M.K Bhadrakumar http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar.rss en Tue Aug 06 15:17:23 IST 2019 https://www.theweek.in/privacy-an-settlement.html a-wonk-no-more <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/06/07/a-wonk-no-more.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2019/6/7/178-A-wonk-no-more-new.jpg" /> <p>The Pew Research Center did an analysis in January 2017 of president-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees as “one of the most heavily business-oriented” in US history. Business executives accounted for 33 per cent of Trump’s nominees, which is the second highest in American political history after William McKinley (1897-1901). The enigma of S. Jaishankar’s appointment as India’s external affairs minister needs explanation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rapid economic growth marked McKinley’s presidency. Historians regard his 1896 victory as a ‘realigning election’ of pro-business sentiment. In political theory, a realigning election marks sharp changes in the structure or rules of the political system, which may result in a new political power structure that lasts for decades, replacing an older dominant coalition. Our 2019 poll, clearly, has been a realigning election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Six months into his second term, McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, but his legacy continued as the national commitment to a pro-business, industrial and modernising programme and the trade reciprocity he had intended to negotiate with other nations. Similarly, the ‘realignment’ in India can be fateful.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fundamentally, Jaishankar’s appointment must be seen as a prerequisite of the expected acceleration of ‘corporatisation’ of India’s political economy, a trajectory that commenced under Narasimha Rao. Corporations increasingly run India, including the media and political parties. The leviathans—Reliance, Tata, etc.—today employ similar tactics as Rockefeller or Ford foundations did once, wiring into the administration. The Tata Group, where Jaishankar was employed, has been a pioneer for decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The thrust is on preparing India for the free markets of corporate capital. One of the first decisions Jaishankar will take concerns the proposal for the manufacture of F-16 fighter jets by the Lockheed-Tata joint venture. Corporate India backed Modi because Rahul Gandhi may not be sufficiently ruthless against the growing resistance movement in India to the corporatisation process. Modi is capable of mutating—switching with delectable ease from dream merchant to messiah to monk, from corporate man to statesman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A Shiv Shankar or Sushma Swaraj can no longer fit the bill as India’s foreign minister. The race for growth of corporate houses has spilled across the globe. After retirement, Jaishankar joined Tata Sons as president, Global Corporate Affairs. That ‘retooling’ prepared him for reassignment as EAM. The Tatas run more than 100 companies in around 80 countries. Therefore, don’t look for the policy wonk in Jaishankar as he returns to the South Block. The compass has been set on policy front well and truly. And, as for diplomacy, Modi has been at the crease long enough to make out a flipper from a top spin. Simply put, what he would find attractive in Jaishankar is that he is practical-minded and can be trusted to reach the destination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What helps Jaishankar is that he has the blessings of the RSS. It’s a brave new world where the power equilibrium is being upended. If anyone were to brand Jaishankar as Modi’s trans-Atlantic messenger, that is only part of the story. His appointment is vital to the epochal project of India’s corporatisation—integrating India with the global market and removing barriers that impede free movement of American capital. Equally, the additional charge as minister of state for commerce for H.S. Puri, who brings in expertise in trade negotiations and tariff wars, can be seen as a related template.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/06/07/a-wonk-no-more.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/06/07/a-wonk-no-more.html Fri Jun 07 11:40:13 IST 2019 democracy-in-distress <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/05/10/democracy-in-distress.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2019/5/10/74-Democracy-in-distress-new.jpg" /> <p>Sri Lankan army commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake dropped a bombshell on May 2 by disclosing to the BBC that terrorists who perpetrated the horrific attack on Easter Sunday had visited India. “They have gone to Kashmir, Bengaluru, they have travelled to Kerala state,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The general added, they “definitely” acquired “some sort of training” or would have made “some more links towards the other (foreign) organisations. By looking at the pattern of operation and the places that the leadership has travelled, there has to be some outside involvement of some leadership or instructions.” He hinted that Indian intelligence’s warnings about an attack were not helpful as they pointed “in a different direction… and there was a gap that everybody could see today”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Senanayake is President Maithripala Sirisena’s henchman. Sirisena appointed him as army commander in July 2017 superseding others when he was about to retire. Senanayake, a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College, had fled Sri Lanka in 2010, while serving at the army head quarters in Colombo as major general. He was among retired general Sarath Fonseka’s loyalists whom former president Mahinda Rajapaksa suspected of planning a coup. He returned to Colombo only after the US-backed “regime change” in 2015, that brought Sirisena to power. Sirisena promptly reinstated him as military secretary to the president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Surely, Senanayake’s loaded remarks must have put Delhi on alert —especially that part linking Jammu and Kashmir. Delhi has not responded, but a top intelligence officer reacted sharply disclaiming any information and insisting, “there is nothing to prove that any of the suicide bombers involved in the attacks in Sri Lanka had visited Kashmir in connection with any subversive activity or for obtaining terror training”. An official in the home ministry said in Delhi: “Sri Lanka has not shared any such information with us. More importantly, Sri Lankan security agencies have themselves ruled out this possibility after investigation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did the general speak without Sirisena’s approval? Unlikely. Yet, while everyone is pointing fingers at each other, none of the obvious questions has been answered. How did a small, little-known Islamist group, previously known only for defacing Buddhist statues, mount a sophisticated, coordinated attack involving suicide bombers? And, how was it that the police, military and the intelligence services, built up over decades of civil war, took no action even after an Indian intelligence alert?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Plainly put, factions within the military-police apparatus might have turned a blind eye to the impending attack, or even have manipulated the bombers. Sri Lanka has a history of dirty tricks and state-sponsored crimes. Meanwhile, Sirisena has declared national emergency and given draconian powers to the military, including curbs on civil liberties and the media, powers to search and seize property, detain suspects without trial, impose curfews and so on. The democracy is indeed in distress in Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Conceivably, Senanayake’s remarks on Jammu and Kashmir are aimed at throwing Delhi off balance, even as an acute power struggle is playing out within Colombo’s ruling circles against the backdrop of geopolitical rivalries between the US and China. Sirisena has accepted teams from the US Indo-Pacific Command and FBI to be stationed in Sri Lanka as “advisers”. Washington is exploiting the tragedy to strengthen its military and political influence in Colombo, while Sirisena is cornering his political adversaries—Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa—by whipping up jingoism and pandering to Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/05/10/democracy-in-distress.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/05/10/democracy-in-distress.html Fri May 10 11:21:51 IST 2019 modis-post-truth-politics <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/04/12/modis-post-truth-politics.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2019/4/12/98-Narendra-Modi-new.jpg" /> <p>American author John Mearsheimer, in his book Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics, maintains that leaders do not lie much to other countries, and that democratic leaders are actually more likely to lie to their own people. He says it is difficult for leaders to lie to other countries because there is not much trust among them, especially when security issues are at stake, and you need trust for lying to be effective. But, it is easier for leaders to lie to their own people because there is usually a good deal of trust between them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at a rally at Latur in Maharashtra on April 9, dragging the Indian Army once again into the BJP’s campaign for votes, certainly exploited the people’s trust. Modi said, “I want to ask the first-time voter, can your vote be dedicated to those soldiers who conducted the air strike on Balakot in Pakistan? Can your first vote be dedicated to those soldiers who were killed in Pulwama attack?