Tag Archives: India

India at BRICS Summit: Russia Hardly Isolated over Ukraine

As this blog has been pointing out–see posts noted at the bottom of this one–Bad Vlad is far from becoming an international pariah as a consequence of his invasion of Ukraine, despite what many in the West seem to believe. From Foreign Policy’s “Morning Brief”:

India’s BRICS Balancing Act

India has been pulled into the Quad (and now I2-U2), so can it continue playing nice with Russia and China, too?

By Colm Quinn, the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.

The BRICS Summit Begins

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa meet virtually today for a summit of BRICS nations. As well as a chance to discuss economic strategies outside a Western-dominated system, the meeting once again shows that, although Russia is isolated from the West, for the rest of the world it is still very much open for business [emphasis added].

Russian President Vladimir Putin joins the gathering today at a time when his country has become China’s largest crude oil supplier—a position usually enjoyed by Saudi Arabia. He will hold talks with a group of leaders who have so far tempered any criticism of the war in Ukraine.

Indeed Xi Jinping, in his address to the BRICS Business forum on Wednesday, appeared to lay the blame on Ukraine for Russia’s invasion, calling it a “wake up call” and a reminder that “attempts to expand military alliances and seek one’s own security at the expense of others will only land oneself in a security dilemma.”

Addressing the same forum, Putin was bullish on the economic opportunities presented by the group, touting negotiations on opening Indian chain stores in Russia, increasing Chinese industrial imports and “reorienting trade flows” to BRICS nations. According to Putin, trade with the group increased by 38 percent in the first quarter of 2022.

He added that the BRICS group could soon go a step further by challenging the U.S. dollar, creating its own international reserve currency based on the “basket of currencies of our countries.”

India’s options. For India, also a member of the Quad—along with Australia, Japan, and the United States—it faces a challenge to keep up its balancing act between East and West [emphasis added].

“India lives in a rough neighborhood and has been able to stick by its non-aligned policy to ensure its strategic autonomy by essentially engaging with everybody, and they’ve done a pretty good job of that,” Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, told Foreign Policy [see this post: “Russia vs Ukraine: India’s Strategic Autonomy (tous azimuts) in Action“]. “But as great power competition continues to heat up, not just between the U.S. and China, but now the U.S. and Russia, it’s going to be increasingly difficult and delicate to maintain that balance.”

Indian officials aren’t naïve about their position, and are reportedly working to block any attempts to insert anti-U.S. messaging into the BRICS joint statement as well as slow any attempts to expand the grouping.

That the BRICS grouping is not known as a particularly effective combination may work in India’s favor. “I think that India can make a gamble, which I think is pretty safe, and it can essentially, pledge full support for everything BRICS is doing to show that it’s a loyal member of the group, while at the same time betting on the strong likelihood that BRICS won’t be able to move the needle forward on a lot of the issues and plans that are discussed,” said Michael Kugelman, an Asia expert at the Wilson Center and author of FP’s South Asia Brief. “That would then spare India from having to make awkward decisions about how far to go and pursue policies within BRICS that could put it at odds with the West.”

India is in high demand in a busy few weeks for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He travels to Germany over the weekend to attend the G-7 summit and in July he joins another new grouping (and acronym) I2-U2, with the leaders of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States [emphasis added]

In its own way India still seems to be sitting fairly pretty.

A video on start of BRICS summit:

Those earlier posts:

Russia’s War on Ukraine, or, What Stinking “Free World”?

Russia Invading Ukraine: Countries Standing Aside, Africa Section

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds


Revolution in (in particular) Indian Army Recruitment: Four Year Tour of Duty for Most Coming Immediately

Further to this post,

Shrinking the Indian Army: Three Year Tour of Duty to be Tried for Some Soldiers?

a huge shake-up is being implemented, note profound changes in recruiting for the army’s regiments –at the Indian Express:

‘Agnipath’: In major defence policy reform, govt announces scheme for soldier recruitment

The proposal, which will come into effect immediately, was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security on Tuesday morning [June 14].

Defence minister Rajnath Singh and chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force on Tuesday announced a significant reform on how soldiers across the three services will be recruited under the new Agnipath scheme which will come into effect immediately. Soldiers recruited under the scheme will be called Agniveers.

“This is a major defence policy reform introduced by the Government to usher in a new era in the Human Resource policy of the three services. The policy, which comes into immediate effect, will hereafter govern the enrolment for the three services,” the government said in a statement.

The proposal was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security on Tuesday morning. Moving forward it will make the permanent force levels much leaner for the over 13-lakh [1.3 million] strong armed forces in the country.

Under the scheme, most Indian soldiers will leave the service in just four years. Of the 45,000 to 50,000 recruited annually, only 25 per cent will be allowed to continue for another 15 years under permanent commission. The move will considerably reduce the defence pension bill, which has been a major concern for governments for many years [emphasis added].

Recruitment will begin within 90 days under the scheme which will bring “all India, all class” recruitment to the services. This is especially significant for the Army, where the regiment system has region and caste bases, and with time that will be eliminated to allow anybody from any caste, region, class or religious background to become part of existing regiments [emphasis added–his will be a completer revolution for the Army, how well will it work?].

Several veterans have raised concerns about how this new structure can be detrimental to the existing structure, where loyalty towards the regiment and battalion, and retaining their pride, plays a significant role as a motivator in the harshest of circumstances.

Announcing the scheme, Rajnath Singh said “efforts are being made that the profile of the Armed Forces should be as youthful as the wider Indian population.” A youthful armed forces will allow to be easily trained for new technologies.

The minister added that it will increase employment opportunities and because of the skills and experience acquired during the four-year service such soldiers will get employment in various fields [most of the new recruits for the army will be infantry, not that much relevance for most civilian jobs]. “This will also lead to availability of a higher-skilled workforce to the economy which will be helpful in productivity gain and overall GDP growth,” Singh said.

The average age in the forces is 32 years today, which will go down to 26 in six to seven years. It will create “future-ready” soldiers, said Lt Gen Anil Puri, additional secretary, Department of Military Affairs…

Under the new system, which is only for personnel below officer ranks (those who do not join the forces as commissioned officers), aspirants between the ages of 17.5 years and 21 years will be eligible to apply. The recruitment standards will remain the same, and recruitment will be done twice a year through rallies.

Once selected, the aspirants will go through training for six months and then will be deployed for three and a half years. During this period, they will get a starting salary of Rs 30,000, along with additional benefits which will go up to Rs 40,000 by the end of the four-year service.

Importantly, during this period, 30 per cent of their salary will be set aside under a Seva Nidhi programme, and the government will contribute an equal amount every month, and it will also accrue interest. At the end of the four-year period, each soldier will get Rs 11.71 lakh as a lump sum amount, which will be tax-free. They will also get a Rs 48 lakh life insurance cover for the four years. In case of death, the payout will be over Rs 1 crore, including pay for the unserved tenure.

However, after four years, only 25 per cent of the batch will be recruited back into their respective services, for a period of 15 years. For those who are re-selected, the initial four-year period will not be considered for retirement benefits [emphasis added, see below].

