Saturday, July 17, 2010

Indo-Pak Talks: SM Krishna's Recent Visit to Islamabad

India-Pakistan talks have not collapsed, asserts India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao (Nirupama Rao's interview with NDTV is given below). But has it progressed in any manner? Was there any agenda specified at all for External Affairs Minister SM Krishna's visit to Islamabad? The concluding line is that the talks must go on; but talk about what? Terrorism, Kashmir or Siachen. There have been assertions of sorts by at least sections of the stratgeic community that India should not limit it to terrorism, but have they forgotten about the lives of people who were affected by the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai? Life has not been the same for so many people after 26/11. The State cannot absolve of its responsibilities in its yearning for improved relations with Pakistan. Improvement in Indo-Pak relations cannot be done at the cost of its own people. India has to, in the first instance, take these talks forward with a clear agenda, in the absence of which, these can achieve nothing. Anot even improvement of atmospherics can be achieved when you have the Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi equating Indian Home Secretary to terrorist leaders like Hafiz Saeed.

Barkha: With so much controversy surrounding the India Pakistan meeting of the two foreign ministers...the meeting of SM Krishna and Shah Mehmood Qureshi... where does this leave the peace process. India at this point said that the attempt is to bridge the trust deficit but has this now become a deficit of trust.

Joining us now on NDTV is Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. Thank you for your time ma'am.

When you look at the perception in the media on both sides that the talks, in a sense, have collapsed...the talks are in tatters and that it was unprecedented acrimony. Would you agree that the talks did not all go the way you had hoped?

Nirupama Rao: Well Barkha, I would by no means say that the talks collapsed. I think what happened yesterday was we were able to have a very, I must say, protracted discussion on various ideas that could take the dialogue forward. There was a hiatus, if I may say so, in expectations because I believe that the Pakistan side had certain ideas about the re-engagement that were not completely acceptable.

Barkha: I wanted to ask you that one of the central controversies has been the fact that when Shah Mehmood Qureshi, in response to a question on Hafiz Saeed, compared this to draw some sort of equivalence with G K Pillai's remarks on the ISI's role in 26/11. Questions are being raised as to why our Foreign Minister at that time did not rebut the Foreign Minister of Pakistan. Why did he not Ms Rao?

Nirupama Rao: Well Barkha, the External Affairs Minister said very clearly on record today (Friday) that there was no question on any comparison between Hafiz Saeed and the disclosures made by the Home Secretary on the David Coleman Headley's investigation. And at no point, may I add categorically, during the discussion held yesterday (on Thursday) did the External Affairs Minister in any sense express agreement with the point of view of Mr. Qureshi on the remarks of the Home Secretary.

Barkha: Can I then clarify Ms Rao that although Mr. Qureshi claimed that both Foreign Ministers were in agreement that the Home Secretary's remarks were such indication was in fact given by the Indian delegations to the Pakistani delegation in the course of the talks. Is that correct?

Nirupama Rao: Yes, absolutely. No such indication.

Barkha: Ms Rao was it then considered a choice by the Foreign Minister to not rebut Mr Qureshi in public when those remarks were made?

Nirupama Rao: Well, I think if you were there at the press conference at the Pakistan Foreign Ministry...there were a huge number of journalist...the pale nail of questions and you know the to and fro... the queries that were raised, the answers from the Foreign may have just happened at that stage the External Affairs Minister did not react. But by no means can you draw the conclusion from that, that External Affairs Minster SM Krishna was in any way in agreement with the remarks of Mr. Qureshi

Barkha: Ms Rao did it handicap the Indian side, the timing of the Home Secretary's remarks?

Nirupama Rao: Well, I think one has to be very clear about our sights here. We have a dialogue that we are seeking to restore with Pakistan but we also have very real core concerns about terrorism and about the trauma of Mumbai, the aftermath of Mumbai and the action that Pakistan needs to take on the basis of very credible evidence on the involvement of Pakistani agencies, Pakistani nationals in the Mumbai attacks. So the Home Secretary was perfectly within his rights to draw attention to this.

Nirupama Rao: Well Barkha, about the involvement of the state and the non-state agencies in the whole business of terror unleashed in India by Pakistan, this disclosure about the involvement of ISI is not new to India. India has all along maintained that when it comes to the terror machine that unfortunately continues to exist in Pakistan...that there are serious introspections that are required by Pakistan into why terror has been used as an instrument in policy against India...and that involves both state and non-state actors ...I am constrained to say that there are state and non-state actors and Pakistan needs to undergo that whole process of...I believe of catharsis when it comes to understanding why terror is now threatening the very fabric of Pakistan itself.