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi’s Latur speech heralds the advent of post-truth politics in our country. Nobel laureate Harold Pinter once said that majority of politicians are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power, they consider it is essential that people remain in ignorance. “What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed,” Pinter said in his Nobel lecture at the Swedish Academy, Stockholm, on December 7, 2005. In post-truth politics, facts and evidence do not matter. The demagogue employs language to keep thoughts at bay, tapping into the fragile but essential compact based on trust between the government and the citizens. But, if trust goes, where does it lead us?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No doubt, Modi stooped low, for trust is essential in democracy. In our revolutionary age of communicative abundance, at some point, the citizens will get to know that in the first instance Pulwama should not have happened, so that Balakot would not have become necessary. Put differently, if Pulwama had been prevented, there would have been no martyrs, and no Balakot. Indeed, Mamata Banerjee’s troubling questions are hanging in the air, craving for answer: “Where were you, Modi, when the Pulwama attack took place? You knew that an attack was imminent. The government already had intelligence inputs. Yet, why were the jawans not airlifted? Why were proper naaka checks not done and why were the roads not thoroughly sanitised? Why did you push them to the brink of death? So that you could play politics ahead of the elections? There can be no politics over the blood of our jawans.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Post-truth is not simply the opposite of truth. It has hybrid, recombinant qualities that mix in different ways and confuse its recipients—a bricolage of old-fashioned lying, clever quips, boasting and wilful exaggerations. In the hands of the powerful, it goes beyond winning votes or dealing with political foes. It has a sinister effect: it disorients and destabilises people, destroying their capacity to make judgments and turns them into playthings of power. That is why post-truth is regarded as the harbinger of a new totalitarianism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Things boil down to the culture of democracy. Modi is adept at walking the fine line of the rules of the game, rendering the Election Commission speechless. But, a working democracy is not just about rules. It must also be felt in the blood and felt along the heart as values.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/04/12/modis-post-truth-politics.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/04/12/modis-post-truth-politics.html Fri Apr 12 12:15:16 IST 2019 under-siege <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/03/15/under-siege.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2019/3/15/82-Under-siege-new.jpg" /> <p>Diplomats find themselves in an unenviable position when they are expected to perpetuate a “frozen conflict”. This is indeed India’s diplomatic challenge today, downstream from the Pulwama attack. No one in the international community has cheered our “non-military preemptive action” on Balakot, including India’s staunchest supporters. The international community is aghast that the escalation could have led to a nuclear flashpoint.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This disconnect between the government’s triumphalism and the profound disquiet in the international opinion isolates India, especially among its small SAARC neighbours who feel uneasy about what happened in the region. Being a responsible nuclear weapon state means not only adherence to non-proliferation but also strategic restraint in behaviour. A sense of disapproval appears all over the western media and is captured in the headline of a devastating editorial by The New York Times last week—’This Is Where a Nuclear Exchange Is Most Likely. (It’s Not North Korea.)’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The NYT is an influential opinion maker and it accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “adding to the volatility… [by] waging a tough re-election campaign in which he has used anti-Pakistan talk to fuel Hindu nationalism”. The Indian diplomacy’s challenge today is also about coping with Modi’s Hindu nationalist metanarrative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The world community expects India to settle its differences with Pakistan through dialogue. Delhi is inundated with mediatory offers. The US State Department claimed last week that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “led diplomatic engagement directly, and that played an essential role in de-escalating the tensions between the two sides”. Of course, our lame duck government cannot make a U-turn. However, it is about time the foreign policy establishment anticipates the inevitability of engaging Pakistan. But then, Modi’s election campaign prioritises that tensions with Pakistan must remain in a state of animated suspension till May 22.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the government’s grandstanding apart, there are no signs that the shock and awe that it claims to have administered to Pakistan is actually felt so in that country. On the contrary, Pakistan retaliated by attacking India. The mainstream Indian opinion is deeply sceptical about Pakistan’s willingness to mend its ways. Meanwhile, the Afghan endgame has made Pakistan the indispensable partner for the US, Russia and China alike. A special envoy from Beijing said last week in Islamabad that the two “all-weather strategic cooperative partners… have always firmly supported each other on issues concerning each other’s core interests”. Clearly, the Wuhan spirit has evaporated into thin air.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Suffice to say, India, the victim of terrorism, is coming under the siege of world opinion to engage with Pakistan in dialogue, while Islamabad takes the high ground and speaks the language of peace. Incredibly enough, the NYT editorial underscored that the US “could encourage India to modify its approach to those opposing its rule in Kashmir, which… involves widespread human rights abuses that simply spawn more militants”. The politicisation of national security issues and putting hindutva on steroids has only weakened India’s case that terrorism is its core issue with Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government succeeded momentarily to shove under the carpet its appalling incompetence in handling the situation in Jammu and Kashmir through the past five-year period and the massive intelligence failure that caused the Pulwama tragedy. But, can realities be wished away? Under Modi’s watch, India’s cauterised Kashmir wound is turning gangrenous.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>editor@theweek.in</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/03/15/under-siege.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/03/15/under-siege.html Fri Mar 15 11:23:02 IST 2019 airports-that-annoyed-china <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/02/16/airports-that-annoyed-china.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2019/2/16/82-Modi-new.jpg" /> <p>These are extraordinary times in Indian politics with a fateful poll looming. Everything adds to the grist of the Indian politician’s mill, even if he happens to be the incumbent prime minister. Stoking the fire of jingoism comes naturally to nationalists at the time of elections, but to drag into it the laying of the foundation stone for the greenfield airport at Hollongi near Itanagar and the inauguration of an upgraded airport at Tezu on February 9 in Arunachal Pradesh was rather excessive and provocative to the Chinese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PM Modi claimed that this was probably the first time an airport was being inaugurated in a state while the foundation stone of another was being laid on the same day. Is that a big deal for a big country like India? The PM said that, with the Tezu airport’s upgrade at a cost of Rs125 crore, the fruit and flowers of the region could now reach any market of the country in a few hours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, granting all that—even assuming that Indians have the purchasing power of Germans who buy flowers and fruit airlifted from Israel—the fact remains that the event could have been left to the next government, and that would not have jeopardised India’s claim that Arunachal Pradesh constitutes an integral part of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, China reacted. The foreign ministry in Beijing took note almost in real time, signalling the level of sensitivity, and warning that such actions “may lead to the escalation of disputes or complicate the boundary question,” apart from being contrary to the common interest of the two countries to “cherish the momentum of improvement in bilateral relations”. The statement stressed their expectation that Delhi will “respect the interests and concerns of the Chinese side”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The oblique reference to the Wuhan summit between Modi and President Xi Jinping last April conveyed a message that goes beyond routine expression of disappointment. Does it mean that the wheel has come full circle since Wuhan? The needle has been moving in that direction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The default setting followed the notion gaining ground in our strategic community that the US and China are on a contentious path and competition has intensified, which works to India’s advantage. The US’s success in mitigating strategic tensions with China is unlikely in the near future. But then, it remains uncertain whether the US is willing or is focused on engaging in sustained strategic competition with China and, equally, whether it is feasible for Washington to assemble and maintain a like-minded regional coalition that will be necessary for any extended standoff.