Lt Gen Puri said the government will help rehabilitate soldiers who leave the services after four years. There will be a “whole of government” approach, and they will be provided with skill certificates and bridge courses. The impetus will be to create entrepreneurs, he added [sure]

For the government, one of the most important advantages of the scheme would be the significant pension savings, as there is a large population of ex-servicemen in the country [emphasis added]. The government had allocated nearly Rs 1.2 lakh crore for pensions for the Defence Ministry and the armed forces in the current fiscal year, which is about a quarter of the total defence budget of the country, and is larger than the capital acquisition allocation…

There will be strong reactions from retired officers; will update the post with some of them.

UPDATES:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

India’s Strategic Autonomy and Various Realities, e.g. “Look East” but can it “Act East”? (note UPDATE)

An Indian Navy commodore (ret’d) gives a succinct review of the country’s regional positions at Rediff.com India (it is striking that Russia, up until now India’s largest supplier of arms, is not mentioned one):

How India Can Tackle Security Challenges

By Commodore VENUGOPAL MENON (retd) [tweets here]

India has the ability to be a great power and address our security challenges in the best national interests.
Our foreign policy has come of age and will stand the test of time in the days ahead.
It is best to keep out of geopolitical power games with due consideration to the foundations of our foreign policy…

Geopolitical Canvas

The geopolitical canvas in our immediate neighborhood is changing rapidly and this has put India in a dilemma on the efficacy of our stated policy of strategic autonomy.

There is a fundamental apprehension in policy circles as to whether our stand will enable us to face security challenges in the foreseeable future.

The combination of sub-conventional violence from Pakistan and land border tensions with China has triggered concerns within the political and military establishment.

Although I would not categorise South Asia as a volatile region in the current juncture, it has its share of uncertainties caused by the rise of China, instability in Pakistan, terrorism and asymmetric warfare, and the extent of engagement by China in the Indian Ocean region through their BRI projects and last but not the least the future of Afghanistan under the Taliban [given India’s perpetually strained relations with Pakistan, the troubles in Kashmir, and the two countries’ nuclear weapons, I would suggest that South Asia is inherently volatile].

These aspects are beyond our control and hence the need for a counter-strategy to meet the challenges.

China

The fact that China shares a long land border with India is a geographic factor that cannot be changed.

It is also important to note that China considers India as a challenger to its supremacy in the region.

An arms race to equal the Chinese juggernaut would only incur heavy costs and drain the coffers.

At the same time, we need to ensure and maintain credible deterrence levels at the border to thwart any border incursions by Chinese troops.

Alliances with other nations would at best provide diplomatic support to our stand on contentious issues [emphasis added, i.e. no direct military support likely], but it cannot provide a permanent solution to our bilateral issues.

Pakistan

The situation in Kashmir has improved considerably in the recent past, however, isolated incidents of terror do take place.

There is no reduction in the trust deficit between the two countries [emphasis added].

Pakistan continues to build up militarily with assistance from China.

Although our military modernisation programme is progressing albeit slowly, there are critical deficiencies in assets faced by the three services.

One such example and challenge for the Indian Navy is in our submarine force levels.

Currently, the Pakistan navy has three Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) conventional submarines which give them an advantage in undersea warfare.

The future induction of eight Yuan class boats (with AIP) from China would increase the number to 11 by 2035.

This is not a comfortable situation and can create an asymmetry in our maritime domain as we are way behind the starting blocks of our Project 75 I submarine construction programme [emphasis added, more here].

Afghanistan

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has created a vacuum in that country from a security perspective.

The waters look murky at the moment and it would be advisable to wait and watch as the situation evolves.

Big Power games in the Indo Pacific region

Security in the region cannot be viewed in isolation or exclusively from India’s prism.

It is important to factor in the influence of big powers and their competition to project power and gain influence in the region.

The question in this regard is what should be India’s stand in this power play? To maintain our policy of strategic autonomy or to team up with the Western alliance? There cannot be a third option [emphasis added].

Containment of China

The US had ignored the growth of China’s economic and military might during the last two decades which ironically was ignored by India too.

US foreign policy is desperately in need of a counter to China’s power potential lest it loses its unipolar status in the world.

Although then Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo floated the idea of Quad in 2007, the movement fizzled out till 2017 when then US president Donald J Trump revived the concept.

The reasons could be many, but the most important factor is that there was no convergence of strategic objectives between the member countries.

Regrettably even now, little or no work has been done towards achieving that aim.

Terms like the Rule-Based International Order, shared democratic values and free and open Indo Pacific etc do not have any essence or meaning in the absence of clearly defined strategic objectives [emphasis added].

China has not been named for its hostile actions in any of the joint statements following a Quad summit thus far (one exception being when then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo singled out China in October 2020).

Why is this hesitation? The answer is very simple — China is an important trading partner for all members of Quad.

Hence, it is important to realise that behind the shadows of Quad, member countries continue to maintain bilateral relations with China in accordance with their national interests.

Is there any point in sailing in a rudderless, coxswain-less boat towards an unknown destination [emphasis added]? Hence there is a need to deliberately analyze the advantages/disadvantages before taking a call.

One sincerely hopes that we do not fall into the trap of being a pawn and get Ukrained in the bargain.

Importance of Alliances in Our Context

As per the foundations of our foreign policy, acceding to any security alliance is not an option unless there is a paradigm shift in our grand strategy (if there is one). A counterargument could be that the Quad is not [in reality] a security grouping or a counter-China initiative [emphasis added, in any event the US has long had bilateral treaties with Australia and Japan].

Then, what is its objective? Why is it ambiguous and open-ended? There are no free lunches in international relations and it is very likely that Quad will insist member countries to contribute significantly towards infrastructure development and other initiatives in Indo Pacific region.

Do we have the economic clout to invest in the region at the cost of our development? Therefore at some stage, we will have to take a call in the foreseeable future on whether this arrangement suits us or not.

Hope the establishment at Delhi is not contemplating that piggy banking on a loosely formed group like Quad is the best solution to project India as a big power [emphasis added]? If that is so, it will be a big blunder in the long run.

US’ Indo Pacific Strategy: Where do we fit in?

Although the name changed from Asia Pacific to Indo Pacific, nothing much has changed in US policy of demarcation of the world to suit its area of influence, provide a security umbrella for their allies and for power projection.

The term Indo Pacific brought about a euphoria amongst India’s strategic community about India’s centrality in US strategy which in a way is a false assumption [emphasis added]. Strategically, the US interest is centered on the South China Sea, the Far East and Oceania which is the fulcrum of its Indo Pacific strategy in order to check or counter Chinese influence and challenge to the unipolar world order.

The region to the west of the Malacca Straits and South Indian Ocean till MENA (Middle East and North Africa) is of less strategic importance to the US as has been seen post World War II.

We cannot expect that India’s security concerns in South Asia will be addressed by the West and therefore it is pragmatic to avoid any false sense of security [emphasis added].

Our engagement in the SCS — Practicality

Chinese engagement with countries bordering the South China Sea is deep-rooted and currently, we do not have the economic clout or resources to make a dent in that arrangement.

Continuous military presence in the region is neither desired nor warranted and it is quite possible that some of the ASEAN countries may object to our permanent presence if all it happens in the future.

In effect, there is a big gap between our Look East policy and Act East policy [emphasis added].

