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A Statement of Intent

Reviewing Mr. Modi’s visit to the U.S. and U.S.-India security cooperation.

To say that Mr. Modi’s first visit to the U.S. as prime minister attracted considerable attention from India’s media would be the understatement of the year.  New York City and Washington, D.C. were abound with media personalities, politicians, and supporters and protesters alike.  In his four-day visit to the U.S., Mr. Modi attended and addressed the United Nations General Assembly, met with business and political leaders, addressed a large rally at New York’s historic Madison Square Garden, co-authored an opinion piece in the Washington Post with U.S. President Barack Obama, and held formal consultations with Mr. Obama and members of his administration.

However, despite the pomp and circumstance, formal consultations between Mr. Modi’s contingent and the Obama administration did not yield substantive results in defense and security.  The India-U.S. Defence Framework, which is due to expire in 2015, is still in the process of being negotiated between the two governments and has not yet been renewed.  The U.S.-India Joint Statement merely signaled a general desire to renew the framework, while also committing to expand political-military dialog to include defense licensing and cooperation.

No new defense deals were signed during the visit.  Although the sale of Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and Apache attack helicopters are being discussed between India and the U.S., the negotiations are clearly not a point where the deal could be signed.  Further, surprisingly little was mentioned on U.S.-India cooperation in a post-2014 Afghanistan, even as the U.S. and NATO concluded security agreements on force levels with the new unity government in Kabul.

The departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a cause for concern for India and has direct national security implications.  India’s previous government shied away from arming and equipping Afghanistan’s armed forces, but positions of old need not preclude the new government from working with the U.S. to identify areas where India can substantively contribute to securing Afghanistan.

None of this necessarily means that Mr. Modi’s visit was a failure.  It is clear that Mr. Modi views relations with the U.S. as being vital to India’s security and progress and that he has a vision for future cooperation between the two countries.  However, Mr. Modi has only been in office for four months; it will take him and his government time to translate vision into action.  But if the India-U.S. Joint Declaration is anything to go by, it serves as positive statement of intent for future cooperation between the U.S. and India.

The statement reaffirms the commitment to fully implement the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, and specifically addresses the need for further dialog on the issue of supplier-side liability — where India is a victim of its own self-inflicted wounds — paving the way for U.S.-built nuclear plants in India.

The renewed commitment to cooperate on disrupting terrorist groups is also a positive.  Contrary to some media reports, this was not the first India-U.S. joint statement signaling an intent to cooperate against terror groups (including Lashkar-e-Taiba), nor was it the first joint statement to call on Pakistan to bring those responsible for 26/11 to justice.  Indeed previous joint statements by Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Obama articulated similar objectives.

This was, however, the first time that other criminal and terrorist groups – ISIL, al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammad, D-Company and the Haqqani Network – were specifically called out.  It bodes well for future India-U.S. anti-terrorism cooperation that the U.S. Department of Treasury today announced further sanctions against Fazl ur-Rehman, leader of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen, and against two Pakistani individuals for providing financial support to Lashkar-e-Taiba.

While previous joint statements had quite generally alluded to the need to promote freedom of navigation in accordance with UNCLOS, this was the first time that the South China Sea was specifically referenced, as were the calls to resolve territorial and maritime disputes through “peaceful means.”  A less-hesitant articulation on the part of India is welcome, since China doesn’t seem particularly placated by the weak and deliberately-vague positions of old anyway.

India is also faced with tremendous human security challenges as the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies target ISIL positions in Syria and Iraq.  Indeed, despite the thousands evacuated earlier this year, many Indian citizens still continue to reside in Iraq (including some potentially illegally) and are vulnerable to being trapped in areas of active conflict or held hostage by ISIL.  In this regard, the stated intention to cooperate on responding to the needs of those stranded in conflict zones is encouraging.

The U.S.-India joint statement was also unusually strong on Iran, calling on it to comply with UNSC-imposed obligations and cooperate fully with the IAEA.  One wonders what the Iranians make of the language in the joint statement and Mr. Modi’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday.  Perhaps some quiet diplomacy is needed with the Iranians.

Ultimately, the joint statement augurs well for U.S.-India ties, but operationalizing many of the commitments outlined in the statement will require sustained political stewardship at the highest levels of government in New Delhi and Washington, D.C.  It should serve as a warning to both governments that similarly visionary statements left much unrealized as a result of both the Obama administration’s preoccupation with domestic issues as well as the UPA’s feckless and ineffectual leadership.

In order to overcome the possibility of a relapse, Richard Fontaine’s policy brief for the Center for a New American Society recommends that each government designate a “high-level relationship owner,” suggesting that the U.S. vice president or a senior cabinet-level official for the U.S., and the National Security Advisor for India could play such a role.  It is a recommendation worthy of consideration in New Delhi and D.C.