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Succinctly put, as Sheila A. Smith, the well-known author and regional expert on East Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, New York, wrote recently, “If the past year is any indication of the year ahead, US policy in Asia will be erratic and self-serving.” Yet, Indian strategists are unable to disengage from the western paradigm of international relations predicated on geopolitical competition, rivalries and confrontation and security dilemmas. They are uninterested in exploring the hidden charms of shared development with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A Chinese commentary recently noted, “India’s strategic circles failed to understand and implement the spirit of the Wuhan meeting. In other words, their suspicion and hostility toward China have not changed.” Indeed, the Sisyphean reflexes keep reappearing. What was so improper if the Chinese ambassador in Delhi sought to extend courtesies to Rahul Gandhi before his pilgrimage to Mansarovar? It is an open secret, after all, that Rahul Gandhi may well become the inheritor of the “Wuhan spirit”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/02/16/airports-that-annoyed-china.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/02/16/airports-that-annoyed-china.html Sat Feb 16 10:55:49 IST 2019 talk-to-the-taliban <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/01/18/talk-to-the-taliban.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2019/1/18/74-Talk-to-the-Taliban-new.jpg" /> <p>The Afghan problem surged in the Indian consciousness thanks to President Donald Trump’s statement that the US deployment must be pared down by half to 7,000 troops. Trump is drawing the curtain on this “endless war”. The Indian establishment is aghast that Washington is negotiating the Taliban’s return to mainstream politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India risks being stranded as the train starts moving. The Modi government had a wonderful opportunity to engage with the Taliban once it became evident that the international community accepts the group’s legitimacy. But hardline policy toward Pakistan precluded new thinking and the Indian establishment bonded with anti-Taliban (anti-Pakistan) elements in Kabul. A deathly game ensued.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a game to lose. But in the process, India lost sight of Taliban, which in turn led to our caricaturing of it as representing evil and religious extremism, and as Pakistan’s proxy. Whereas, Taliban always had indigenous Afghan roots, represented traditional Islam and never harboured ambitions of global jihad or ulterior motives toward regional states, including India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most certainly, India should engage with the Taliban. The Taliban are in control of more than half of Afghan territory and the power calculus in Kabul must be reset to accommodate it if peace is to be durable. But the Indian establishment keeps chanting that the road to peace must be “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-controlled”. Like any other hackneyed mantra, it comes to mean nothing. To borrow from Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, “Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads….”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, there are other contradictions, too. Since 2001, Delhi harmonised its Afghan policies with Washington’s. But, ironically, Washington never lost sight of the cardinal truth that Pakistan will forever remain its principal interlocutor. Thus, while Washington pampered Indian vanity by praising its extravagant aid to Afghanistan, it drew a red line to keep India out of centre stage, lest it annoyed Islamabad. Washington remained circumspect about the Indian role and at least one US commander—General Stanley McChrystal—publicly voiced misgivings once in 2010.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Suffice to say, the US and Pakistan did not come to blows over the Afghan situation. Instead, their discords and antipathies notwithstanding, they are joined at the hips. What next? It is about time India realises that given the cascading US-Iranian tensions and the free fall in Russian-American relations, continued US military presence in Afghanistan is today more the problem than the solution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What sort of post-war Afghanistan can we expect? No doubt, foreign powers will remain immersed in Afghan affairs. The country is far too strategic. Pakistan has legitimate interests. Russia, China and Iran have profound security concerns. China would not mothball Belt and Road Initiative projects. And, despite ‘Wuhan spirit’, there is still that competitive edge to Indian policies, as apparent from Delhi’s initiative to include Afghanistan in the “very historic First India-Central Asia Dialogue” in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on January 13.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, a “neutral” Afghanistan is too much to hope for. Post-war reconstruction demands engagement. The BRI projects that bring in big investments and create jobs will be top priority. While all partner countries are equal, China will be more equal than others. India should reconcile with geopolitical realities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But trust the Kabul elite not to repeat the folly of Hafizullah Amin and Hamid Karzai to welcome intervention. This should be the last time Afghanistan came under foreign occupation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/01/18/talk-to-the-taliban.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2019/01/18/talk-to-the-taliban.html Fri Jan 18 12:08:23 IST 2019 living-in-the-past <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/12/21/living-in-the-past.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/12/21/156-Living-in-the-past-new.jpg" /> <p>In an article on March 15, 2003, as storm clouds were gathering for the American invasion of Iraq, one of India’s best-known editors chastised our “entirely ignorant and non-serious politicians and public opinion” not to introduce “new stresses on our relations with the US” by spurning Washington’s invitation to Delhi to join the coalition of the willing. He warned that an irate George W. Bush might make us eat humble pie in J&amp;K. That was when, as then deputy chief of mission in the American Embassy Albert Thibault recounted later, “We [the US] came very close to getting a large Indian contingent in Iraq.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, prime minister A.B. Vajpayee decided against India associating with the US unilateralism. Our politicians often have uncanny instincts, as compared with our self-styled strategic analysts, to realise that a good foreign policy must be rooted in national policies. This much has to be recounted because we face a comparable situation today—whether to join the US’s “New Cold War” bandwagon against China and Russia or retain our strategic autonomy. An orchestrated psywar has been mounted against PM Modi’s éclat of strategic autonomy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, world politics today does not hark back to the cold war. There are no blocs, no ideological struggle. What we witness is a desperate attempt by the US to establish its global primacy in the 21st century, in the face of Russia’s resurgence and China’s rise. Kissinger’s famous US-Russia-China triangle has phenomenally transformed. China and Russia are drawing closer together, despite their structural differences to push back at the US’s containment strategy. And an increasingly consequential alignment between Moscow and Beijing has appeared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the US is losing ground to China steadily as an economic and technological power and lacks the capacity to confront what can be called the “functional military alliance” of Russia and China. Unlike USSR, both China and Russia are globalisers on the capitalist path of development and it is not possible to isolate them. All in all, a strategic stalemate is developing within the US-Russia-China triangle, which can be resolved only if the US reconciles with the geopolitical reality that it is no longer possible for any single power to dominate world politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In such an environment, India’s interests are best served by maintaining its strategic autonomy. Clearly, it is unwise (and risky) to put all our eggs in the American basket or to alienate China or neglect the ties with Russia. For India’s developmental needs, optimally, all three big powers offer cooperation and all are indispensable partners. India sources weaponry from the US, but the latter will never part with advanced military technology, as Russia is doing. Unlike the US or Russia, China has big surplus of capital for making investments abroad. The US can help India become a “knowledge power”, but only China has the expertise and relevant experience to help us build manufacturing industry and infrastructure. Our critical need is to create jobs in large numbers, and elected leaderships are accountable. These illustrative examples underscore the importance of a multi-vector foreign policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why should our analysts re-enact the theatre of the absurd in 2003? India today has the highest GDP growth rate among principal economies. Washington had no choice but to acquiesce with our decision to procure the S-400 ABM system. In fact, we even followed up with other major arms deals with Russia since October. The Indian analysts who remain transfixed by the US’s “hyper-power” tag are living in the past. Modi’s political instincts are attuned to national interests, as were Vajpayee’s 15 years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/12/21/living-in-the-past.