It is well known that about 50% of our inbound and outbound trade transit through the South China Sea, but there have been no instances of any trade being hampered by the Chinese navy or coast guard.

China has objected to ‘Freedom of Navigation’ patrols by the US navy through contested waters which have only increased the volatility in the region and increased tensions. India has not participated in such patrols thus far and is unlikely in the future too which is a wise decision.

Moreover, it is very unlikely that our trade would be hampered by China in the South China Sea fearing a backlash towards their safe energy flow through the south Indian Ocean which is within close proximity to India [emphasis added].

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that India has the ability in all respects to be a great power [but still it will be slowly, slowly] and address our security challenges in the best national interests.

Our foreign policy has come of age and will stand the test of time in the days ahead.

There is no requirement of toeing the line of any country to suit their national interests or be a client State [emphasis added].

It is best to keep out of geopolitical power games with due consideration to the foundations of our foreign policy.

The need of the hour is to give an added impetus to our indigenisation efforts as our national policy and support it with a long-term vision and goals.

If South Korea which was in the same state as India two decades ago attained a high degree of indigenisation and self reliance, we too can achieve it.

YES, WE CAN!!

Commodore Venugopal Menon served in the Indian Navy for 29 years in operational roles, including commands at sea, and training and staff assignments at Naval HQ.
In addition to the staff and war courses in the Indian Navy, he underwent the executive course at the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Honolulu.

A very substantial round-up of the Indo-Pacific/South Asian strategic situation from a widely-held Indian point of view. The US in particular should bear in mind these words of Scots poet Robbie Burns:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion…

Note this tweet from a retired most senior Indian diplomat:

UPDATE: June 12 tweet from the retired commodore with a rather different tone:

Relevant posts:

India–Leaning even Closer to US to Balance PRC but at same time Keeping in with Russia (tous azimuts of a sort) [Dec. 2020, based on article by a ret’d Indian Air Force air marshal]

Russia vs Ukraine: India’s Strategic Autonomy (tous azimuts) in Action [March 2022]

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Hindus Fleeing Kashmir/ Two BJP Spokespersons Make Anti-Muslim Statements

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “Indian paramilitary soldiers patrol in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. Kashmiri Pandits have been demanding more security in light of the violence. Photograph: Mukhtar Khan/AP”.)

1) Further to this November 2021 post,

The Perils Facing the Remaining Hindus in Kashmir

those perils still remain–from the Guardian:

‘Fear is increasing’: Hindus flee Kashmir amid spate of targeted killings

Increase in violence prompts protests and biggest exodus of Kashmiri Pandit families for two decades

Hundreds of minority Hindus have fled from Indian-administered Kashmir, and many more are preparing to leave, after a fresh spate of targeted killings stoked tensions in the disputed Himalayan region.

Three Hindus have been killed by militants in Kashmir this week alone, including a teacher and migrant workers, prompting mass protests and the largest exodus of Hindu families from the Muslim-majority region in two decades.

Sanjay Tickoo, a Kashmiri Pandit activist, said: “Some 3,500 people have left and more will be leaving in coming days.”

Many Hindu families said they were waiting to get discharge certificates for their children from schools and then would leave as soon as possible. “Fear is increasing with each new killing,” said Tickoo. “The minorities are facing the worst situation in Kashmir.”..

At least 19 civilians have been killed this year in similar targeted attacks in the region, including minority Hindus, government employees and a woman who was known for her Instagram videos.

Police have blamed Pakistan-backed militant groups for the killings…

After the string of attacks, Hindus say they being driven out of the region. These include Kashmiri Hindus, commonly referred to as Pandits, 65,000 of whom first fled from the valley in a mass exodus in the 1990s, when a violent pro-Pakistan insurgency broke out in the region and they began to be targeted [see this post: ‘PM Modi Likes Bollywood Blockbuster “The Kashmir Files”‘].

By 2010, a few thousand Kashmiri Hindus had returned to the Muslim-majority region, enticed by a government rehabilitation policy that provided jobs and guarded accommodation to about 4,000 people. But in recent weeks, those who returned have been protesting against the killings and demanding more security. Hindu employees have been abstaining from their duties, urging the government to relocate them to safer locations.

“We are in a 1990s-like situation,” said Pyarai Lal, 65, who lives in Sheikhpora Budgam, in one of the seven guarded housing facilities provided to Hindus. “My son is a teacher and he has not attended his duty for the last two weeks. We are afraid to even leave our home. Who knows when a gunman will attack?”..

Authorities have promised the employees they will be posted to safer locations, and police made assurances they were increasing security by intensifying counter-insurgency operations, surveillance and using drones.

But many Kashmiri Pandits have accused authorities of barring them from leaving and allege that police and paramilitary forces have been deployed at the gates of their government provided accommodations to stop them…

The targeted attacks against Hindus pose a great political challenge to prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government, which has made repeated promises to look after the interests of Kashmiri Pandits. On Friday, India’s home minister, Amit Shah, held a high-level review meeting on the security situation in the region, but no government statement has been made on the issue.

In 2019, Modi unilaterally revoked Kashmir’s autonomy, and enforced a military crackdown under the guise of greater security for Kashmir. The government introduced a slew of laws allowing non-locals to buy property in the region, in the hope of enticing Hindus to settle in the state, a move many locals feared was Delhi’s attempt to bring about demographic changes in the Muslim-majority region.

Many see the removal of Kashmir’s autonomy in 2019, as well as Hindu nationalist policies of the Modi government, which have driven an increase in attacks against Muslims in India, as a driving force behind the growing surge of violence in Kashmir…

2) Further to this post,

India, or, the BJP, State Elections, Karnataka and the Hijab-Jeebies

now a couple of BJP people have at Muslims–from Deutshe Welle:

India faces backlash over BJP’s ‘Islamophobic’ remarks

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has come under fire for incendiary comments about the Prophet Muhammad. Muslim countries have lodged protests amid calls for a boycott of Indian goods.

A row over remarks by India’s ruling party officials grew on Monday [June 6] as several Muslim-majority countries summoned Indian diplomats.

The comments by the now-suspended members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) triggered wide criticism from Arab and Muslim-majority countries, which say the comments were offensive and “Islamophobic.” 

What triggered the row?

Last week, BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma commented on Prophet Muhammad’s youngest wife during a televised debate, specifically about how old she was believed to be when they married.

Her remarks were blamed for clashes in an Indian state and prompted demands for her arrest.

The BJP on Sunday said it had suspended [her], and denounced “insult of any religious personalities of any religion.”

Sharma took to Twitter to retract her statement, saying that the comments were made in response to “insults” made against the Hindu god Shiva.

The BJP also expelled spokesman Naveen Kumar Jindal over comments made about Islam on social media. Jindal said he questioned some comments made against Hindu gods on Twitter: “I only questioned them but that does not mean I am against any religion.”

How did Muslim countries react?

The Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) said the remarks came in a “context of intensifying hatred and abuse toward Islam in India and systematic practices against Muslims.”

Resisting such allegations, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said India “categorically rejects OIC Secretariat’s unwarranted and narrow-minded comments. The government of India accords the highest respect to all religions.”..

With calls for the boycott of Indian-made goods spreading across several Muslim countries, the BJP-helmed government has been propelled into action over 10 days after the comments were first made. 

