There are two aspects to the news- knowing the headline and understanding the intricacies of it. We at The Connectere focus on both. While The First Forum edition gives a brief about the headlines, The Weekly Analysis Edition is meant to educate the reader on what do various news mean and what are their intricacies. This initiative is meant to educate the reader on how to understand the important news. In the Forty Second Edition we are covering the following news:
- India-Nepal relations in a new transition
- INDIA – SRI LANKA TIES
- What challenges are left behind by Trump for the Biden era?
- What does India’s move in Kabul mean?
- India’s Vaccine Diplomacy
India is comfortable with some changes as its Nepal policy is heading towards deeper engagement with all sections.
The Key highlights of the meeting included various aspects such as strengthening ties. Both countries explored ways to further strengthen the traditionally close and friendly ties. Both sides also discussed several areas of cooperation including in the area of connectivity, economy and trade, power, oil and gas, water resources, political and security issues, border management, development partnership, tourism, culture, education and capacity building. Taking in account, the milestone achieved by the Motihari-Amlekhganj petroleum product pipelines, both discussed the expansion of the pipeline to Chitwan and the establishment of a new pipeline on the eastern side connecting Siliguri to Jhapa in Nepal.
Both sides welcomed the completion of the work on first passenger railway line between India and Nepal from Jaynagar to Kurtha via Janakpur and noted that operating procedures for commencement of ttrain services were being finalized. Other cross-border rail connectivity projects, including a possible Raxaul-Kathmandu broad gauge railway line, were also discussed.
As the meeting proceeded, discussion on cross border movement of people and goods was done. The recently inaugurated Integrated Check Posts(ICP) at Birgunj an Biratnagar have helped in seamless movement of people and trade between the two countries. Both sides welcomed the commencement of construction of third ICP at Nepalgunj.
Discussions were held on expediting joint hydropower projects, including the proposed Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, which have numerous benefits for the people. India conveyed that it would undertake two more cultural heritage projects in Nepal namely the Pashupatinath Riverfront Development and the Bhandarkhal Garden restoration in Patan Durbar in Lalitpur in Nepal with great assistance.
One main factor noted was the close cooperation between the two sides in combating Covid-19 pandemic in the region. Nepal congratulated India on the remarkable success in production of Covidshield and Covaxin vaccines in India and requested for early provisions of vaccine to Nepal.
Both sides also exchanged views on international, regional and sub-regional cooperation. Nepal expressed support for India’s permanent membership of an expanded UN Security Council to reflect the changed balance of power.
Recently, the Government of Srilanka decided to rebuild a demolished memorial at Jaffna University after the High Commissioner of India’s concerns.The demolition of a memorial paying tribute to Tamil civilians killed during the civil war between LTTE and the Sri Lankan Army in 2009 has brought attention to unaddressed issues of minority rights of Tamilians in Srilanka again in the India-Srilanka relations. The key ideas discussed were issues of Tamilians in Srilanka
Denial of Citizenship: The problem of the Srilankan Tamils began earlier than the 1950s. After independence in 1948 the Srilankan government felt that the Tamils were not Srilankan because they had Indian ancestry. The majority of the Tamils were denied Srilankan citizenship due to which most of the Tamils continued to live in poverty in the tea estates of Srilanka.
Linguistic Discrimination: The conflict between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka started in 1956 when Sinhala was made the official language by the country’s President and large scale discrimination began against the Tamils.
Religious Discrimination: The discrimination against the Tamil population continued throughout the 1960s as Buddhism was given the primary place in the state and the number of Tamils employed by the state and admitted into institutions of higher learning was greatly restricted.
Intensified Movements: During this period the Tamils responded to their oppression largely through a political and a non-violent protest movement. In the 1970s, however, there was an increased trend towards Tamil separatism and militancy that gave rise to a terrorist organization called LTTE.