Barkha: Mr Qureshi also suggested this morning that the Foreign Minister did not have the mandate to take his own decisions and that he was on phone to New Delhi throughout...something that Mr Krishna then went on to deny. Are you concerned as the highest ranking diplomat of India at the tone and tenor of the remarks of the foreign Minister of Pakistan?

Nirupama Rao: Well definitely the tone and tenure of those remarks have not contributed...let me a positive atmosphere between India and Pakistan and I believe those were remarks that could have been avoided.

Barkha: Where do these talks leave India and Pakistan at the present moment? How would you describe it? You said in the beginning that the talks have not collapsed. What would be your choice of words to describe what has happened in the last 24 hours?

Nirupama Rao: Well I think we went through a very serious discussion yesterday. It was by no means a futile exercise. We have several pointers before us as far as the future is concerned. We have exchanged ideas. We have by no means come to a conclusion which would suggest that the way forward is blocked in any way. And as I said and as our Foreign Minister said, Mr. Qureshi is due to come to India in the later in the year. In the interregnum there is time enough for us and I believe particularly for Pakistan to reflect on the process...the modalities carrying it forward and to understand that the reduction of the trust deficit and the building of confidence are itself catalysts to take this dialogue forward. And that is why we need to undertake graduated steps when it comes to the resumption of dialogue.

Nirupama Rao: Well there is a gap in perception, I have to be honest and admit that. But these are not unbridgeable divides between India and Pakistan. On a number of ideas that we exchanged yesterday we were in agreement about how to build confidence and trust. On certain other ideas I think much more time and ground will needed to be covered before we can say we are ready to start dialogue in those particular areas. But let me say that in most of the sectors that we talked about yesterday...the sectors for assumption of dialogue...we were in agreement.

Nirupama Rao: Well, I would say that I would have hoped that we would've had more positive outcome to our discussions yesterday. But I think in diplomacy, as in life, disappointments such as these needs to be surmounted because as neighbors India and Pakistan will have to deal with each other. We don't have the luxury of maintaining irresolvable distances between our two countries.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

India-China Strategic Partnership -- story in Foreign Policy Magazine

Here's the link to a story, quoting me, on India-China strategic partnership, particularly the nuclear dimension. The story written by Christian Caryl has appeared on the July 14, 2010 issue of the Foreign Policy Magazine.

Europeans and Americans, who have dominated world affairs for so long, are understandably fascinated by the recent rise of China and India. It's obvious that the rapid economic resurgence of these two great Asian powers fundamentally alters the global rules of the game.

China and India have built up a $60-billion-per-year trading relationship, and for years they've insisted that they want to work more closely on a variety of fronts. Yet that expressed desire for collaboration co-exists uneasily with a long-running strategic rivalry. Parts of their mutual border remain in dispute. China has long supported Pakistan, India's main enemy, while the Indians have often befriended competitors of the Chinese (be it Moscow or Washington). Lately Beijing has been cultivating relationships among countries in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean -- including Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka -- to protect the flow of commerce and access to supplies of natural resources. That has the Indians fearing encirclement.
Lately, though, another element is threatening to complicate the strategic calculus: the nuclear factor. In themselves, of course, nuclear weapons are nothing new to either country. China has been a nuclear power for decades, while India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 (though most outsiders tend to think of 1998, when New Delhi conducted a series of underground explosions designed to establish its bona fides as a genuine nuclear power). Although both countries have sworn off first use, both have built up formidable deterrents designed to retaliate against any attackers.

So what's new? A lot. Concurrent with their rising economic might, China and India have set about modernizing their militaries to lend extra muscle to their growing strategic ambitions -- and given their complicated history, that can't help but spark worries. "China has the most active and diverse ballistic missile development program in the world," noted one U.S. report. "China's ballistic missile force is expanding in both size and types of missiles." China's Dongfeng long-range missiles boast independently controlled multiple warheads, mobility, and solid fuel (meaning that they can be fired with little notice). That's just one of many areas in which the Chinese have demonstrated their advanced technological capabilities. In January China shot down one of its own satellites with a missile -- once again demonstrating, as it did with a previous test in 2007, that it's well down the path toward a ballistic missile defense system.

That test unnerved the Indians, who saw the prospect of Chinese space weapons as a potential threat to the credibility of their own nuclear deterrent. The Indians, meanwhile, have been hard at work on a new generation of long-range missiles of their own. The Agni-5, which is set for a test flight by the end of this year, has a projected range of 5,000 to 6,000 kilometers -- meaning that it would be able to hit even the northernmost of China's cities. The Indians are also conducting sea trials of their first ballistic missile submarine, the Arihant, which could be ready for deployment within another year or two.