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/12/21/living-in-the-past.html Fri Dec 21 18:13:16 IST 2018 india-meets-the-taliban <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/11/24/india-meets-the-taliban.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/11/24/78-india-meets-the-Taliban-new.jpg" /> <p>Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan unknowingly paid a compliment to the Indian leadership when he remarked last week, “A leader who does not take U-turns as per the requirements of the situation is not a real leader.” Khan was drawing an analogy from his cricketing days when he would deviate from an original strategy as a match progressed, because of exigencies. Cricket is an unpredictable game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But when it comes to statecraft, there must be something terribly wrong in the first instance when a government finds itself in a cul-de-sac. The Narendra Modi government took a U-turn last week by its decision to attend the Moscow conference on Afghanistan. The plea that it was an “unofficial” participation, and that there were no “direct talks” with the Taliban cannot detract from the fact that there has been a U-turn from India’s stance that the Taliban has no locus standi and are a terrorist group backed by Pakistan to foster cross-border terrorism who, therefore, constitute a threat to regional security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, the international community has been known to keep contacts with the Taliban based on the estimation that it would be a legitimate party in any political settlement. But India was a rare exception holding on to the opinion that the Taliban lacked a habitation and name.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The government’s stance was a patently contrived one. The heart of the matter is that the Taliban became the “objective correlative” of the government’s policy to shun any form of dialogue with Pakistan and to keep the relations with that country in a state of animated suspension. Under the Modi government, India’s Afghan policy became an adjunct to its policy toward Pakistan, while the policy toward Pakistan as such became a template of hindutva agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, a zero sum mentality came to prevail that a government in Kabul friendly toward Pakistan would be detrimental to Indian interests. Unsurprisingly, Afghanistan became a turf for making hostile moves toward Pakistan. This inevitably led to India’s link-up with interest groups in Kabul, who have reasons of their own to want the gravy train that the US-led war against the Taliban represented to run forever.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alas, India jumped on the bandwagon with the US strategy to fight and defeat the Taliban militarily. It was a flawed strategy because there was no conceivable way the US could hope to achieve with 15,000 troops on the ground what it could not with eight times that number in 2011 under Barrack Obama. In sum, the government’s U-turn is actually borne out of a belated realisation that the Donald Trump administration is losing faith in its own Afghan strategy and is accelerating its moves to engage the Taliban in peace talks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi suspects that the Americans are likely to cut loose and head for the exit door much sooner than it would have imagined. That is to say, the Modi government’s U-turn on the Taliban is far from authentic and is more an abject act of resignation borne out of the dismal prospect that the US is keen to end the war. Clearly, America’s fellow travellers and its Afghan lackeys feel badly let down.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In these circumstances, the chances are very slim that the government’s U-turn on the Taliban will bring any significant dividends unless it reflects new thinking toward improving India’s relations with Pakistan. As things stand, Pakistan will make sure that India will never again use Afghan soil to hurt its vital interests. And the best India can hope for is that Afghanistan does not become a revolving door for militants once again.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/11/24/india-meets-the-taliban.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/11/24/india-meets-the-taliban.html Sat Nov 24 15:52:33 IST 2018 sri-lanka-shoos-away-indian-meddling <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/10/27/sri-lanka-shoos-away-indian-meddling.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/10/27/138-Sri-Lanka-shoos-away-Indian-meddling-new.jpg" /> <p>There is no reason to disbelieve the recent news report that Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena alleged during a cabinet meeting in Colombo about an Indian intelligence plot to kill him. The Sri Lankan elites know where the red line runs in any ‘anti-Indian’ rhetoric, and the allegation at the level of the head of state is extraordinary.</p> <p>In a phone call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sirisena later denied the report. However, we can anticipate that the allegation will keep popping up every now and then until its real purpose is served, namely, keeping Delhi off balance and warding off Indian meddling in Sri Lanka's domestic politics. Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, a Sirisena loyalist, said the government would probe who ‘leaked’ the information to the media, since ministers are “collectively bound to uphold cabinet secrets”. Sirisena’s media advisors told the media that the government led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is not interested in investigating the assassination plot. The Sri Lankan political elites have a way of dealing with their Indian big brother.</p> <p>Sirisena made the allegation when Wickremesinghe was heading for Delhi and it is well known that there is no mutual trust between the president and the prime minister. But then, they were collaborators when Sirisena secretly conspired to overthrow his mentor, president Mahinda Rajapaksa, and usurp power with Wickremesinghe's help in the 2015 elections. The widespread perception is that India and the US midwifed the unholy Sirisena-Wickremesinghe alliance in a geopolitical coup to banish Rajapaksa to political wilderness as punishment for his government’s ties to Beijing.</p> <p>Things got complicated lately though, and Rajapaksa was welcomed with a red carpet last month in Delhi. Modi received him, hinting at a policy rethink. Delhi senses that Rajapaksa is on a comeback trail, while he would probably estimate that it is prudent to neutralise India’s past antipathies towards him. Modi’s U-turn appeared just the smart thing to do; after all, it makes sense to bet on a winning horse.</p> <p>But then, after returning from Delhi, Rajapaksa reportedly had a secret meeting with Sirisena, where they discussed reconciliation. That leaves Delhi with Wickremesinghe as the solitary bird in the Sri Lankan bush. But he is a lacklustre figure who lacks the clout to swing big decisions favouring India. Delhi holds a bird that cannot lift its wings and fly.</p> <p>Modi government has made a mess of the Sri Lankan policy. Serious follies have been committed. To begin with, bringing in RSS functionaries to create a bridge between Hindu India and Sri Lanka with the glue of the Ramayana was a truly naïve venture. It lacked a sense of history. The brutal eradication of Buddhism from the face of India by Hindu zealots is a deeply embedded collective memory in the Sinhala consciousness. The point is, Sri Lanka regards itself as the last bastion of Theravada Buddhism in our part of the world.</p> <p>Second, we fail to understand that no matter who is in power, Colombo will never involve India in projects of strategic importance. The balance sheet shows that India got nothing out of the 2015 regime change: not a single project with strategic imprint. After Rajapaksa’s overthrow, Colombo continued to turn to China’s financial aid. Third, Indian diplomacy should never have meddled in Sri Lanka’s party politics. It only adds to the phobia against Indian hegemony. Today, neither Sirisena nor Rajapaksa trusts India. We look like a beached whale. Cetacean stranding could have many definitive reasons, but this one belies rational explanations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/10/27/sri-lanka-shoos-away-indian-meddling.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/10/27/sri-lanka-shoos-away-indian-meddling.html Mon Oct 29 11:38:24 IST 2018 our-s-o-b-and-theirs <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/09/28/our-s-o-b-and-theirs.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/9/28/74-theirs-new.jpg" /> <p>The stunning result of the presidential election in the Maldives comes like a morality play. The demon turned out to be only a human being with warts and all. The Indian narrative right up to the polling day was that the outgoing president Abdulla Yameen had rigged the election to make sure he won. That narrative was a faithful rendering of the western narrative. However, in the event, Yameen lost—and, lost badly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih secured 58.3 per cent of votes. If Yameen was a demon, he must have been a terribly inefficient demon. He did not even know how to rig an election involving an electorate who could be roughly the size of the Delhi campuses of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University and Jamia Millia put together. In retrospect, Yameen allowed a level playing field where the electorate could exercise franchise pretty much the way they wanted. Perhaps, if only the outside world had not been so intrusive and hysterical, the election could have been held in a relaxed atmosphere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was much speculation whether Yameen would vacate office. But he dispelled all doubts in a nationalised television speech. “I accept the defeat. I will enable smooth transition,” he said. At this point, one becomes somewhat wistful and hopes that if and when a similar fateful moment arises in India, our hopelessly polarised polity, too, would allow a dignified transition with civility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what was all this hoopla about the democracy deficit in the Maldives? To understand it, we must turn back the clock and ponder over the infamous quote that is attributed to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 when someone asked him about the wisdom of a great democracy such as the US supporting the notorious tin-pot dictator of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza (1936-1956). FDR shot back, “Somoza may be a son of a bitch but he is our son of a bitch.” The point is, when it comes to neighbouring countries, the soundtrack of Indian foreign policy echoes FDR.