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE): It was formed in 1976 as the self-styled “national freedom movement of the people of Tamil Eelam” and began a guerilla war on the government and administration. It undertook numerous terrorist activities in Srilanka especially against the Sinhalese and executed the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi (the ex Prime Minister of India). After a long strife, and millions of casualties, the civil war with LTTE ended in 2009. India played an important role in helping Srilankan to uproot terrorism from its homeland.
The concerns for India are Rehabilitation of Refugees: A lot of Srilankan Tamils who evaded from Srilankan civil war (2009) are seeking refuge in Tamil Nadu. They are not returning in fear of being targeted again. It is a challenge for India to rehabilitate them.
Sentiments of Indian Tamils: A number of protests and criticism is drawn at the end of Indian Government for overlooking the plight of Srilankan Tamils to maintain good relationship with Srilanka.
Strategic interests vs Tamil question: Often India has to trade off on the question of Tamilian minority rights over strategic issues to protect its economic interests in its neighborhood and to counter Chinese influence in Indian Ocean.
Recently, the world witnessed Joe Biden being sworn in as the 46th President of the United States of America and as America prepares for the transition from the tumultuous era of Trump to what many hope would be a more sedate and serious, there is much nervousness about the challenges in future.
Mr. Biden will neither have complete autonomy from his predecessor nor a clean slate from which his policy options might emerge. He will have to respond to an America which Trump has transformed and an international environment, which, too, has been changed in the last few years, partly by Mr. Trump’s policy choices. Trump’s continuing support base will constrain the ability to usher in the transformational agenda and this would make it all the more difficult to govern from the middle ground of American politics.
This will have grave implications for Mr. Biden’s foreign policy approach as well. In a number of his foreign policy statements, Mr. Biden has harked back to Obama-era policies but the world has moved on and it is not readily evident if the Obama-era template can actually work in a world fundamentally disrupted by forces in the post Obama era. Mr. Biden has an ambitious restorationist agenda wherein he wants the U.S. to rejoin multilateral institutions, work closely with allies and partners, as well as build America’s domestic capacities. In an interesting intervention recently, former Secretary of State warned that the Biden administration should not return to the old Iranian nuclear deal of 2015 as it can spark an arms race in West Asia;his argument being that with Iran’s nuclear capabilities grown and a new window of opportunity with the Abraham Accords, today’s West Asia is not what it was in 2015. The convergence between Israel and Sunni Arab states against the perceived Iranian threat has led to the creation of a new axis with far-reaching implications for the region’s future. So, while Mr. Biden may like to revive the old Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), other stakeholders are signalling that they are not interested.
A big votary of the Paris climate accord, one of the first priorities for Mr. Biden would be to bring the U.S. back to the agreement but the lack of a considerable majority in the U.S. Senate will be a hindrance inbringing a major shift. Mr. Biden has also expressed his desire to reform the World Trade Organization and appoint members to its Appellate Body, but that would be difficult to accomplish given the new power equations and the growing clout of non-western states.
While there will be a lot of talk for a greater transatlantic partnership, to what extent the countries will be able to coordinate their actions on trade and technology remains an open question. Mr. Trump’s tariff war against China would also be difficult to scale back, especially as China has made it clear that it is in no mood to initiate structural reforms demanded by Washington.
Even in his last few days, Mr. Trump did not shy away from ratcheting up the pressure on China by continuing to blacklist Chinese companies from U.S. markets and by new policy moves on key issues such as Tibet and Taiwan. With his moves, Mr. Trump has severely restricted Mr. Biden’s space for manoeuvre — he can either continue with Trump-era policies or face political backlash for being soft on China. The Trump legacy will continue to haunt Mr. Biden long after his predecessor has left the White House.
India’s decision to support the Afghan government, at a time when Ashraf Ghani is weak, is intriguing. India’s national security adviser undertook a visit to Kabul last week soon after external affairs minister promised more military support to Afghanistan. Whatever India offers is unlikely to tilt the military balance in Kabul’s favour then why is India opting to intensify support for the Afghan government?
With negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban in Doha gridlocked, intensification of fighting on the ground, including targeted assassinations of civilians, flourishing factionalism within Kabul, lack of clarity on how US President-elect Joe Biden will proceed with the withdrawal, and an assertive Pakistan, the main question facing India is how long can the President withstand these pressures?
