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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

LAC Standoff: Do Not Expand Ambit of Talks

As important as diplomatic engagements are, there are at least four reasons why these are a mistake in the present India-China context.

One, diplomacy has to be leveraged and purposed carefully in such manner that it is not converted to mere talkfests and demeaned in value. There have been a series of high-level civilian exchanges between India and China since the Galwan incident of June. The latest confabulation between the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers in Moscow on September 10, ‘lasted two and half hours’ but at the end of it, the Indian statement suggested that no progress was made. It pointed out that the ‘Chinese side has not provided a credible explanation’ for the deployment of PLA troops along the LAC and that their ‘provocative behaviour… at numerous incidents of friction along the LAC also showed disregard for bilateral agreements and protocols.’ 

In short, in this instance, diplomatic talks are unlikely to achieve what military commanders on the ground cannot.

Categories
Comparative Politics

A Foreign Policy without Foreign Languages

India is famed as a country with multiple languages and dialects with most Indians being able to understand if not also speak at least two. For a substantial number that number can go up to three and more. Educated Indians also usually have a fascination with French as a ‘foreign language’, though technically, it is spoken or followed at least by older generations in Pondicherry and other former French possessions and a medium of instruction in several schools.

But it is part of a general blindness about all but the developed world that most Indians who wish to learn French do so because they are interested only in France and things French. They almost never think that the largest number of French speakers in the world – and therefore, also a great number of opportunities – exist in Africa. But because Africa and Africans are looked down on by the general Indian population, such possibilities escape them. Spanish and Portuguese are other languages spoken widely in the developing world but arguably have fewer takers in India than German does. 

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Borders Political Parties War and Conflict

Confused and Confusing: The PM’s Official Statements About 15 June

The Indian government has a near perfect ground game in terms of messaging domestically on matters related to Pakistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. And yet, ever since the standoffs with China began in early May, the government’s communications have been limited, confused, and confusing.

This is not to say that India’s military responses to either Pakistani or Chinese provocations – based on such information as is available in the open domain – has been wanting. In the case of the former, one could argue that even such an incident as Balakot where India attacked Pakistani territory, was calibrated well given that it did not lead to escalation. In the case of the Galwan Valley incident of 15 June, too, the official statement on the Prime Minister’s remarks at the All Party Meeting on 19 June quotes him saying, “that twenty of our brave soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for the nation in Ladakh but also taught a lesson to those who had dared to look towards our motherland”.[1] This suggests that the Indians at least gave as good as they got. The Chinese, too, seemed to acknowledge casualties on their side.[2] In dealing with a power like China with its superior military capabilities, that is as good as one can expect, and even something of a victory for India.

However, the question here for the Indian government is of communicating its position and version of events accurately both at home and abroad. The 19 June statement shows the Prime Minister prefacing his reference to the deaths of the soldiers by saying “that neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our post captured”.[3] In reality, this obscured more than it clarified. While the present tense suggested that he could technically be accurate insofar as the situation at the moment of his speaking was concerned, the Hindi version – ““न तो किसी ने हमारी सीमा में प्रवेश किया है, न ही किसी भी पोस्ट पर कब्जा किया गया है” na to kisi ne hamari seema main pravesh kiya hain, na hi kisi bhi post par kabza kiya gaya hain[4] – appeared to make a somewhat larger claim covering the entire period since confrontations started in May that neither had anyone entered Indian territory nor capturedany Indian posts.

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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Reorienting India’s China Policy Towards Greater Transparency

The first Indian casualties on the disputed India-China boundary since 1975 should be occasion to reconsider several long-held beliefs and methods of dealing with the relationship that successive governments in New Delhi have adopted over the years.

This essay will deal with just one trope – that foreign policymaking in India cannot be an open, public or democratic exercise and that ‘quiet diplomacy’ is the way to go in dealing with China. There are two central problems with such a position – both of which have been on view during the ongoing crisis on the LAC and which have severely constrained the Indian government’s ability to assess the situation as well as to find options to deal with it.

First, the desire to keep decision-making on China within the strict confines of the government has much to do with the run-up to the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. The lesson learned following India’s defeat seemed to be that discussing matters openly in Parliament or with the general public tended to limit the freedom of manoeuvre for the Indian government to engage in negotiations with the Chinese side that would require compromises by New Delhi in order to have a realistic chance of a resolution that at least broadly met India’s interests.

If this tendency has continued within the Indian government, it has to do with a second reality valid until quite recently, which was that expertise on the border areas or on what went on there was limited to the Army and various paramilitaries – the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and previously, also the Assam Rifles, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs – that had manned the borders and/or with the diplomats and other civilian officials who held administrative charge of these areas.

There are good reasons why neither position is tenable any longer.

For the rest of the article originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Reorienting India’s China policy towards greater transparency’, Raisina Debates, Observer Research Foundation, 17 June 2020 see here.

Categories
Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Looking Beyond China: Strengthening Bilateral Relationships in the Quad

In early June, a “virtual summit” between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, led to the signing of several agreements that have significant implications for regional security. The call for a deeper maritime partnership between the two countries and an important agreement on mutual logistics support in each other’s military bases come against a backdrop of bilateral tensions in both the India-China and Australia-China relationships.

Chinese transgressions on the Line of Actual Control between India and China have been ongoing over the past month and while this is not a new phenomenon what was notable was that these transgressions took place at multiple locations in Sikkim and Ladakh, indicating perhaps, a new phase in bilateral tensions. Australia-China relations, meanwhile, are in a particularly difficult phase. Canberra’s push for an independent international investigation into the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic attracting furious reaction from Beijing which accused the Australians of playing proxy for the United States. In the inflated Chinese view of themselves, no country accusing China of wrongdoing has any agency or rationale of its own but is always serving American interests.