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both India, being the Maldives’ immediate neighbour, and the US, which is pursuing a containment strategy against China, regard it as imperative to have a malleable leadership in Male. There is also strategic convergence in this regard between Washington and New Delhi. If a so-called ‘second chain of islands’ (west of the Strait of Malacca) linking Diego Garcia (an American base) and the Maldives could get established, effective control of the vital sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean becomes possible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Solih is regarded as anti-China. The alacrity with which Washington hailed his victory in real time testifies to it. But, in the long run, we are all dead, and this is a futile game to try to construct strategy around the life of mortals. India celebrated the ouster of Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka in January 2015. But by August 2018, India is promoting his return to power. Those whom Delhi considered as its proxies in Colombo turned out to be friends of Beijing, too.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An enlightened policy approach towards countries such as Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Nepal and Bhutan will be to focus on India’s enduring interests rather than fritter away energy by promoting proxies. In a multipolar world, the sphere of influence is an outmoded concept and proxies have multiple choices of benefactors. Yameen spoke the truth when he insisted he was not a Chinaman. Beijing did not lift a single finger to salvage his victory. It now hopes to engage Solih with a clean slate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/09/28/our-s-o-b-and-theirs.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/09/28/our-s-o-b-and-theirs.html Fri Sep 28 14:43:22 IST 2018 india-cant-afford-to-play-the-ostrich <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/08/31/india-cant-afford-to-play-the-ostrich.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/8/31/76-india-cannot-play-the-ostrich-new.jpg" /> <p>The inaugural “2+2 dialogue” between the foreign and defence ministers of India and the United States scheduled for September 6 in New Delhi has a somber setting. Of late, the regional and world situation has dramatically worsened, Indian foreign policy is passing through a period of adjustment and the India-US relationship has lost some of its verve.</p> <p>To take the last point first, Trump’s 'America First' strategy has reached the high noon. The neo-mercantilism dominating the US foreign policy is an offensive credo geared to accumulating trade surplus by coercing other countries to part with some of their wealth. Simply put, mercantilism uses economics as a tool for 'war' by other means. Historically, mercantilism frequently led to wars. This is because a country wedded to mercantilism as national economic policy is fixated on augmenting its state power at the expense of other national powers.</p> <p>All these tendencies are casting their shadows on India-US relations, making it more difficult than ever for Delhi to seek an equal relationship. The scope has narrowed to leverage the partnership with the US for India’s own economic transformation and development, which has reached a critical stage. From the US perspective, too, the locus has shifted to boosting exports of weaponry and, in the medium term, oil and gas. And, Washington is demanding that India should atrophy its defence partnership with Russia and terminate its oil trade with Iran.</p> <p>Clearly, the meeting on September 6 will be keenly watched in regard of the US’s prescriptive approach towards India’s time-tested friendship with both Russia and Iran and how it plays out in the months ahead. This is where the other two templates—recent calibration in India’s ties with China and Russia and the regional and international milieu—become relevant. A dialectic has appeared involving on the one hand the ‘defining India-US partnership’ and on the other, India’s strategic autonomy in the contemporary world situation. Arguably, the Doklam face off, and its denouement, has been in some ways its manifestation.</p> <p>Managing dialectical tensions is always challenging. We cannot be in the denial mode, responding to only one side of the tension, while ignoring the other. The choices are between disorientation or alternation and balance and recalibration. Disorientation means ending the relationship in which tension exists while alternation means going back and forth between the two sides of the tension. Neither is feasible, since India’s relationships with the US, Russia and China are all highly consequential. That leaves balance and recalibration as the realistic option. The good part is that the current international situation is broadly favourable for the pursuit of independent foreign policies.</p> <p>Suffice to say, the strengthening of India’s strategic autonomy is of utmost importance. However, the government’s record causes disquiet. A telling example has been the US-India logistics agreement of April 2016, which grants the US military access to our bases. A leading Chinese pundit wrote recently that the apparent tilt in the Indian foreign policy towards the US “soured” China-India cooperation. Russian analysts, too, voice similar concern over India’s dalliance with the US-led Indo-Pacific Partnership.</p> <p>Indeed, the optics of the US-India “2+2 dialogue” is bound to create misgivings in Beijing and Moscow. Curiously, in September, China is participating in a Russian military exercise focusing on “traditional security”, which is billed as the biggest since the Zapad-1981 drill by the Warsaw Pact countries. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are expected to watch the drills, which are taking place in near alliance conditions.</p> <p>India cannot play the ostrich. Washington’s recent move to grant Strategic Trade Authorisation Status to India on par with the NATO allies underscores where the US priorities lie. But what are the Indian priorities?</p> <p><i>The writer is a former diplomat.</i></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/08/31/india-cant-afford-to-play-the-ostrich.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/08/31/india-cant-afford-to-play-the-ostrich.html Fri Aug 31 16:19:13 IST 2018 indias-imran-challenge <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/08/04/indias-imran-challenge.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/8/4/74-indias-imran-challenge-new.jpg" /> <p>The Indian narrative on the stunning victory of Imran Khan in the Pakistani elections has a self-serving bias. The narrative becomes all but an advocacy for inaction on the part of the government vis-à-vis the emergent situation. The narrative is repeating that the more things change, the more they stay the same in Pakistan. Yet, the heart of the matter is that the ascendance of Imran brings Pakistan to an inflection point, an event that marks the start of a significant improvement, deterioration or disruption in India-Pakistan relations. It is, arguably, a strategic inflection point; a continuation of the status quo would only lead to certain failure.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What makes Imran extraordinary is that he has a westernised history, a subsequent history of being dangerously accommodative toward religious extremism and a concurrent history of addressing the chronic problems of Pakistan’s political economy as his life’s mission—poverty, social disparities, corruption and so on. What adds to the mystique is that he freely acknowledges today that Pakistan cannot achieve its social and economic potential without being at peace with its immediate neighbours.