 

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Getting India’s priorities right

Does it matter if Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan are called off?

The government of India has cancelled the proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan as a result of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, meeting with Hurriyat leaders.  The meetings took place apparently despite Indian warnings to Mr. Basit that Pakistan could choose to engage in dialog with either India or the separatists, but not with both.  It is possible that new red lines are being drawn on what India considers unacceptable engagement by Pakistani politicians and diplomats.  Reaction to India’s response has been mixed; some have called it an overreaction, while others believe India’s response was justified.

But whether India’s decision was an overreaction or a justified response is of no real relevance.  India and Pakistan hold such divergent and irreconcilable positions on Kashmir that a resolution seems almost next to impossible as things stand today.  For India this matters little, as a status-quoist state in a position of advantage in every area of contention vis-à-vis Pakistan on Kashmir.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has a problem.  As Christine Fair rightly notes in her book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, Pakistan is “revisionist, or anti-status quo, in that it desires to bring all of the disputed territory of Kashmir under its control, including the portion currently governed by India.”  Pakistan’s problem though, is that there exists a significant and ever-increasing disparity between its ends and means.  Its military campaigns to wrest Jammu and Kashmir from India have failed with increasing decisiveness in each successive attempt.  India has also successfully thwarted – though at a significant cost – Pakistan’s sub-conventional war in Jammu & Kashmir.

In short, Pakistan’s attempts at resolving the Kashmir dispute through violent means have failed.  Pakistan is therefore left with the only option of negotiation through diplomacy.  But Pakistan’s leaders, present and past, have built a narrative around J&K that allows no scope for nuance, negotiation or compromise.  The resulting public sentiment in Pakistan is that it is unlikely to be satisfied with anything short of India handing Kashmir over to Pakistan on a silver platter.  And that is hardly going to happen.

It doesn’t matter how many whitepapers and non-papers are written and circulated about potential solutions to J&K.  Optimism about their viability isn’t shared by many beyond the confines of Track-II moots in which they are enthusiastically presented.  Ultimately, Pakistan cannot demand anything less than a total surrender of Jammu & Kashmir and India cannot (and will not) give Pakistan what it wants.

This is not at all to advocate a total cessation of dialog with Pakistan.  There is benefit to be derived from continued dialog on ancillary issues such as liberalizing trade and visa regimes.  As far as one can tell, India has only cancelled FS-level talks scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad, not shut the door on future opportunities for talks between the two governments.

Indeed, even as news of the cancelled August 25 talks hogged the limelight, state-run gas utilities from India and Pakistan appear to be in advanced talks for exporting gas from India to Pakistan via a pipeline from Jalandhar to Lahore.  Operationalizing such a project would be significant, considering our troubled histories.  India can continue to pursue these and other pragmatic initiatives with Pakistan, but there are more pressing foreign policy matters that demand India’s attention than its western neighbor.

For India, Pakistan is not a foreign policy priority but a national security threat, given its continued use of terrorism against the Indian homeland and Indian interests abroad.  Dealing with such a threat requires a different set of objectives, actors and intended outcomes.  Currently, those actors do not reside in the Ministry of External Affairs, but in other ministries and agencies of the Indian government.  If India is to expend significant time and effort on Pakistan, it will be better served if they are spent in the pursuit of means to mitigate the threats to India’s national security emanating from that country.

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INS Sindhuranta and beyond

The casual attitude towards India’s defense preparedness at all levels is worrying.

An incident on board Indian Navy submarine INS Sindhuratna resulted in the unfortunate deaths of two officers and injuries to several other sailors.  Navy chief Adm DK Joshi has resigned, “taking moral responsibility” for the incident.  There have been as many as four major incidents pertaining to Indian Navy submarines in as many years. In August last year, a fire onboard INS Sindhurakshak resulted in explosions causing its sinking and the deaths of 18 sailors onboard.

There are similarities between the two ill-fated submarines.  INS Sindhurakshak and Sindhuratna are diesel-powered, Sindhughosh-class submarines first introduced in 1986.  INS Sindhuratna was commissioned in 1988, while Sindhurakshak was commissioned in 1997.  Both submarines were retrofitted at the same ship yard in Russia.  In 2010, a faulty battery value on board INS Sindhurakshak is alleged to have leaked hydrogen, resulting in fire and explosion that killed one sailor and injured two others.  Reports, although preliminary, now indicate that a battery leak could have also caused yesterday’s explosion on board INS Sindhuratna.