Religious tensions have escalated in India in recent months, with critics saying they are prompted by Indian television anchors during raucous debates [see this post: “Hindutva on the March in India–any Real Crackdown?“]

Plus a tweet by a retired Indian army brigadier:

One thing after another for intercommunal relations.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

PM Modi Likes Bollywood Blockbuster “The Kashmir Files”

Well he might, mighn’t he? Seems like fuel for Hindutva. First, a video at the Indian Economic Times:

PM Modi hails ‘The Kashmir Files’ movie, says ‘campaign being run to discredit the film’

Second, a review at the newspaper The Hindu:

‘The Kashmir Files’ movie review: A disturbing take which grips and gripes in turns

Anuj Kumar

March 14, 2022 15:15 IST

Updated: March 17, 2022 13:43 IST

Employing some facts, some half-truths, and plenty of distortions, Vivek Agnihotri propels an alternative view about the Kashmir issue, with the intent to not just provoke… but incite

Once upon a time, writer-director Vivek Agnihotri told us a  Hate Story; this week, he has etched yet another. Mounted like a revisionist docudrama, that tracks the tragic exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from their homeland in the 1990s,  The Kashmir Files is essentially a battle of narratives, where Agnihotri has determinedly sided with one version of the events. Employing some facts, some half-truths, and plenty of distortions, it propels an alternative view about the Kashmir issue, with the intent to not just provoke… but incite.

The Kashmiri Pandits’ pain is real and should be expressed in popular culture, but it deserved a more nuanced, more objective take rather than the ‘us vs them’ worldview that Agnihotri has propagated over 170 minutes. 

The film is based on the testimonies of the people scarred for generations by the insurgency in the State, and presents the tragic exodus as a full-scale genocide, akin to the Holocaust, that was deliberately kept away from the rest of India by the media, the ‘intellectual’ lobby and the government of the day because of their vested interests.

Agnihotri has improved upon the form he adopted in  The Tashkent Files where he presented his take on former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s death through memories and flashbacks, with the narrative going back and forth in time. 

Here, Krishna (Darshan Kumar), a Kashmiri Pandit and student of a premier university, modelled on Jawaharlal Nehru University, has been tutored by his ‘liberal’ teacher Radhika Menon (Pallavi Joshi) into believing that the secessionist movement in Kashmir is akin to India’s Freedom Movement.

When Krishna’s grandfather Pushkar Nath (Anupam Kher) dies, he returns to Kashmir with his ashes and meets four of his grandfather’s friends who reveal the ‘real’ story of Kashmir to Krishna, and of course, the audience. In their narrative, Kashmir was faced with a clash of civilisations, and the Pandits were left to die by the State and the central government to appease one community. The villain of the piece is Bitta, who seems like a combination of real-life Ghulam Mohammad Dar alias Bitta Karate and Yasin Malik, the faces of terror outfit Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front.

Unlike Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s films on the subject, Agnihotri has no time for romance in the Valley. It is more like a rejoinder to Vishal Bhardwaj’s  Haider, as the film tries to suggest that the Kashmiri Muslims deserved to suffer after what they did to the Pandits and other minorities.

A disturbing take, it grips and gripes in turns. The scenes of bloodshed, torture, and otherisation of Pandits have been filmed with brutal intensity. The camerawork captures the dark, brooding shades of the Valley and the performances are compelling. 

As the conscience keeper of the film, Kher is at his rhetorical best. Darshan is a revelation and it is good to see the gifted Pallavi back. Mithun Chakraborty, Prakash Belawadi, Puneet Issar, and Atul Shrivastava sound convincing, as friends of Pushkar Nath. 

However, the film that accuses the foreign press of milking choreographed unrest and clickbait headlines, gradually falls for the same alleged exploitative methods to reach out to tear ducts and arouse animosity. There is hardly any effort to understand what happens when a majority becomes the minority and vice versa. The voice of the moderate Muslim is conspicuous by its absence. The representation of the educated elite is shallow and towards the end borders on easy character assassination.

Some of the dialogues give hope that Agnihotri will address the complexity of the subject that hasn’t been addressed before, but once he starts peddling an agenda against a religion,  The Kashmir Files loses its objective, humanistic gaze. 

It does the same selective treatment of the period that it accuses the players in the ‘90s of.

Like most in the era of social media, Agnihotri looks at the past from the prism of today and a lot of dinner table discussions make it to the screenplay. There is no middle ground for him, as he picks and chooses instances from the past to suit his narrative. He talks of Sheikh Abdullah, but doesn’t mention the role played by Raja Hari Singh at the time of the accession of Kashmir to India. He also doesn’t talk about how the rigged ballot gave way to a bullet culture in Kashmir in the late 1980s.The film underplays the Pakistan-Afghanistan angle and puts the onus for perpetuating the insurgency on the local Muslim. In Agnihotri’s documentation, terror has a religion and it appears every Muslim in Kashmir has been a separatist and keen to convert Hindus to Islam. How the Dogra Kings ruled the State till 1947 is out of the syllabus here.

Of course, religious slogans were raised, and indeed Kashmir Pandits got caught in the crossfire between India and Pakistan, but the history is not as black and white as Agnihotri wants us to believe.

The names of Kashmiri legends and their contribution that Krishna invokes in the climactic speech are very much there in history books and oral tradition. If the makers got to know them during the research for the film, it is not fair to tell the audience that they have not been taught about the mystic Lalleshwari, the journey of Shankaracharya to Kashmir, and the intellectual capital of the State.

Talking selective use of facts, the film directly attacks Farooq Abdullah and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, and indirectly holds Congress responsible for the exodus, but conveniently forgets to tell us that it was the National Front government that was in power in January 1990, when the alleged genocide took place, whose survival depended on the outside support of the Bharatiya Janta Party and the Left parties.

He has also conveniently forgotten the party, whose agenda he is consciously or inadvertently perpetuating, had formed the government with one of the regional parties which the films describe as nationalist in Delhi, communalist in Srinagar.

Curiously, the film talks of justice but doesn’t bring in the role of the judiciary, the legal battle of Pandits, and the fact that the real Bitta spent more than two decades in jail and after being out on bail, is once again behind the bars.

In the bid to distort, even the good old poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz is not spared. Written in 1979, Hum Dekhenge uses the metaphor of traditional Islamic imagery to subvert and challenge Pakistani General Zia Ul Haq’s fundamentalist interpretation of them. When he says “An-al-Haq” (I am truth), he comes close to the Advaita philosophy of Hinduism. The film subtly derides previous Prime Ministers like Atal Bihari Vajpayee for aiming to win the hearts of people. Perhaps, the makers believe in ruling only the landmass. 

The trailer for the movie:

Relevant posts:

India: The RSS, the Not-so Shadowy Body Behind PM Modi and the BJP’s Hindutva (Hindu Raj) Ideology

Whither Kashmir and its Muslims?

The Perils Facing the Remaining Hindus in Kashmir

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Balochs Fight Back vs PRC’s Neo-Colonialism in Pakistan…

…with more terrorism.Further to this recent post,

PRC’s Neo-Colonialism, Balochistan Section (cont’d)

now a piece at “The Interpreter“, published daily by Australia’s Lowy Institute (via @David_Mulroney, a retired very senior Canadian diplomat)–will the Chicoms go so far as to undertake their own military respones?:

Pakistani separatists turn their sights on China

A Balochistan independence group has ordered
Beijing to quit its interests in the region … to no effect.