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The astonishing part is that the Indian narrative is blithely unaware that Imran is a product of our turbulent times. The Pakistani election results have completely overshadowed an event of momentous significance to that country—direct talks between the United States and the Taliban (without the participation of Afghan government), which took place in Qatar. The timing—just two days before the Pakistani elections—was exquisite. And, the Pakistani military leadership made it possible. The Taliban since expressed satisfaction that the meeting ended with “very positive signals” with an agreement to meet again “soon” and that the two sides discussed Taliban’s participation in the Afghan government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A recurring fallacy of Indian foreign policy discourse is its tunnel vision—the singular failure to correlate diplomacy with the wider geopolitical templates and regional and global alignments. We must understand that Pakistan is preparing for the formidable challenge posed by the imminent outbreak of peace in Afghanistan. The tumultuous history of Pashtun irredentist claims underscores that had there been no Imran, Pakistan would have had to invent one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This has sub-plots and a few of them have direct bearing on India’s vital interests, too. First, peace in Afghanistan eases pressure on Pakistan’s internal security and allows it to concentrate its forces more on its eastern border with India (which brings us to the Kashmir issue.) Second, Pakistan expects quid pro quo from the US for bailing it out of a humiliating defeat and ignominious retreat from Afghanistan. Pakistan seeks strategic balance in South Asia, which requires course correction in US regional policies. Third, Pakistan’s close cooperation with the US helps it to breathe new life into its relations with the west, while its Eurasian integration processes also continue apiece. (No doubt, Imran makes a brilliant global salesman for his country.) Fourth, in a stable regional environment, Pakistan hopes to garner the benefits of China’s Belt and Road Initiative as well as attract western investment. Geo-economics gains primacy. Indeed, history has not ended in our region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Being tentative towards Imran will be a catastrophic mistake. The Indian leadership should not fall for the narrative that Pakistan is caught in a time warp. India no longer has a choice of ‘dialogue-or-no-dialogue’. Imran held out an olive branch in his victory speech. Delhi also has a wonderful opportunity to reciprocate by ending the stalemate over the scheduling of the SAARC summit in Islamabad. Indeed, a meeting in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly can help break the ice and establish a personal rapport between Narendra Modi and Imran, who may have mutual affinity and common concerns they are unaware of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/08/04/indias-imran-challenge.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/08/04/indias-imran-challenge.html Sat Aug 04 17:27:10 IST 2018 mercenary-us-over-neighbourly-Iran <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/07/05/mercenary-us-over-neighbourly-Iran.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/7/5/74-mercenary-new.jpg" /> <p>The abrupt cancellation, for the second time in a row, of the inaugural “2+2” meeting of the foreign and defence ministers of India and the United States slated for July 6 has shaken our establishment. Washington has let it be known that the Modi government must make itself more useful for President Trump’s ‘America First’. Trump keeps repeating that India’s bilateral trade surplus agitates him and Delhi must buy more. Washington prefers a “stand alone” visit by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman so that, at least, some lucrative arms deals could be struck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, Modi’s latest foreign policy narrative harping on India’s strategic autonomy, regionalism, multilateralism and inclusiveness (which he unveiled in Singapore recently) might not have endeared him to Washington—although his target audience was Beijing. All in all, the US-Indian ‘defining partnership’ stands exposed as a transactional relationship. An inflection point has come.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was the sombre backdrop to the recent visit by Ambassador Nikki Haley to Delhi. Haley focused on pressuring India to stop buying oil from Iran. The Trump administration presents it as a “win-win” proposition. India is Iran’s second biggest market for oil exports and the loss of that market could hurt Iran, which fits in with Trump’s agenda. This is one thing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, by distorting India’s crude oil supplies from Iran, the US is also pitching for a much larger strategic game, namely, offering itself as a crude oil supplier to India’s rapidly growing energy market. The shale oil revolution has turned the US into not only the largest producer in the world but also a net exporter of crude oil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Iran’s ‘sweet’ crude is not easy to replace. (The US supplies the ‘sour’ variety.) Again, Iran has been offering a discounted price. But, such considerations do not perturb the Modi government. What if the oil import bill goes up? The additional burden can always be passed on to the Indian consumer, right? India must be the only country, perhaps, which has been unilaterally cutting its favourable trade surplus with the US after Trump came to power. The Modi government managed to reduce the surplus in trade with the US to $28 billion in 2017 from $30.8 billion in 2016. Meanwhile, India raced past Saudi Arabia last year to become the 11th highest holder of US Treasury bonds. The Indian holdings of US Treasuries touched an all-time high of $148.6 billion as of January.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government estimates that more energy imports from the US will help reduce the bilateral surplus in trade ($28 billion) by at least $4 billion. Suffice to say, the Modi government seems to be willing to take the risk of cutting India’s umbilical cord of oil imports from Iran and turning that big and time-tested supplier hostile in order to appease the Trump administration by buying oil from America (or elsewhere) at much higher costs. It is a bizarre mindset.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All this brings up a big question: Whose interests is it that the Modi government is serving? By now it should have been abundantly clear that Trump’s foreign policies are highly erratic and to bandwagon with his regional policies is foolhardy, to say the least. Iran is an authentic regional power in India’s immediate neighbourhood and it is vital for our long-term interests that the relationship with that country is not undermined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government must jettison its ‘unipolar predicament’ and open its eyes to the emergent realities and power shifts taking place in our region and internationally. Simply put, the US lacks the capacity to force its will on Iran. The tidings from Syria and Iraq underscore that Trump’s strategy against Iran is doomed to fail. India must be on the right side of history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/07/05/mercenary-us-over-neighbourly-Iran.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/07/05/mercenary-us-over-neighbourly-Iran.html Thu Jul 05 19:56:15 IST 2018 modi-finds-shangri-la-finally <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/06/08/modi-finds-shangri-la-finally.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/6/8/178-modi.jpg" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s keynote address at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 1 can be regarded as the final foreign policy testament of his government. With less than a year left in the term, the time for major foreign policy initiatives is long gone. This speech probably reflects how Modi wants his legacy to be remembered in India’s diplomatic history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shangri-La can be a mythical Himalayan utopia or an idyllic place of refuge during what the Russians call the 'Time of Troubles'. The latter seems to be the case here. Modi’s speech has three inter-related vectors—recalibration of India’s strategic autonomy; rebalancing of relations with the three big powers (US, Russia and China); and, a revisionist approach to the Indo-Pacific region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi began his address by audaciously mentioning India’s special and privileged relations with Russia as the measure of its strategic autonomy. He recalled that only recently had he “shared our views on the need for a strong multipolar world” with President Vladimir Putin. Didn’t Modi know that his audience included US Secretary of Defence James Mattis, and that the Trump administration’s national security strategy highlights Russia (and China) as existential threats to America’s global dominance? Indeed, he made a profound point right at the outset.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi reaffirmed the “Wuhan spirit” and his understanding with Chinese President Xi Jinping that strong and stable Sino-Indian ties constitute an important factor of global peace and progress, and that the two countries are displaying maturity and wisdom in “managing issues and ensuring a peaceful border.” But, Modi also noted India’s deepening partnership with the US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese analysts have expressed satisfaction. A commentary in the Chinese Communist Party daily Global Times noted, “Whether India accepts the concept of the B&amp;R [Belt and Road] is not a top priority in Sino-Indian relations. What the two countries can focus on is rolling out measures to encourage cooperation on concrete projects. We believe that any contradictions can be solved ultimately as long as cooperation goes forward.” Clearly, India’s reservations over China’s Belt and Road Initiative won’t stand in the way of bilateral cooperation. Suffice to say, India’s strategic autonomy matters to China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi rebalanced India’s relations with the US, Russia and China. In sum, India will not identify with the American containment strategies against Russia and China; nor will India get entangled in the big-power rivalries in regional politics. India eschews any bloc mentality. Modi acknowledged India’s affinities in terms of its values, but rejected the America First doctrine of the US administration and stated India’s commitment to globalisation and free trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi reserved some stunning remarks regarding the concept Indo-Pacific. For a start, Modi hewed the American mantra of “free and open Indo-Pacific” of its rough edges and chose to call it an “open, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.” Incredibly enough, Modi called Indo-Pacific a “natural region”—a “geographical definition”. He never once mentioned the “Quad” and, instead, stressed inclusiveness and openness in regional processes. He underscored India’s faith in regionalism and multilateralism and clarified that “our friendships are not alliances of containment”. Modi cautioned against an “Asia of rivalry” and any attempts “forcing new divisions” in the region. All in all, India attributes centrality to the ASEAN in its Indo-Pacific strategy and Act East policies. (Ironically, last week, Pentagon rechristened its Pacific Command as Indo-Pacific Command.