Talk of a post-Covid world order often centres around the decline or the retreat of the US from global leadership implying that the field is clear for China to pursue its ambitions to take over with even greater speed. However, as countries like Australia and others like France and Germany – despite the general failure of a collective response from the European Union – have shown, a vacuum created by the US does not necessarily mean that liberal democracies elsewhere will not stand up to China.

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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism War and Conflict

Rethinking the China-Pakistan-India Triangle

It has been suggested that New Delhi’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was an ‘extraordinary exercise in realpolitik’, that the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi ‘is not easily rattled by disapproving noises at home or abroad’. One analyst referring to China’s opposition put it rather colourfully that Beijing behaved ‘not as an enlightened power but as a strategic small-timer, with the petty, perfidious and short-termist mindset of a Pyongyang dictator or a Rawalpindi general’.

Not being ‘rattled’ is a good thing and as it should be. However, the ‘exercise in realpolitik’ is not all on the one side and nor indeed, the petty behaviour of a ‘strategic small timer’ with a ‘short-termist mindset’. India is just as guilty and another Indian commentator has, in fact, analysed the NSG episode as an example of India lacking in Kautilyan attributes.

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Borders Foreign Policy Political Parties War and Conflict

Of Perceptions and Policies

Book Review: Shishir Gupta, The Himalayan Face-Off: Chinese Assertion and the Indian Riposte (Gurgaon: Hachette India, 2014).

Shishir Gupta says clearly at the beginning that the ‘book is not about China but its policies and mindset towards India as perceived by the top Indian leadership, political parties and the public’ (p. xi). Within this framework he tries to give an organized picture of the ebb and flow of Sino-Indian relations during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime. While the coverage ends sometime in 2013 well before the UPA regime ended its tenure, the change of regime in New Delhi does not materially alter the nature of relations with China and Gupta by highlighting in his title, the fact that there has been an ‘Indian Riposte’ to ‘Chinese Assertion’ deserves full credit for standing out from the crowd and differing with general public perception of the UPA government’s tenure as being one of inaction and incompetence when it came to China policy. Whatever the UPA’s sins of omission or commission in its domestic politics or in its foreign policy in general, on China policy at least, a combination of focused political and military leadership and competent bureaucratic support ensured that the new NDA regime will find little to change except to provide greater direction, resources and speed and perhaps, with the backing of majority in Parliament, bolder engagement or even, out-of-the-box solutions to resolving ‘The Himalayan Face-off’.

Categories
Foreign Policy War and Conflict

What the Henderson Brooks Report Really Says

Originally published as जबिन टी. जैकब, ‘नाकामी पर नई निगाह’, Dainik Jagran (Delhi), 23 March 2014, p. 10.

Large sections of the Henderson Brooks-Prem Bhagat Report of the inquiry into the Indian army’s 1962 defeat were recently released online by Neville Maxwell, a former India correspondent of a British newspaper. The release affords us an opportunity to reconsider some questions about both the Indian conduct of the conflict and the nature of policymaking in this country.

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Borders Foreign Policy Uncategorized War and Conflict

Sino-Indian Relations: Beyond Symbolism and Beyond Belligerence

Published as जैबिन टी जैकब, ‘युद्धोन्माद से परे देखें भारत-चीन रिश्ते को’, Business Bhaskar, 13 November 2013.

Original text in English follows below

भारतीय प्रधानमंत्री मनमोहन सिंह की अक्टूबर मध्य में चीन की यात्रा और चीनी प्रधानमंत्री ली केक्यांग की मई में भारत की यात्रा पर गौर करें तो यह पहली बार हुआ है कि दोनों देशों के शीर्ष नेता एक ही साल में एक-दूसरे के यहां गए हैं। ली की यात्रा के समय देपसांग में करीब तीन हफ्ते तक जारी घुसपैठ का मामला सामने आया था,

तो सिंह के दौरे के समय दो अरुणाचली तीरंदाजों तीरंदाजों (खिलाडिय़ों) को चीन में एक प्रतिस्पर्धा में हिस्सा लेने के लिए जाते समय नत्थी वीजा दिए जाने का मामला सामने आया। लेकिन सच तो यह है कि भारत-चीन रिश्ते को न तो इस तरह के प्रतीकवाद और न ही युद्धोन्माद सही मायने में पेश करते हैं।

उदाहरण के लिए यह याद रखना महत्वपूर्ण है कि चीन में कम्युनिस्ट पार्टी के महासचिव और चीन जनवादी गणतंत्र के राष्ट्रपति के रूप में शी जिनपिंग का ओहदा ली केक्यांग से ऊंचा है। इसी प्रकार यह तथ्य भी ध्यान रखना चाहिए कि चीनियों ने मनमोहन सिंह का अच्छा स्वागत किया है जिनकी शायद प्रधानमंत्री के रूप में यह अंतिम चीन यात्रा साबित हो।

यह तथ्य किसी से छुपा नहीं है कि सिंह ऐसी सरकार का प्रतिनिधित्व कर रहे हैं जो अपने घर में विश्वसनीयता के संकट का सामना कर रही है, इसे देखते हुए भारत एवं चीन के बीच किसी तरह की सौदेबाजी कठिन और दुष्प्राप्य थी।

दोनों महाशक्तियों के बीच रिश्ते को स्थानीय घटनाओं, क्षेत्रीय पर्यावरण और वैश्विक परिस्थितियों, इन सबका एक साथ असर होता है।