strategic convergence has been more scrupulously pursued by the US side while pressing for signing the so-called three “foundational” accords.

The NDA government went ahead to renegotiate the LSA in 2015 and eventually signed a military logistics agreement called Logistics Exchange Memorandum Of Agreement (LEMOA) on 29 August 2016. LEMOA is a customized version of the LSA to facilitate each other’s operations for purposes of refuelling and replenishment with no obligations on India to provide any basing arrangements.

The CISMOA has been re-christened as Communications, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA), in order to reflect its India-specific character. It is meant to facilitate the use of high-end secured communication equipment to be installed on military platforms. Currently, India relies on commercially available communication systems for US-sourced platforms like C-130Js and the P8I maritime surveillance aircraft. But COMCASA is necessary for the Sea Guardian drones that India is keen on acquiring from the US since these operate on a secure data and communication system link.

Surely, there may have been sufficient reasons for accepting these accords; in the main, getting access to cutting-edge defence technologies and other tactical advantages. But, in doing so, India has seemingly failed to consider the geopolitical and foreign policy fallouts from signing of these accords – a euphemism for becoming a US military ally.

The government has been delaying the signing of the two other pacts, for there have been intense internal resentment and lingering fear among Defence Ministry officials that COMCASA would a) severely compromise India’s military ties with Russia and curtail access to Russian weapon systems, b) once it comes into force, the agreement would demand periodic inspection access of the equipment to US personnel and, c) access to US weapons would remain subjected to various export control regimes, irrespective of these pacts.

However, despite these red-flags, various allurements may have already drawn India into the American strategic fold, not knowing that the trap door would soon slam shut leaving India with no options but to be guided by the US terms.

Not surprisingly and in a quick turn of events, the new US law against Russia — Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) – started to impact India in terms of preventing it from doing business with Russian defence firms. The Sanction Act notified 39 Russian state-controlled firms including Rosoboronexport with which India does recurring business. According to the Act, any third party conducting transactions with these companies would be liable to be sanctioned.

In May 2018, Rep. Mac Thornberry, head of the US House Armed Services Committee, asked India to seriously rethink the acquisition of the Russian S-400 anti-missile defence system and warned that India purchasing it could set hurdles for building “interoperability” with the US in the future.

For their part, US officials have indicated that not signing the COMCASA could preclude India from getting high-end US military equipment, like the MQ-9 Reaper, Predator-B armed drones, etc. The US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for PoliticalMilitary Affairs, Tina Kaidanow,recently asked New Delhi to desist from conduct that might invite sanctions. However, US Defense Secretary James Mattis has asked Congress to provide national security exceptions to CAATSA for countries like India. But the issue is not simply limited to getting a ‘waiver’ for buying the S-400 Triumf but about a range of other weapon systems from Russia including stealth frigates, nuclear attack submarines, multirole choppers, etc. worth $12 billion that are in the process of delivery.

The extreme nature of the CAATSA sanctions regime gives the US a handy and effective pressure point to dismantle the existing Indo-Russian defence relationship and replace Russian weapons systems in the Indian Army, Navy and Air force with systems from the US-controlled supply chain. Potentially, the sanctions under CAATSA could endanger India’s overall defence ties with Russia, and even worse, it could impact spares procurement for weapons of which 70 per cent are of Russian origin. The upshot is that making structural changes in a system that advantages America and compels India to undermine its own interests would damage India’s defence preparedness.

There has been an impression that New Delhi has decided to defy the US diktat prudently and has made it clear that Trump’s “me first approach” is not acceptable and that India would not be guided by any other country on its import of weapons. New Delhi has said it will go ahead with the purchase of the Triumf missile system for Rs 40,000 crore. Further, New Delhi has rightly announced its commitment to follow UN sanctions, not US sanctions on Iran and wants to continueto trade with Iran.

But the Empire is already striking back to push India to sign the three “foundational” accords through a considerable degree of both incentive and coercion. The Pentagon wants to quickly have in place greater military interoperability including a combined doctrine, joint training and planning, and a joint command and control structure for the “Indo-Pacific”.

For its part, New Delhi seems all set to do an about-face and sign the second defence foundational pact COMCASA with the US, when the first US-India 2+2 Dialogue will be held in Washington on July 6 between Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman.

This new dialogue format was agreed to between the two sides during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington D.C. on 25-26 June 2017. The ground work for it has already been done when the Indian foreign and defence secretaries visited Washington on April 18-19, 2018. US Defence officials are now in New Delhi to discuss the nitty-gritty of the pact.

The US remains upbeat on the upcoming dialogue. In its media note released on June 21, 2018, the Office of the US Spokesperson said that the “meeting will focus on strengthening strategic, security, and defense cooperation as the United States and India jointly confront global challenges”.

By contrast, the MEA’s press release on June 21 was careful and reticent, suggesting that “the two sides are expected to ‘share perspectives’ on strengthening their strategic and security ties and ‘exchange views’ on a range of bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest”. It said nothing like the US promise to “jointly confront global challenges”.

Whether or not the COMCASA text will be finalised or not in the upcoming 2+2 dialogue in Washington is not clear. But the resumption of talks on the agreement signals a change in political will on the Indian side, which means that previously-held security apprehensions have been allayed.

In any case, Trump is seemingly using the important Diaspora card by sending Nikki Haley to New Delhi this week to win over Modi and fix the accord. There seems to be considerable divergences between the two countries on several core issues. Clearly, the Indo-US defence partnership will continue to remain a tale of flip-flops.