It is undoubtedly true that the two countries mainly have other potential enemies in mind. China is primarily concerned about deterring potential attacks by the world's leading nuclear power, the United States, while India's strategic calculations focus on the threat from Pakistan. Yet strategic logic is creating the potential for direct friction between Beijing and New Delhi on several fronts. The two countries are already engaged in a naval arms race as they jockey for influence in the waters around South Asia. Tensions have also been mounting over the two countries' border disputes -- especially the one involving the disputed area of Arunachal Pradesh (which is controlled by the Indians). The Indians complain of a rising number of Chinese incursions into the area; a remark by the Chinese ambassador to India a few years ago, when he claimed the territory as China's, stirred up public outrage. The Chinese, who regard Arunachal Pradesh as part of Tibet, worry in turn about a buildup of Indian troops in the region.

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi notes one concern. Starting in 2007, the Chinese military began a major upgrade of its missile base near the city of Delingha in Qinghai province, next to Tibet. In addition to the intermediate-range missiles already stationed in the region, Rajagopalan says there are indications the Chinese may have beefed up the force with long-range DF-31s and DF-31As -- thus threatening not only northern India, including Delhi, but targets in the south as well. It's entirely possible, she acknowledges in a 2007 paper, that the Chinese move could be aimed primarily at countering Russian missiles stationed in Siberia, but warns that "what the Chinese may consider a routine exercise may send a wrong signal and have serious implications." For his part, former U.S. diplomat Charles Freeman says that he regards Indian fears of a Chinese nuclear buildup as exaggerated, but worries that a fateful mismatch of perceptions could already be spurring both countries toward a genuine nuclear arms race.

The extent to which the two militaries are getting on each other's nerves became apparent in a bit of high-ranking trash-talking earlier this year. India's chief military science officer, V.K. Saraswat, declared that new advances in his country's ballistic missile technology meant that "as far as cities in China and Pakistan are concerned, there will be no target that we want to hit but can't hit." That prompted a retort from Rear Adm. Zhang Zhaozhong of China's National Defense University, who pointedly derided the "low level" of Indian technology. "In developing its military technology," Zhang said, "China has never taken India as a strategic rival, and none of its weapons were specifically designed to contain India." If that was meant to console anyone south of the border, it doesn't seem to have worked.
The best time to talk about an arms race, of course, is before it really gathers steam. Krishnaswami Subrahmanyam, former chairman of India's National Security Advisory Board, says that China and India should take their nuclear concerns to the Conference on Disarmament, a multilateral negotiating forum at the United Nations. But that, of course, would require the Chinese to acknowledge that there's a problem, which they might not be willing to do. Rajagopalan notes that India and Pakistan have managed to set up some effective confidence-building measures on their common border, but that India and China have yet to do the same (aside from a few stillborn efforts in the early 1990s). Instituting mechanisms to warn each other of pending missile tests might be a start. "I think there's a great need for that," she says. "Otherwise these kinds of tensions can spiral out of control." You can say that again.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

India sends mixed signals on Iran

Here's the link a story on the recent Iran sanctions by Peter Brown, quoting me. The story has appeared in Asia Times.

India has adopted an ambiguous approach towards Iran in recent years. On the one hand, India wants to work the Iran option, given the growing demand for energy resources. But on the other hand, it has also had problems with Iran's clandestine nuclear activities, especially the Pakistan link, and thus follows Washington's lead in supporting sanctions against Tehran.

It is easy to misread the signals India's leadership is frantically sending out concerning the imposition of sanctions over Iran's nuclear program. India has been commended by the United States for its record of backing sanctions votes, though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has consistently doubted they can work.

At the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors, India has cast three votes against Iran over its failure to meet international obligations. And shortly after the recent India-US Strategic Dialogue, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns commended India for its "admirable" record when it came to implementing previous UN Security Council resolutions. He said that he fully expected India to "follow through and implement the new resolution". [1]

In Toronto in late June as the Group of 20 (G-20) summit closed, US President Barack Obama directed this curious comment at Manmohan: And I can tell you that here at the G-20, when the prime minister speaks people listen, particularly because of his deep knowledge of economic issues, as well as the fact that he understands that as India rises as a world power, not just a regional power, that it also has enormous responsibilities to work with the rest of the world community around issues of peace and prosperity. [2] If everyone were really listening to Manmohan as closely as Obama described, the latest round of sanctions at the United Nations Security Council would have never been approved, let alone proposed in the first place.