Syed Fazl-e-Haider

In Pakistan’s southwest region of Balochistan – the country’s largest province by area but least populous and least developed despite having huge mineral and energy resources – there is a battle being waged for independence. The Baloch have grievances against the Pakistan government, which has historically exploited the province’s resources and neglected its development needs. Military handling of unrest in the region by Islamabad has deepened the sense of alienation and frustration felt in Balochistan, spawning several separatist groups, including the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF).

On 26 April, a suicide attack by a Baloch separatist outside the Confucius Institute of the Karachi University in the southern port city killed four people, including three Chinese staff and their Pakistani driver. The attack was targeted towards the Chinese, who the separatists accuse of partnering with Islamabad in the exploitation of Balochistan’s immense mineral and energy potential.

The number of Chinese stakeholders investing in Balochistan has grown steadily over the past two decades. A Chinese state-owned company built, and now operates, Balochistan’s strategically located Gwadar port [see this post: “Poor Balochs, or, Don’t let the PRC Fence us out of Gwadar Port, Pakistan (with a Canadian angle)“], which some argue holds the key to China’s energy supremacy. The Arabian Sea port is the centre of the US$62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – the game-changer project in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, allowing it a gateway between Western China and the Indian Ocean. Other projects as part of a mega development under the CPEC are also being funded by China in the restive province [emphasis added].

After last month’s attack – carried out by 30-year-old “Shari Baloch”, the first female suicide bomber of the BLA’s Majeed Brigade – separatists warned China there would be more attacks on Chinese nationals and Chinese projects in Pakistan. In a video that appeared on social media the day after the bombing, the BLA demanded that China quit Balochistan or face further retaliatory action. The video shows a masked BLA commander speaking in English and addressing China’s President Xi Jinping directly. “The Baloch Liberation Army guarantees you that CPEC will fail miserably on Baloch land … you still have time to quit Balochistan, or you will witness a retaliation from Baloch sons and daughters that you will never forget”.

This was not the first attack by the BLA on Chinese nationals. The group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Chinese engineers working in the Dalbandin area of Balochistan in August 2018, which injured three workers. The BLA also claimed an attack on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in November the same year. In May 2019, the insurgent group attacked Chinese tourists at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Gwadar. These attacks are the legacy of multiple insurgencies that began in 1948 [emphasis added, lots more here], with one in 2006 resulting in the death of Balochistan’s former chief minister and leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, who was killed in a military operation by Pakistan’s security forces.

The most recent attacks, however, have not convinced Beijing to “quit Balochistan”, but have instead heightened its resolve to counter the emerging threat to its interests in the region. China’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the April suicide attack, saying, “The blood of the Chinese people should not be shed in vain, and those behind this incident will pay the price.” 

Pakistan accuses its arch rival India of sponsoring terrorist groups, including the BLA [see post noted following this quote], with the aim of sabotaging the CPEC and harming the China–Pakistan friendship. An article published in the state-run Chinese mouthpiece Global Times argued that, “The BLA, especially the Majeed Brigade, has close contact with India, but it is hard to judge whether these are official [or] not. But without Indian travel permits, the Majeed Brigade head’s visits to India would not be possible.”

There are calls in China for a military operation against the BLA [emphasis added]. Reacting to the Karachi University attack, Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of Global Times in a tweet said, “The BLA will definitely be more resolutely annihilated. I support Chinese military to launch direct air strikes against this terrorist organisation’s camp after getting approval of the Pakistani government.” The same type of language has also been used in relation to the proscribed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is alleged to have targeted Chinese nationals in a bus bombing on 14 July 2021 that killed 13 at the Chinese-owned Dasu hydropower project in Pakistan’s north. An editorial in Global Times two days later declared, “if Pakistan’s strength is insufficient, China’s missiles and special forces could also directly participate in operations to eliminate threats against Chinese in Pakistan with the consent of Pakistan. We will set an example as a deterrent.”

Beijing sees the BLA and TTP as instruments of proxy terrorism. The separatist Islamist nexus has complicated the security challenge for China to safeguard its interests in Pakistan. The question is, will China, in collaboration with Pakistan, resort to fully-fledged military action to rout Baloch separatists and TTP militants?

That post, from 2016:

Indian PM Modi Pours (RAW) Fat on Pakistan’s Baluchistan Fire

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds


US More Nuanced and Respectful in Its Indian Diplomacy

From an article at RealClear World, no mention of CAATSA (note tweets near end):

India and the U.S. Navigate Their Differences

By Jeff M. Smith
April 25, 2022

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in April hosted their Indian counterparts, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. The ministers met for the fourth edition of the 2+2 defense and foreign policy dialogue that began during the Trump administration. 

The talks were preceded by a virtual meeting between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the two countries celebrated 75 years of diplomatic relations. The dialogue was largely successful, if not entirely groundbreaking. What was achieved may have been less important than what was avoided: a diplomatic rupture over the Russia-Ukraine crisis [emphasis added, see posts at the bottom of this one].

At the 2+2, both sides offered lofty rhetoric about the health and future of India-US ties. “There’s virtually no domain on which we are not cooperating with each other,” Jaishankar declared. Austin called the relationship the “cornerstone of security in the Indo-Pacific.” Singh signaled India’s happiness with the numerous “foundational” military agreements signed in recent years, insisting the two sides would “double up capabilities across conventional and emerging defense domains.” Readouts of the discussions noted the two militaries are operating “closely together across all domains” and would “jointly meet the challenges of this century.” 

Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from the meeting was a proposal to “explore possibilities of utilizing Indian shipyards for repair and maintenance of ships of the US Maritime Sealift Command to support mid-voyage repair of US Naval Ships.” Beyond that, the dialogue produced a handful of modest but positive developments. These included an agreement to cooperate on space situational awareness as well as the launching of a new Defense Artificial Intelligence Dialogue. They also involved commitments to joint service engagements to support high-end combined operations; to the co-production of air-launched unmanned aerial vehicles; and to expanded joint cyber training and exercises [emphasis added]

Arguably the most important outcome was the two sides’ ability to navigate differences over Russia and the Ukraine crisis. India and the U.S. have never seen eye-to-eye on Russia, but Putin’s invasion has brought their quiet disagreements to the forefront. 

Some U.S. commentators cried foul when India voted repeatedly to abstain from criticizing Russia at the United Nations for its conduct in Ukraine. They called into question India’s credentials as a democratic member of the Quad while it continued to import Russian oil and gas. 