The central driving force is India’s desire to ensure a strategic balance between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Given the power asymmetry between these two countries, such a balance, from an Indian viewpoint is to enable Kabul to influence the terms of talks with Pakistan-supported forces such as the Taliban. New Delhi has found determined allies in Ghani and the Vice-President but there is no guarantee that this approach will yield results because given India’s mounting security challenges with both Pakistan and China, there are valid concerns about India losing ground entirely if Kabul collapses. History offers clues to better understand India’s decision.
In February 1989, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi dispatched the then chief of India’s external intelligence agency, AK Verma, to assess the longevity of the Najibullah government, which was under pressure from Mujahideen attacks. He said that Najibullah can last “indefinitely” with Soviet support. Meanwhile, India had begun outreach to different Mujahideen factions and found a surprising convergence of interest. It helped India embrace the new realities after Najibullah’s ouster in 1992 when Soviet support ended. For now, there is no evidence that India’s unofficial outreach to the Taliban and vice-versa has generated an understanding of that sort but in any case it’s unlikely to be made public by either side.
Overt engagement with India will complicate the Taliban’s relations with Pakistan when it can least afford this. For India, overt diversification risks expediting Ghani’s political collapse instead of ensuring an internal balance within Afghanistan. India’s decision to support Ghani is a sign that there are no endgames for India in Afghanistan. Thus, it would rather accept a setback in its pursuit of a balance between Kabul and Islamabad and securing the few gains that Afghanistan has made over the last two decades, instead of coming across as an opportunist.
The other aspect of India’s decision has a sharper edge. On August 15, 1975, India received a strategic shock in the form Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s assassination in Bangladesh. The rise of the pro-Pakistan army chief Ziaur Rahman as president in Dhaka generated tremendous anxiety in New Delhi. In response, R&AW recommended that the political leadership take all feasible measure to “soften up areas which are contiguous to Indian territories” and sought re-appraisal of relations with Pakistan. To relieve Pakistani pressure on India through Bangladesh, R&AW thought it was necessary “to intensify pressure on Pakistan through Afghanistan”.
Given India’s security challenges today, it’s entirely possible that the national security adviser’s visit is a signal to Pakistan that the latter is likely to inherit a costly, violent mess in Afghanistan if it continues to pursue revisionism. This is supported by India’s belief that even if the US leaves completely, neither Iran nor Russia, despite their alliance with China and engagement with the Taliban, would prefer an Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan — offering India space to manoeuvre, and influence the outcome of the Afghan war(s) over the next six-to-12 months.
New Delhi in a well appreciated move has started sending out COVID 19 vaccines to neighbouring nations in South Asia and other countries that have asked for help from India. In doing so New Delhi has fulfilled its role as a responsible nation and has paved way for a new kind of diplomacy. As of now, India has shipped vaccines to Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar.
India has an upper hand in terms of its advanced cutting edge healthcare in the private sector, India attracts thousands of people from all across South Asia for medical treatment due to the affordability aspect. Medicines manufactured in India have a good reputation across South Asia. It was hence quite obvious that the South Asian Nations would look up to India to supply the vaccines especially when one of the vaccines has been manufactured in partnership with Oxford University. In their recent visits to these nations External Affairs Minister had extended assurances on the possibility of supply of vaccines from India.
Even though India is supplying the vaccines free of cost as of now, there is a possibility that the South Asian Nations could enter into an agreement with India for the future supply of vaccines.
In order to have any lasting value for Delhi’s relationships with its neighbours, it is important that India refrains from chest thumping a saviour complex. It would be equally unwise to make this yet another contest between India and China.
It is the responsibility of all nations with the capacity and capability to manufacture vaccines to provide other nations with the vaccines and not look at it another profit making venture. It is in times like these that humanity and unity is put to test, the virus is as dangerous for anyone else as it is for you. So, while it is important that you provide your own citizens with vaccines you have a humane responsibility towards the other nations too.