Manmohan has been quite consistent. Following a nuclear security summit in April, for example, he openly questioned the effectiveness of the planned sanctions, and shared his concern that the poor and not the power elite in Tehran would suffer.

Manmohan once again reminded Obama that India viewed Iran as also "entitled to all the rights that members who have signed the NPT [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and are peaceful users of atomic energy, are entitled to". [3]

Manmohan words were well chosen, and Obama knew immediately that India had no plan to abandon Iran entirely.

"India has adopted an ambiguous approach towards Iran in recent years," said Rajeswari Rajagopalan, senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. "On the one hand, India wants to work the Iran option, given the growing demand for energy resources. But on the other hand, it has also had problems with Iran's clandestine nuclear activities, especially the Pakistan link, and thus follows Washington's lead in supporting sanctions against Tehran."

The Pew Research Center in its most recent Global Attitudes Survey released in June injected an element of considerable uncertainty into the mix by exposing how few threads connect India's leaders to the Indian people over what to do about Iran. [4]

What leaps out is that among those in India who oppose Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, there is greater support for the use of military force than for tougher economic sanctions.

"Just over half (52%) of Indians who would not like to see a nuclear-armed Tehran - Indians oppose Iran in this regard by a margin of 48% to 33%. [p 45] - say it is more important to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action; 39% say avoiding a military conflict with Iran is more important," said the survey's authors.

Even more confounding is the simultaneous 10 percentage point drop in the overall US favorability rating in India since a year ago - only Mexico experienced a larger drop. Controversy over the US granting Indian investigators access to David Coleman Headley - a key suspect in the November 2008 Mumbai terror attack - might explain the 17 percentage point drop in the number of Indians who favor the US-led effort to fight terrorism, to 65%. India's overall favorability rating of the American people remained unchanged.

The Indian and American governments share a common vision on Iran to the extent that neither wants to see a nuclear Iran. However, the two countries differ on the best way to achieve that goal. "While India feels that a nuclear Iran is not in the interest of regional stability, New Delhi is keen that the US and the international community use dialogue and diplomacy to resolve Iran's nuclear issue," said Rajagopalan.

As much as the US wants to include India on its list of staunch supporters willing to bear down hard on Iran, India resists being included, and its resistance is likely to grow rather than diminish in light of the US's relatively muted response to China's nuclear deal for two new nuclear reactors with Pakistan.

"It would be naive to assume that India and the US are on the same page regarding Iran sanctions. First, India does not see Iran as a threat. There are no major disputes between them. On the contrary, India has always had generally friendly relations and also business and cultural ties," said Subrata Ghoshroy, a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Program in Science, Technology, and Society.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a growing suspicion, rightly or wrongly, that the US stands ready to quietly cast a less stringent eye on Sino-Pakistani nuclear dealings in exchange for Chinese cooperation on the Iranian brief at the Security Council.

"This pattern of deal-cutting above Indian heads - mildly reminiscent of the [president Bill] Clinton years - continues to grate on Indian nerves, and is likely to forestall any effort by PM Singh to deepen the US-India link on Iran," said Sourabh Gupta, senior research associate at Samuels International Associates in Washington, DC.

It does not help that the US prefers to ignore Iran's status as the second biggest supplier of crude oil to India. Iran could also become a major supplier of natural gas to India, although the India section of the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline deal is dead in the water for now. And while Obama has been to Ankara and Cairo - and perhaps soon Jakarta - in his attempts to strengthen US ties to the many Muslim communities around the world, he will have to be especially diplomatic in his choice of words when he arrives in New Delhi in November.

"India is home to nearly 160 million Muslims consisting of both Shi'ite and Sunni. Friendly relations with Iran is crucial to maintaining credibility in the Islamic world at home and abroad to counter Pakistan's influence, a country that does not have a close relationship with Iran," said Ghoshroy.

Many Indians accept that their national security interests are better served by maintaining good relations with Iran, and contend that any strict sanctions, including maritime interdictions and inspections, will exacerbate tensions in a region that is already volatile - right in India's backyard.

India has been realistic, however, in addressing US concerns, and for that reason the confidence expressed by Burns and others is not entirely misplaced. US-India relations have reached a new high - though the Pew survey deflates this image somewhat - and cooperation on the non-proliferation/civil nuclear front is prized in New Delhi.

"Mindful of the fact that Iran constitutes a core US security concern, the Singh government has over the past couple of years - coinciding with the Iranian case being reported to the Security Council - maintained a relative standstill in functional bilateral cooperation with Tehran," said Gupta. "At minimum, the Road Map to [Bilateral] Strategic Cooperation that it had inherited from the predecessor [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee-led government has not been deepened."