The U.S. government, however, has adopted a more flexible approach. It recognizes that most of India’s legacy military hardware is of Russian origin. The Indian government believes it can ill afford to alienate its top defense supplier while its border dispute with China grows more violent and volatile. The U.S. government also recognizes that, in the subtle language of diplomacy, India’s position has shifted from stoic neutrality to criticism of Russia’s actions —- without naming Moscow explicitly [emphasis added]

In a break from its early statements on the crisis, the Indian government is now denouncing violations of international law, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in Ukraine. New Delhi has also condemned the horrific killing of civilians in Bucha and, unusually for India, called for an international inquiry into the atrocity. “All these statements, without naming [Russia], are clearly aimed at indicating unhappiness towards what Russia has done,” explained former Indian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Syed Akbaruddin. Modi has also spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy twice. Modi is rumored to have signaled India’s opposition to the war in direct conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Bucha killings in particular may have marked a turning point in Indian public opinion. With several Indian reporters in Ukraine broadcasting images of the horrors back home, the Indian press has engaged in unusually lively criticism of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Some have questioned Moscow’s ability to remain a reliable supplier, with Russia’s own military industrial base being drained by the Ukraine conflict. Others are increasingly unnerved by Russia’s deepening embrace of China and Moscow’s neutrality during recent flare-ups at the China-India border.

Arguably the only time Russia has notched a victory in Indian public opinion is when the U.S. government has been perceived as threatening or lecturing India over Ukraine [emphasis added]. A trip to New Delhi by Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh earlier this month ruffled feathers when he was quoted threatening “consequences” for any Indian attempts to evade U.S. sanctions while importing Russian energy.

This month, the White House sought to clear the air. When asked if, during a pre-meeting phone call, Biden had pressured Modi to reduce Russian oil imports, a White House spokeswoman noted Russian energy represents only 1%-2% of total Indian energy imports, adding: “They’re not violating any sanctions by importing oil. It’s a decision we made to stop importing oil. Different countries have their own calculation.”..

In the spectrum of U.S. interests at stake with India, the Indo-Pacific, the Quad, and the China challenge outrank the country’s legacy ties with Russia. There is little merit to creating a rift with New Delhi over a war India opposes and whose outcome it is unable to affect. Rather than sanctioning India for its legacy reliance on Russian military hardware, it is better for the U.S. to show that it is a more reliable and superior alternative as India continues the important but sluggardly process of weaning itself off Russian arms. The April 2+2 was a step forward in the right direction.  

Jeff M. Smith is a Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. The views expressed are the author’s own.

However quite a few Indian remain very suspicious indeed of the US, largely because of its closeness to Pakistan at various times in the past along with continuing memories of Western imperialism–tweets from retired Indian Army brigadier as one example:

Related posts:

Russia vs Ukraine: India’s Strategic Autonomy (tous azimuts) in Action

Russia’s War on Ukraine, or, What Stinking “Free World”?

Asia: Major Parts of the World Not Part of “International Community’s” Condemning Russia on Ukraine

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Inter-Communal (i.e. Hindu/Muslim) Violence in India (note UPDATE)

It’s not been a good week. The start of an article at the BBC (all this has been largely overlooked by the North American media, obsessed with Ukraine):

Jahangirpuri: How religious violence razed homes and dreams

By Nitin Srivastava BBC Hindi

Delhi’s Jahangirpuri remains tense days after communal violence and the demolition of houses and shops.

Violence broke out in the area when a Hindu religious procession marched past a mosque on Saturday [April 16] . Hindus and Muslims blame each other for instigating clashes that broke out.

Around nine people – including seven police personnel – were injured in the violence.

This was followed by an “anti-encroachment drive” in the area on Wednesday. The local civic body, which is run by India’s governing Hindu nationalist BJP party, said the drive was launched to clear illegal constructions in the area [emphasis added].

But Muslims say their properties were disproportionately targeted and they also questioned the timing of the drive, which continued for an hour after the Supreme Court gave an interim order to stop it.

Another order from the top court on Thursday [April 21] directed all sides to maintain the “status quo” in the area.

The incident in Delhi is very similar to what happened last week in Madhya Pradesh state, where the BJP are also in power [emphasis added]. Muslims in Khargone city in the state said their homes were disproportionately targeted after violence broke out during a Hindu procession.

*Shock and anger in Delhi after religious violence

*Why an Indian state is demolishing Muslim homes

Residents in Jahangirpuri say they were surprised to see excavators because they had never been issued any notice about illegal construction. Hundreds of armed policemen in riot gear provided a security cordon as seven excavator trucks made their way into the narrow lanes of the neighbourhood. The relatively poor neighbourhood has a large Bengali-speaking Muslim population and is also surrounded by Bengali Hindu homes and small temples.

Local residents now lament the loss of their property and belongings as the demolition went on for over an hour after the court’s order…

Plus a video report from France 24 (first one on Shanghai not relevant to the post, just came with the one on India):

And some Indian English newspaper stories (UPDATE note: almost certainly less reflective of broad popular opinion than Indian languages media) :

1) Times of India:

Common thread: Bulldozers after communal clashes

2) The Hindu:

Bulldozer drive in Jahangirpuri triggers political slugfest

3) Indian Express:

Demolition in Jahangirpuri: After communal flare up, bulldozer politics

AAP leaders spoke in one voice on the issue, with Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia saying the only way to end hooliganism in the country was to bulldoze the BJP headquarters.

4) Deccan Herald:

Opposition says minorities targeted in Jahangirpuri razing; BJP calls it legal exercise

The Supreme Court had to intervene twice to stop the drive after it took cognizance of a petition filed by Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind against the demolition

And a Hindustan Times opinion piece:

What the communal flare-ups manifest

A deliberate attempt is being made to find polarising issues aimed at othering Muslims — hijab, halal meat, azaan, the list is growing

UPDATE: From Deutsche Welle April 23:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

BJP India and Academic Freedom in Oz

Further to this 2020 post,

What is India to be under Modi and the BJP?

now an article at The Diplomat; the author makes an almost impassioned plea against Realpolitik, especially in academia:

What an Academic Freedom Debate Says About Australia-India Relations

A group of fellows at the University of Melbourne’s Australia India Institute recently resigned, alleging restrictions on their academic freedom.

By Grant Wyeth

There is palpable emerging intimacy between Australia and India. This includes a recently signed new trade deal — the first India has signed with a developed country in over a decade — strengthening security ties, major investment from Australia in India, and expanding people-to-people links, including India now being Australia’s largest source of migrants. Yet this burgeoning relationship is not progressing without its controversies. 

In recent weeks a group of 13 academics who were fellows at the Australia India Institute (AII) based at the University of Melbourne collectively resigned their affiliations, claiming that restrictions were being placed on their academic freedom and alleging interference from the Indian High Commission in Canberra [emphasis added]. The group also expressed concerns that the institute was prioritizing the bilateral relationship over academic research. 

The AII was established in 2008 with a $6 million grant from the federal government, and continues to receive funding from both the federal and Victorian state governments, as well as from the University of Melbourne and private donors. It is currently the only center in Australia that is dedicated exclusively to the study of India, understanding the relationship between India and Australia, and supporting the relationship between the two countries. 

Yet it is within this mission where the institute is finding conflict. As a branch of the University of Melbourne, academic inquiry should be its primary concern. Yet if the institute instead sees itself as a facilitator of the relationship between Australia and India, then research that may upset the current Indian government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) becomes problematic [emphasis added–this can be a problem with quite a few countries, e.g. the PRC, Saudi Arabia]. As the scholars wrote in their collective resignation letter: “As experts on India, we have doubts that [the AII’s] quasi-diplomatic focus is consistent with, and furthers, the mission of the University.”