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alas, it took four long years for Modi to make this voyage of discovery. It’s been a chronicle of wasted time where India chased the chimera of a “defining partnership” with the US that eventually proved barren and adopted muscular diplomacy vis-à-vis China that turned out to be dangerously counterproductive. The good part is that lessons learnt the hard way are likely the enduring ones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/06/08/modi-finds-shangri-la-finally.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/06/08/modi-finds-shangri-la-finally.html Fri Jun 08 20:04:47 IST 2018 hindu-kush-awaits-the-wuhan-spirit <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/05/11/hindu-kush-awaits-the-wuhan-spirit.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/5/11/74-hindu-kush-new.jpg" /> <p>Last August, US President Donald Trump named India as the crown jewel in his administration’s new South Asia strategy. Many Indians celebrated. But, eight months down the line, the word from the Wuhan summit is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached an “understanding” to undertake “joint economic projects” in Afghanistan. It bears the hallmark of a Chinese initiative. The external affairs ministry spokesman said that the two countries will flesh out “this understanding… in the near future” and identify specific projects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India’s regional policies are taking wing. At its most obvious level, Delhi is signalling that Afghanistan is not a turf for rivalry with Beijing. On a broader plane, Delhi is sampling the Chinese advocacy of “win-win” cooperation. Strategically speaking, the irreducible minimum would be that Delhi and Beijing are on the same page in regard of Afghanistan’s stability and security—stakeholders in regional security.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is a game changer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Afghan ministry of economy says the Five Nations Railway Corridor (2,100km-long railway line, connecting China’s Xinjiang with Iran’s sea ports via Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan) is one of the projects that India and China may undertake. If so, India-China cooperation in Afghanistan has deeper regional implications. Fifty per cent of the proposed regional rail corridor—1,148km, to be exact—will pass through the Afghan provinces of Kunduz, Balkh, Jowzjan, Faryab, Badghis, and Herat. Suffice to say, Indian involvement can be very substantial. (Incidentally, India is also involved in the construction of a railway line connecting Chabahar Port in southeastern Iran with the Afghan border.) The technical and economic assessments of the first and second phases of the proposed Five Nations Railway Corridor have been completed and construction work is expected to start soon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Indian analysts struggling to assimilate China’s Belt and Road Initiative, this will come as an eyeopener. The estimated value of the railway project exceeds $2 billion, and the principal institutional partners are China, including the Bank of China, the Asian Development Bank and World Bank. In sum, although the Five Nations Railway Corridor is a flag carrier of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt (which was announced by Xi in 2013), Washington is not blocking it; nor is China averse to external funding or Indian partnership.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian discourses on regional connectivity have suffered from our zero-sum mindset. But, the government has displayed new thinking and for strategic analysts, there is some catching up to do. Equally, those who rushed to celebrate any Sino-Indian cooperation in Afghanistan as tantamount to a Chinese “snub” to Pakistan must rethink. All in all, Modi and Xi may have unveiled a tantalising vision, which implies that there is nothing really absurd about a railway corridor that links Xinjiang with the world market that also serves as access route for India to Afghanistan and the Central Asian region—and Xinjiang itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At some point in the future, the Five Nations Railway Corridor would have a “loop line” connecting Peshawar, Lahore and Karachi as well (which, of course, would bring it breathtakingly close to Wagah border.) Pakistan is actively marshalling opinion among the Central Asian states to build on the nascent Chinese idea to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Inner Asia.</p> <p>Statesmanship is many things. Fundamentally, it lies in the capacity to think about the next generation. When it comes to diplomacy, statesmanship is largely about knowing the right time and in the manner of yielding what is impossible to keep. The great French bishop-cum-politician-cum-diplomat who represented the Catholic Church to the French Crown in the late 18th century, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, once said, “The art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable and to expedite its occurrence.”</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/05/11/hindu-kush-awaits-the-wuhan-spirit.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/05/11/hindu-kush-awaits-the-wuhan-spirit.html Fri May 11 15:13:11 IST 2018 nepals-strongman-is-here <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/04/14/nepals-strongman-is-here.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/4/14/74-narendra-modi-new.jpg" /> <p>Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli, who paid a three-day state visit to India last week, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are strikingly similar political personalities. Both are charismatic politicians, completely self-made, forceful and clever, and highly nationalistic in outlook.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both leaders have deep-rooted ideological convictions. If the “known unknown” about Modi is the time he had apparently spent in the Himalayas as a wandering Hindu to fine-tune his ideological moorings, the “known known” about Oli is that he spent the best years of his youth in a Nepali prison for 14 consecutive years for being a communist revolutionary and came out of it, at the age of 35, still a hardcore Marxist-Leninist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A personal chemistry between the two leaders may be too much to expect, as like poles do not attract each other. But that is irrelevant here, given the factors at work in the India-Nepal relationship today. Oli’s Nepal becomes a strange new experience because this is the first time that India has to deal with a government in its immediate neighbourhood, which draws ideological sustenance from dialectical materialist principles and laws of development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the Modi government, this will pose a formidable challenge, since Nepal is surrounded by BJP-run governments in the Hindu/Hindi heartland, and as time passes, comparisons are bound to be drawn. Oli’s style of inclusive governance is already attracting the Madhesis (who used to look towards Delhi for guidance). In our country, on the contrary, the ruling elite has been advocating a “Congress-mukt India”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The cardinal issue, therefore, is that a reset is needed in the Modi government’s approach toward Nepal. Sadly, Oli harbours disquiet over continuing Indian interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. The overall impression one gets out of Oli’s state visit is that his Indian hosts seem to regard him as a transitory phenomenon. This can prove to be serious misjudgment. Oli is a strong-willed leader with decades of experience in statecraft. It was too much to expect the Modi government to seek out Sharad Yadav or Sitaram Yechury to help the country build new bridges to Oli. Nor is it anyone’s case that Modi should have received Oli at the airport or that he and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath should have taken the visiting Nepali leader for a boat ride from Assi Ghat to Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi. However, it must be underscored that there is something inherently flawed in our government’s foreign policy priorities. Nepal ought to rank way above France in our calculus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Oli has been very candid and firm that Nepal expects an equal relationship based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. Is that too much to expect? He asserts Nepal’s sovereignty and independence, and its aversion to getting sucked into the India-China “competitive tournaments”. Isn’t it understandable? Oli prioritises Nepal’s development and is determined to take help from both neighbours. Isn’t that a perfectly reasonable stance, too? The bottom line is that our track record as Nepal’s neighbour and partner country has been abysmally poor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have behaved as if we are stakeholders in keeping Nepal unstable and beholden to us. Oli said with anguish to an Indian newspaper: “Twenty-two years have passed for one project (the Pancheshwar Multi-Purpose Project), and so we have to ask, what are we doing? Time won’t wait for us, and there is a Sanskrit saying that if you have to give something, or do something, and if you don’t do it on time, then time itself will destroy its value. When we signed the Pancheshwar agreement, I was a much younger man. In 22 years, I have aged, but the project has not been completed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can there be a more devastating indictment of India’s Nepal policies?