Besides, India's commercial interests rank the size and scope of any business opportunities in the US far above any in Iran.

"So long as US-Iranian relations remain in a deepening spiral and Iran in contravention of security council resolutions, Indian voting behavior at the IAEA board is likely to loosely shadow the US's and discretion in outreach to Tehran will remain the watchword in New Delhi," said Gupta.

In contrast, China has been able to bargain both politically with the US within the Security Council while also simultaneously benefiting commercially with the Iranians. This does not go unnoticed in New Delhi. As China pushes forward, India is in a quandary - reluctant at best to abandon future-oriented energy cooperation with Tehran, and so, for example, the framework of their joint working group on oil and gas is sustained, but pragmatic enough to exclude itself from making any new or immediate investments.

"India continues to maintain a distinction between UN and unilateral US sanctions on Iran. But in this regard too, the red lines established here by the US are known and internalized: no new, large hydrocarbon investments in Iran; no assistance to the regime to meet its refining deficiencies; no high-profile military exchanges or defense-industrial cooperation with Tehran," said Gupta.

The war in Afghanistan and the IPI pipeline are important considerations here, too, but for different reasons.

"India has continued to argue that pricing is a major impediment in taking the IPI initiative forward, while not making officially clear its position on the issue. It may be under the US influence that it is not pursuing the pipeline at this point of time, however, New Delhi has not ruled out this option for the future, given the growing demand for gas," said Rajagopalan. "This will necessitate India to keep this option for the future given that Iran has the second largest reserve of natural gas. On this, India should look to the example set by Turkey, and pursue it through third countries and swap deals."

As far as the war in Afghanistan is concerned, the US faces very tough choices. India's patience with the current US-Pakistan relationship may be wearing thin despite a new round of talks, and it is no secret that India would welcome a significant reduction in the US dependence on Pakistan as the ultimate answer in the war on terror.

Beyond that, there are those who call from within India for the US to bring Iran on board on this and other issues. Critics of the status quo want the US to become more sensible about Iran, and to embrace the work done by Brazil and Turkey and others. Ignoring Iran's ancient roots, its cultural influence, and the importance of its role as a regional power in the least places Iraq's future in jeopardy, among other things.

"This is not a quick-fix solution," said Rajagopalan. "Both the governments need to invest time and effort looking at long-term benefits of bringing a positive direction to this relationship."

Reaching out to Tehran would solve two problems in one shot, the argument goes. It would bolster Iran's regional power status, and an overall rapprochement with Washington might also bring an end to Tehran's nuclear issue as well.

"Washington has to move beyond Islamabad and consider other options that are available or that can be made available in the near future. Iran could prove to be an alternative, which Washington should work on," said Rajagopalan.

Washington is reluctant to listen to this advice at a time when US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is warning that Iran is fast becoming a military dictatorship. The element of risk that is present for the Singh government is enormous. If it simply signs on to the US agenda at a time when the US position is growing more bellicose - perhaps using the Pew survey results to support this shift - it might come to regret this move.

"Because [Manmohan's] government appears to be operating at a point close to the Indian polity's - and policy of strategic autonomy's - threshold of tolerance in bending to the will of Washington vis-a-vis Iran, his scope of maneuver is limited," said Gupta. "The inability to sustain indefinitely this domestic consensus is likely to be aggravated by the perception that the current US administration is edging away from the favorable lens through which it has viewed India for much of the past decade."

Manmohan's own domestic political concerns are amplified by Obama's pending trip to India. "Ratings of Obama are also overwhelmingly positive in Japan (76%), South Korea (75%), India (73%) and Indonesia (67%)," the survey reported. (p 25).

Manmohan is caught between a rock and a hard place. He must be careful not to push too hard on Iran, and he must prepare for Obama's arrival. The lifting of export controls and other important issues loom in the background.

"[Manmohan] still leads a coalition government which is proving to be more fractious than previously anticipated. Cozying up to America will not be seen as a popular policy," said Ghoshroy.

India's commitment to adhere to the basic outline of UN resolutions on Iran is not in doubt, but India's record of technological achievements and how exactly these came about cannot be ignored completely.

"Clearly, US and Indian interests are different. It is true, India has publicly stated that an Iran with nuclear weapons will be harmful for the region, but it cannot say it too loudly given its own track record in developing the nuclear bomb," said Ghoshroy. "Indian scientists were proud in how they busted the US sanctions imposed after 1974 and tightened after 1998, and developed the bomb." Obama may soon meet a few of those same scientists.

1. US expects India to implement Iran sanctions .
2. Click here.
3. PM tells Obama that Iran sanctions will hit poor 4. Click here