One incident cited by the resigning group was the refusal by the AII to publish an article on the attempt to decapitate a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Melbourne. Within the wider Hindutva movement of the BJP there has been an attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of Gandhi’s assassin, Nathurum Godse. Rather than the driving moral force behind India’s independence movement, Gandhi is now seen by some Hindu nationalists as an appeaser of the country’s Muslim minority. It is this perspective that led to the attack on Gandhi’s statue [emphasis added].

Given that this issue is central to the modern contest over what kind of state India should be – a secular democracy with respect for all religious groups or one that privileges its Hindu majority and excludes, often violently, all others – and that agitation against Indian secularism had found an outlet within the diaspora, this should have been of critical importance to the AII. Instead, reluctance to publish the article suggests either a self-censoring instinct to tip-toe around the sensitivities of the BJP, or direct submission to its pressures. The article was subsequently published by Pursuit, a different University of Melbourne publication.

As highlighted by Dilpreet Kaur in South Asia Today, debate over Australia’s emerging relationship with India has been playing out within the pages of Australian Foreign Affairs magazine, with the University of Melbourne’s deputy vice chancellor (international) – and AII board member – Michael Wesley a central figure. In a recent issue of the publication, Wesley argued in an article titled “Pivot to India: Our next great and powerful friend?” that India is a natural partner for Australia with significant commonalities, and that the relationship should be primarily driven by maritime security in the Indian Ocean [emphasis added].  

In the following issue, Ian Woolford, lecturer in Hindi at La Trobe University, wrote a response saying that Wesley was overlooking the lack of compatibility that the BJP’s Hindutva ideology has with Australia’s liberal democracy, and that this may create a serious impediment to the relationship. In his own reply, Wesley asserted that Woolford “will wait a long time before Australia makes human rights or democracy a central plank of its foreign policy. One of the most consistent elements in Australian foreign policy is a willingness to overlook a foreign regime’s foibles if Australia has a strong interest in maintaining stable and positive relations [as do many countries, including Canada,in their bilateral relations with many governments–the policy question is how to weight the factors governing a relationship].”..

Academic freedom is not a luxury that can be swept aside if deemed to be inconvenient; it is a core national interest because its purpose is to advance knowledge so that societies can make better and more sophisticated decisions. Protecting the national interest is about being vigilant toward each critical component of liberal democratic society, and this is not the sole purview of governments — institutions like universities are equally as responsible. Liberalism requires constant practical upkeep. 

The grand irony of this episode is that Australia’s desire to forge stronger ties with India is due to a belief that this will help protect its liberal values – and therefore its national interest – from the challenge and degradation posed by authoritarian China. Yet what is clear now is that the relationship with the BJP’s India is starting to degrade those very same values and interests. 

Grant Wyeth is a Melbourne-based political analyst specializing in Australia and the Pacific, India and Canada.

Related posts:

India: The RSS, the Not-so Shadowy Body Behind PM Modi and the BJP’s Hindutva (Hindu Raj) Ideology

Modi/BJP Moving vs Press Freedom in India

Hindu Temple for Ayodhya, or, the Hindutva of PM Modi’s BJP (plus Kashmir)

Hindutva, or, the Modi/BJP Drive towards Hindu Raj Documented in Film

Modi, BJP, Hindutva, or, the Shrinking Indian Public Space

Bollywood’s Brief Streaming Freedom

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Russia’s War on Ukraine, or, What Stinking “Free World”?

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in New Delhi, April 2022 Reuters”.)

Alternate title:” Russia vs Ukraine: That Important in the “Asian Century”?’

Further to this March 6 post,

Asia: Major Parts of the World Not Part of “International Community’s” Condemning Russia on Ukraine

a former Indian national security adviser reminds the “West”, the US in particular, that much of what too many self-deluding people call the “international community” has a very different appreciation of events that are currently taking place towards the western part of Eurasia–at Foreign Affairs:

The Fantasy of the Free World

Are Democracies Really United Against Russia?

By Shivshankar Menon

April 4, 2022

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has provoked outrage and unleashed a barrage of economic sanctions from many Western governments. Some, such as Germany, have boosted their military spending after years of riding on American coattails. In these actions, certain analysts have found a silver lining to the devastation of the war in Ukraine. Writing in Foreign Affairs in March, Michael Beckley and Hal Brands argued that the international reaction to the invasion would reverberate well beyond the current crisis. The concerted response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions could “consolidate a global alliance that unites democracies against Russia and China and thereby secures the free world for a generation to come.” In this view, Russia’s war in Ukraine might be a pivotal episode in a global contest between autocracy and democracy. Chastened by Putin’s gross violation of norms, democracies will band together in a muscular reaffirmation of the liberal international order.

That is wishful thinking. The war is no doubt a seismic event that will have profound consequences for Russia, its immediate neighbors, and the rest of Europe. But it will neither reshape the global order nor presage an ideological showdown of democracies against China and Russia. After all, many of the world’s biggest democracies, including India, have so far not joined the U.S.-led economic campaign against Russia or even explicitly condemned the invasion. Far from consolidating “the free world,” the war has underscored its fundamental incoherence [emphasis added]. In any case, the future of global order will be decided not by wars in Europe but by the contest in Asia, on which events in Ukraine have limited bearing.

GRAND ILLUSIONS

Many countries have heaped opprobrium on Russia, but condemnation has not been universal. The varied responses to the war muddle any vision of U.S.-aligned democracies pitted against Russian-aligned autocracies. Several major democracies, notably India and South Africa, abstained from the UN General Assembly vote on March 2 that demanded that Russia withdraw from Ukraine. Big democracies in Latin America, including Brazil and Mexico, have refused to participate in sanctions [emphasis added, see post noted at the start of this one for the UNGA vote]. Close to half of all Asian and African countries abstained or voted against the resolution. And only three Asian countries—Japan, Singapore, and South Korea—have wholeheartedly joined U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia.

Countries in Asia were of course alarmed by the invasion. Stock markets throughout the region fell precipitously following the news of Putin’s gambit. But most commentary in Asian capitals has regarded the conflict as a war between Europeans over the European security order—not an epochal global conflagration [emphasis added]. Yes, the conflict has changed the European security calculus in fundamental ways. Western European countries have scrambled to strengthen their defenses, Germany has announced a process of rearmament, NATO is more unified than ever before, and the transatlantic alliance has been reinvigorated. The unprecedented stringency of the EU and U.S. economic sanctions on Russia is emblematic of this newfound Western unity.

But from an Asian perspective, the war in Ukraine doesn’t augur shifts to come so much as it underlines a shift that has already taken place. The fact that a war is being fought between Europeans on European soil is a reflection of how much global geopolitics has changed since the end of the Cold War [emphasis added]. Before then, when Europe was the central fault line in the superpower contest, no wars were fought in the region; borders stayed frozen, lest any change provoke conflict between two nuclear-armed superpowers. But after the Cold War, conflict in Europe—in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and today in Ukraine—became neither unthinkable nor fraught with the same risks of annihilation or escalation, despite some alarmist panic about these apocalyptic possibilities today. Europe is a sideshow to the main theater of geopolitical drama: Asia.