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/04/14/nepals-strongman-is-here.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/04/14/nepals-strongman-is-here.html Sat Apr 14 17:06:16 IST 2018 the-art-of-the-korean-deal <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/03/16/the-art-of-the-korean-deal.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/3/16/74-the-art-new.jpg" /> <p>The dramatic breakthrough in the situation around North Korea rests on four pillars: Kim Jong-un’s commitment to denuclearisation, pledge to “refrain” from further nuclear or missile tests, acceptance of “routine” US-South Korea joint military exercises, and his “eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible”. It is delicately poised. Unsurprisingly, apocalyptic predictions are rife. But, it is also possible to remain cautiously optimistic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The upcoming Trump-Kim meeting in May promises to be the “summit of the century”, reminding us in some ways the epochal setting of the Munich Summit of 1938 between Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler under the shadow of war. To be the devil’s advocate, notwithstanding the West’s demonising of Kim, he is acting rationally. Having secured national security through a nuclear deterrent, Kim is making the next logical move, reaching out to adversaries to seek talks and cooperation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>North Korea’s “denuclearisation” will depend on a number of factors– primarily, the US ending its threatening posturing and lifting sanctions. Indeed, big issues are also involved in the downstream, such as the withdrawal of US troops in South Korea, which, in turn, would impact the US’ alliance system in northeast Asia. It could effectively signal the end of the post-1990 world order with profound implications for the role the US will play in Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, if the US-North Korea rapprochement takes place under Trump’s watch, it will not only be seen as a world-changing achievement, but also signify a personal triumph for the US president—underscoring his creative and blunt approach backed with artful backroom diplomacy—which will turn the dial in his beleaguered presidency and render the investigation of his “Russia collusion”, et al. a mere footnote, allowing him to surge forward and make his re-election bid in 2020. To be sure, Trump will rise in global stature like no American president since Ronald Reagan. From the “hands-on” role Trump has assumed, he seems conscious of what is at stake. Suffice to say, while the summit with Kim might seem like a gamble by Trump, a long-shot deal with the North Korean leader suits both leaders eminently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Last, but not the least, the inter-Korean rapprochement is steadily gaining momentum. A summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in is due to take place next month. Trump should know that direct negotiations with Kim are better than the alternatives. While America’s economic and military might are locked, loaded and ready for a confrontation with North Korea, the fact remains that Trump will also be at a Rubicon, given the chilling reality that Pyongyang is now thought to have 60 nukes. Thus, many American experts are already arguing that Trump should focus on containing North Korea’s nuclear programme rather than try to eliminate it at this point. It involves Washington abandoning the talk of invasion or regime change, and, instead, focusing on a freezing of the North Korean programme in exchange for sanctions relief or other concessions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump called Xi Jinping on March 9. China’s cooperation in keeping up the “maximum pressure” approach is extremely vital for the US. The current sanctions are real, robust and bound to bite. China is finally helping, and America’s credibility has been boldly restored. Meanwhile, “denuclearisation” is in China’s interests, too, while the overall trajectory—“double suspension” (suspension of US military exercises in lieu of freeze on nuclear/missile tests by Pyongyang) alongside “dual approach” (engagement plus sanctions)— conforms to what Beijing espouses. Again, China is uniquely placed to influence the outcome of the inter-Korean dialogue. Indeed, China has all along pushed for direct US-North Korea talks. However, Beijing does not visualise a quick solution. The signs from Beijing would indicate where the game is headed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former diplomat.</b></p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/03/16/the-art-of-the-korean-deal.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/03/16/the-art-of-the-korean-deal.html Fri Mar 16 18:27:33 IST 2018 modis-vajpayee-moment <a href="http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/02/17/modis-vajpayee-moment.html"><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="http://img.theweek.in/content/dam/week/opinion/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/images/2018/2/17/74-modis-vajpayee-moment-new.jpg" /> <p>The Maldives situation presents a profound dilemma for the Modi government, but it can also be turned around as a rare opportunity to engage with China. To the core constituency of the Modi government, the Maldives becomes a test case of ‘muscular diplomacy’. But, an Indian intervention to bring about regime change in the Maldives will constitute a blatant violation of international law and the UN Charter, and is fraught with risks and unforeseen consequences.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The good thing is that India has a new foreign secretary and Vijay Gokhale is an authentic ‘China hand’ with credentials to conduct a rational conversation with Beijing. China’s stance on the Maldives has five key templates. One, China regards the situation strictly as that country’s internal affair, which should be resolved through dialogue and negotiation by the parties who have the wisdom and capabilities to cope with the current situation independently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two, the international community should respect the Maldives’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, and any interference may complicate the situation. Three, China’s cooperation with the Maldives focuses on economic ties, and Beijing has no intentions to impair that country’s sovereignty and independence or undermine the security of the Indian Ocean region. Four, China will not interfere in the Maldives, albeit supporting Male government in resolving differences with relevant parties as well as upholding the independence, sovereignty, and legitimate rights and interests of the nation. Finally, and importantly, Beijing exhorts the international community to play a constructive role by extending assistance and convenience for the Maldivian sides to hold talks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Clearly, a unilateral Indian intervention in the Maldives on whatever pretext, in the absence of a mandate from the United Nations or invitation by the established government in Male, would almost certainly meet with Chinese opposition. On the other hand, what emerges could be sufficient common ground for Delhi and Beijing to have strategic communication. Indeed, if China has no intentions of creating new facts on the ground impacting the security of the Indian Ocean region, India’s core concerns and vital interests are not in jeopardy.</p> <p>However, the real problem lies elsewhere. The subversion of democracy in the Maldives really began in 2013 when the Barack Obama administration sought to secretly negotiate a Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Male leading to the establishment of an American air base. But the November 2013 elections brought in a new leadership in Male that didn’t pursue the SOFA negotiations. During the past three-year period, given the injection of Sinophobia into the Modi government’s foreign policy narrative, Delhi and Washington began coordinating their approaches vis-à-vis the geopolitics of the Maldives. This is where India needs to reassess where its self-interests lie. The narrative that China is on a ‘land grab’ in our neighborhood has been a convenient alibi for sections of the establishment to align Indian policies with the US’s regional strategies. Whereas, the tenacity of small countries such as the Maldives (or Sri Lanka and Nepal) to safeguard their independence should never have been in any serious doubt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi finds himself grappling with a paradigm strikingly similar to what Atal Bihari Vajpayee encountered in 2003 when the US was assembling a ‘coalition of the willing’ to invade Iraq and sought Indian participation in that enterprise. In generic terms, the neocons in the Indian establishment, interest groups and lobbyists, who argued for an army contingent to be dispatched to Iraq 15 years ago, seem to be once again rooting for intervention in the Maldives. Of course, Vajpayee viewed the paradigm exclusively through the prism of national interest and that wise decision made all the difference. It is Modi’s call now.</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">editor@theweek.in</b><br> </p> http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/02/17/modis-vajpayee-moment.html http://www.theweek.in/columns/mk-bhadrakumar/2018/02/17/modis-vajpayee-moment.html Sat Feb 17 16:35:03 IST 2018