The reasons for Wednesday’s incident could be many, including failure of the crew to follow standard operating procedures, poor maintenance, technical malfunctioning or failure due to obsolescence.  Indeed, a 2008 CAG report highlighted delays in induction and refitting of submarines and projected, at the time, that 63 percent of India’s submarines would have completed their prescribed life by 2012.  However as of 2014, continued delays in India’s Scorpene-class submarine project are further straining the Navy’s submarine force levels and the serviceability of its aging fleet.

To be clear, incidents are bound to occur in even the most sophisticated, well-maintained and well-equipped of navies.  However, what should be concern for India is the casual approach to investigation and remedial action when incidents do occur.  The Navy announced the constitution of a Board of Inquiry to investigate the August 14, 2013 incident involving INS Sindhurakshak.  It was later determined that a full inquiry could not be conducted until the submarine was salvaged.

Going by news reports, it has taken 6 months for the Navy just to identify a company to salvage the vessel.  It is expected that it will take another 4 months after a contract is signed and work commences, to retrieve the sunken submarine.  An official inquiry will commence only then.  It is unlikely, then, that we will understand what happened to INS Sindhurakshak any time before 2015.  Where, other than in India, can these delays appear to be reasonable?  And what is the Navy and the political leadership supposed to do with its other Sindhughosh-class submarines in the interim?  Ground them pending inquiry, thereby reducing the number of operational Indian submarines to a grand total of 4, or continue to operate them and risk further accidents?

It is unfortunate that, with the exception of a few media houses, these questions are not being put to the people entrusted with India’s national security.  Mainstream media coverage of Adm DK Joshi’s resignation and his apparently acrimonious relationship with Minister of Defense AK Antony has overwhelmed questions on the root causes of these incidents and the general apathy at both political and military levels with which they have been dealt.

Some former servicemen have, perhaps rightly, rallied around Adm DK Joshi on TV news channels.  No doubt, there is a chasm, deep and wide in civil-military relations in India.  These are issues that the mainstream media must follow-up on.  However, to allow subplots pertaining to personality conflicts – the honorable and upright Navy officer vs. a much-pilloried Defense Minister — to dominate issues relating to the state of defense preparedness just because the former makes good viewing is to do disservice to the country.

General elections in 2014 could, by design, address the issue of the lack of political stewardship in defense.  A mere change in political leadership, however, cannot guarantee that we will be any closer to identifying or resolving the issues plaguing our submarine fleet.  What happens when these issues resurface, then? Lather, rinse, repeat?

 

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Quickpost: Thoughts on Republic Day

What constitutes the most sacred duty of the government and citizens in a republic?

The meteoric rise of the Aam Admi Party in Delhi tells us that democracy is alive and well in India.  AAP rode on the wave of an anti-corruption sentiment and vanquished a hitherto well-entrenched Congress party from the seat of power in Delhi.  However, the party’s use of methods bordering on political vigilantism to address the legitimate concerns of the electorate tells us that while India the democracy is thriving, India the republic is hurting.

In the congress of developing nations, India distinguishes itself for its sustained commitment to pluralistic, democratic traditions.  At the same time however, the use of unconstitutional methods for seeking social, economic and political justice continues to be accepted.  The degree to which these methods are employed differentiates an unhealthy republic from a healthy one.

Many of us are familiar with B.R. Ambedkar’s concluding speech on the floor of the Constituent Assembly on achieving social and economic justice through methods provided by the Constitution of the land.  For any healthy, functioning republic, adherence to these methods is not just important, but essential.   The responsibility to ensure the adherence of constitutional methods, then, becomes the duty of both the government and citizens.

Indeed, as Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of the American Republic, explained in a letter in the Federalist Papers, it constitutes the “most sacred duty,” and is the greatest source of security to the republic:

If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of security in a Republic? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws — the first growing out of the last. It is by this, in a great degree, that the rich and the powerful are to be restrained from enterprises against the common liberty — operated upon by the influence of a general sentiment by their interest in the principle, and by the obstacles which the habit it produces erects against innovation and encroachment. It is by this in a still greater degree, that caballers, intriguers and demagogues, are prevented from climbing on the shoulders of faction to the tempting seats of usurpation and tyranny.

Were it not that it might require too long a discussion, it would not be difficult to demonstrate that a large and well organized Republic can scarcely lose its liberty from any other cause than that of anarchy, to which a contempt of the laws is the high road.

But without entering into so wide a field it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this:  that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle the sustaining energy of a free government.

[Alexander Hamilton, Letter No. III in the American Daily Advertiser, August 28, 1794]

Let us hope this serves as food for thought as India celebrates its 65th Republic Day today.

 

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