Today, the center of gravity of the world economy has moved from the Atlantic to east of the Urals. Geopolitical disputes and security dilemmas that could affect the global order are concentrated in maritime Asia [emphasis added]. And the world seeks a new equilibrium to account for China’s rise. The complex political dynamics in Asia don’t lend themselves easily to the kind of stark confrontation underway in Ukraine. Policymakers in Western countries shouldn’t think that their actions on the new frontlines in Europe will shape the contours of a wider struggle to come.

AN UNENVIABLE CHOICE

To be sure, the war in Ukraine will have significant second-order effects on countries in Asia—on their economic prospects when it comes to the supply of energy, precious and strategic metals, fertilizers, and grain. The slowdown in the global economy resulting from the spike in oil and gas prices will particularly affect countries in Asia which, by and large, account for almost 60 percent of crude oil imports in the global economy. The resulting rise in energy intensive fertilizer production costs will intensify the pain caused by the withdrawal from the market of Russian and Ukrainian wheat, which accounts for over 25 percent of wheat traded in the world [emphasis added].

China is probably the Asian economy with the greatest economic exposure to Russia, for food, energy, and other products and as a market for Chinese exports. It also counts Ukraine as its third-largest source of imported arms, after Russia and France. So far, China has chosen Russia over Ukraine in its public stances, but its relationship with Russia can in no way compare with or replace China’s economic dependence on the West. China will presumably want to avoid secondary sanctions and may therefore implement U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia where it cannot evade them.

The rest of Asia is considerably less exposed to trade with Russia, and there is little or no Russian investment in South, Southeast, and East Asia. Yes, these countries will experience some turbulence thanks to the war. All South Asian countries, for instance, are net oil importers and are vulnerable to price surges just when their economies are undergoing pandemic-induced inflation and shocks. Most South Asian countries have elections upcoming in the next two years, and their incumbent leaders are likely to make populist decisions in handling the volatility of commodity prices, choosing subsidies, price cuts, and elevated debt over steps that would be more economically sound over the long term.

But the war will not change the fundamental geopolitical dynamic in Asia, unless the United States becomes very distracted from its Indo-Pacific strategy. Many Asian countries, including U.S. allies, are economically bound to China yet rely on the United States for their security. India is one example. Its trade with China has set new records in the last two years despite frosty political relations and a military buildup and clashes along their shared border. At the same time, India’s security and intelligence ties with the United States have increased substantially. Russia, which accounted for 88 percent of Indian arms imports in 2002, saw its share decline to 35 percent by 2020, by when the United States and its allies accounted for 65 percent. India does retain large stocks of legacy Russian platforms, but the trend toward diversification in its arms imports is clear and steady.

This dynamic of multiple affiliations and partnerships is the norm in Asia, and it will complicate any Western framing of a larger confrontation with the autocracies of China and Russia [emphasis added]. India has received a good deal of criticism for its reluctance to speak out against the war in Ukraine. (It also abstained from the February UN Security Council vote condemning the invasion.) U.S. officials have also warned India not to agree to Russian proposals that might help the Kremlin evade the effects of sanctions.

For India, the war has posed a stark and unwelcome choice between the West and Russia, a choice that it has done everything possible to avoid making [emphasis added]. The United States is an essential and indispensable partner in India’s modernization, but Russia remains an important partner for geopolitical and military reasons. Whereas Russia is willing to codevelop and produce sensitive defense technologies such as the BrahMos missile and to share nuclear submarines with India, North America and Europe provide India with access to advanced technologies, markets, and financial and educational systems that Russia cannot match. The United States is an essential partner for India’s maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, including working together under the auspices of the so-called Quad, a partnership that also incorporates Australia and Japan. But India’s interests on the Eurasian continent require working with Russia and Iran now that the United States is no longer militarily present in Afghanistan [emphasis added, something one is sure the US did not figure into the consequences of its Afghan bug-out]. Indian diplomats have therefore chosen to stress the need to find a negotiated way out of war in Ukraine, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has encouraged Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to talk directly to each other to rapidly end the crisis.

India has subtly expressed its unhappiness with the invasion by reiterating its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. If past experience is a guide, Indian officials will have made their displeasure clear to their Russian counterparts in private. Public opinion in India about the invasion remains divided, although many high-profile public figures have been stronger in their condemnation of the invasion than the government has been . But expecting New Delhi to take a more strident official position against Moscow is unrealistic, and Western criticism and pressure will probably rankle a postcolonial society like India’s [emphasis added–see two tweets at the end of this post by a retired Indian Army brigadier].

As shocked as Western policymakers profess to be by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they might remember that such behavior is neither unprecedented nor representative of a real change in the norms of state behavior in Europe and the world. For one, such a violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity is something that Asia has seen and experienced in the past at the hands of major powers. The long list of outside interventions and invasions (including the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Vietnam War), of ongoing proxy wars and “frozen” conflicts in which casualties mount daily, is proof that major powers are content to pay lip service to norms about sovereignty and territorial conflict even as those norms are repeatedly breached [emphasis added]. Besides, it is hard to think of any powerful state that has not been associated with such acts of commission or omission in living memory. That does not justify Russian actions in Ukraine. But it does suggest that analysts and policymakers should use greater delicacy in how they frame the contest and in the demands they make on Asian and African states.

A LINE IN THE SAND?

No matter how long the war in Ukraine lasts, how the West isolates Russia, and how the war’s secondary market effects hit Asian economies, the balance of power in Asia is unlikely to be significantly affected. To be sure, the total collapse of the Russian state would have serious ramifications, but that outcome seems unlikely for now. In Asia, the war will not close the gap in military strength between, on the one hand, the United States and China and, on the other, the large number of middle and subregional powers in Asia. The latter will still have to negotiate between the sole superpower and China. Nor does it seem likely that a newly consolidated Western alliance, however invigorated, will find the energy to take an active or meaningful role in security dilemmas in Asia so long as it is preoccupied with containing Russia in Europe.

Instead of consolidation, the war in Ukraine seems likely to lead to greater fragmentation of the global order. It has reinforced the urge to build strategic autonomy in Europe as European countries begin to take a greater share in their own defense rather than rely to such an extent on the United States. It has also reinforced Asia’s sense of its own difference—its focus on stability, trade, and the bottom line that has served Asian countries so well in the last 40 years. The war will likely challenge economies that are already reeling from the pandemic and the retreat from globalization over the last decade. The combined economic and political effects of the war are likely to persuade Asian countries to embrace greater self-reliance, a trend already engendered by the pandemic.

But Russia’s invasion does not draw a line in the sand between the allies of the free world and its foes. A global Manichaean struggle is not in the offing [emphasis added]. Those observers hoping for a conflict of that scope to arise from the rubble of Mariupol and Kharkiv will be disappointed.

SHIVSHANKAR MENON is a former diplomat who served as National Security Adviser to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from 2010 to 2014. He is currently Visiting Professor of International Relations at Ashoka University.

More By Shivshankar Menon

The article by Mr Menon should be required reading in the foreign ministries and chanceries of the West. A very relevant recent post:

Russia vs Ukraine: India’s Strategic Autonomy (tous azimuts) in Action

And one from March 2014 just after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea:

How’s That “International Community” Cant Working Out, Obama, Harper et al.? Part 2

Now those tweets:

1)

2)

Plus a tweet by a retired Indian Navy commodore:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds