Wednesday, June 8, 2011

India and Africa: Soft Power

The Prime Minister’s Africa visit is an important milestone in Indian foreign policy in the recent period. From a very hesitant beginning in the G8 and in fact a deprecating attitude by saying that it did not really matter, India has come a long way and is playing in fact a soft leadership role in the continent of the future.

Africa has a bright future and the sooner the world gets behind its talk of the Dark Continent, the better off it will be. Its great resources are attracting everybody there. There are more than sixty billion dollars of annual investment now being laid out as the OECD brings out. But Africa no longer wants to be a passive supplier of the wherewithal of global expansion and the hewer of wood and drawer of water. A new generation of professionals and business men have arrived and the governance deficits are declining. South Africa, the melting in the Maghreb and many other examples are there for all to see.After a meeting of the Define network of the OECD I was asked to attend an Africa afternoon in Paris. Senior African policy makers were highly articulate on the need of FDI in Africa to have commitments to the economies on a long term basis rather than a lets get ours and go attitude.

Colonial terms were not only unacceptable, they were to be a bad memory of the past. Africa wants its place in the contemporary debates on modern corporate governance and the social responsibilities of business. The OECD was mounting a mission and my plea was that data on this aspect now demanded by global corporate governance standards as in the discussions of the International Chambers of Commerce should be available. Indian companies by now have about ten percent of the FDI and its growing. The experience of some who have a tradition of community service at home is that African societies have a strong sense of community and with peace tend to take advantage of any community initiatives more so than elsewhere.Most land based investments in Africa tend to replace old sources of food and water for example and newer initiatives such that with replacement the communities are empowered to rebuild these resources and meet basic needs more efficiently would be highly appreciated. This would also extend to the education and health sectors. Also resource conserving strategies of doing business and a concern for the environment would go far. India has the experience in its own quests and would do well to share it.

The monies we are placing on the table should be used for building public led public private partnerships for enduring relations for the future.

Sino-American rivalry: Failure & opportunity for Indian military diplomacy

As Sino-American rivalry acquires a new momentum to the east of India, New Delhi will come under pressure to modernise its armed forces and ramp up military diplomacy across Asia. But it is not clear if India's defence leadership can shed its current doctrine of masterly inactivity.

The naval muscle-flexing by Washington and Beijing in the last few weeks - in North-east and South-east Asia — reflects a rapid evolution of the strategic environment in our Asian neighbourhood.

The US and Chinese naval muscle-flexing in the waters of the Korean Peninsula and the visit of the US aircraft carrier George Washington to Vietnam last week point to a historic shift in Asia's international relations.

As old partners — China and the United States — try to stare down each other, new alliances are being forged between former adversaries — Vietnam and America. That this rearrangement has little do with ideology should draw some of our defence decision-makers out of the time warp they seem to be caught in. After all, China and Vietnam are among the few communist states left in the world.The current shift could be as consequential as that in the early 1970s. After more than two decades of war and conflict with Chinese communists and refusing to recognise the People's Republic as the legitimate representative of China, Washington reached out to Beijing in 1971. As Washington played the China card against the Soviet Union, the rest of Asia ended its hostility to Beijing and welcomed its integration into the international system.The Sino-American partnership against Moscow survived the collapse of the Soviet Union at the turn of the 1990s. As the economic interdependence between the two deepened in the last decade, some American analysts made the case for an informal Sino-American political condominium called “G-2”. Beijing's new assertiveness on a range of issues, however, shattered these hopes.

China's muscular military and foreign policies have put it at odds with its neighbours. The smaller nations of Asia are coping with the rise of China through internal and external balancing.

Internal balancing is about building one's own military capabilities. According to the authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, arms purchases by the South-east Asian nations have doubled in the period of 2005-09 in comparision to the previous five year period.External balancing involves combining one's own capabilities with those of a great power. Most of China's neighbours are turning to the United States for protection against a rising China. Japan and South Korea, who seemed to down play their traditional alliance with the United States in recent years, have in the last few months decided to re-embrace the United States. Many of them also want to expand their defence cooperation with India.

As America reaffirms its primacy in Asia, a rising China is unlikely to back down. Beijing, instead, will seek to step up its own military capabilities further vitiating the regional security environment.

Asia's new military dynamic means India can no longer afford its current laidback approach to military modernisation. Nor can New Delhi ignore the growing demands from its friends and partners to contribute to Asian security amidst the rise of China and the perceived decline of the United States.Most of Asia sees India's emergence as a valuable factor in constructing a stable Asian order. New Delhi's problem has not been a shortage of money but the lack of strategic imagination. The absence of a purposeful defence leadership has emerged as the biggest constraint on India's ability to raise its strategic profile in Asia.

Military diplomacy: Adm Nirmal Verma in Bangladesh

While it sails the far seas and conducts high profile joint exercises around the world, the Indian Navy has not forgotten the importance of tending the maritime neighbourhood.

Adm Nirmal Verma, the Chief of Naval Staff is in Bangladesh on a five-day official tour that started on Sunday. During his stay Adm Verma will visit the three major ports of the nation—Chittagong, Mongla and Khulna. He will also call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Zillur Rehman.

Adm Verma’s visit is indeed a part of Delhi’s current commitment to deepen the bilateral engagement with Dhaka on all fronts. During Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in January 2010, both sides agreed to resolve the many long-standing problems between the two countries.

Some of them relate to maritime territorial disputes and the question of resource exploitation in the Bay of Bengal and are likely to come up during Adm Verma's talks.Besides the bilateral dynamic with Bangladesh, Adm. Verma’s trip underlines India’s more focused defence diplomacy in the region.

Cribbing about our unfriendly neighbours and complaining about the warm military ties between them and China, India in the past simply neglected security diplomacy in Southern Asia.

Delhi has now consciously chosen to step up military interaction with all our neighbours. The only exception is Pakistan, where the Generals have never shown any interest in a structured interaction between the armed forces of the two countries.

Pak Army Chiefs prefer to deal with Indian political leadership when are directly in charge of running the country and don the presidential mantle. When they hold the remote, the Pak Army leadership does not want to be drawn into any service-to-service engagement with its Indian counterparts.Last year, Adm Verma visited Sri Lanka twice and hosted his Sri Lankan counterpart in India. The Army Chief Gen. V.K. Singh and the Air Chief ACM Vasant Naik traveled to Colombo in January this year.

The Indian Air Chief traveled to Dhaka in January 2010 and had received his Bangla counterpart in 2009. The three service chiefs now regularly travel in the neighbourhood and host their counterparts.

This intensive military diplomacy is driven by the recognition of the need to build solid institutional links with the armed forces of our neighbouring countries. But Delhi has much work to do before it can match China’s defence diplomacy in the Subcontinent.

Besides regular high level military exchanges, China has emerged as one of the main suppliers of arms to all our neighbours. India is yet to generate surplus weapons production and a policy for arms exports in the region.

Gilani in Beijing: China and Pak hold fire against the US

The visit of Pakistan’s premier Yusuf Raza Gilani to China this week has underlined Washington’s enduring primacy on our Western frontiers and Beijing’s reluctance to present China as an alternative to the United States.

That might happen some day in the not too distant future; but not right away. That was the main message from Beijing as it serenaded Gilani.

Last month, two weeks before the killing of Osama bin Laden, Gilani had led a powerful team to Kabul that included all the top civilian ministers as well as the army chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the ISI boss, Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha.

Gilani’s delegation met the Afghan President Hamid Karzai to define a new framework for peace and reconciliation within Afghanistan and the construction of a special relationship between Islamabad and Kabul.

According to leaks in the Western media, Gilani had apparently told Karzai to dump the diminishing United States in favour of a rising China.In the wake of raid on Abbottabad on May 2, it appeared that both Islamabad and Beijing flaunted their special relationship as the location and execution of Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan’s territory exposed the Pak army’s double dealing on terror.

As the rest of the world questioned the role of Pakistan’s security establishment in harbouring bin Laden, China was quick to offer a strong public defence Islamabad’s policy.

As the US mounted pressure to do more against the al Qaeda and the Taliban, Pakistan’s establishment flashed its China card. The hint was that if Washington pushed it too hard it had the option to deepen its alignment with Beijing.Although his visit to China was planned much earlier, there was much expectation that it would unveil their intent to join hands against the United States. Both had reasons to hold back.

For all its anti-American bravado, the Pak establishment knows the dangers of an overt defiance of the United States. The prospects for being branded as a rogue state and sanctioned again by the West can’t be too appealing for the economic managers of Pakistan.

China, too, made it clear that while the relationship with Pakistan was one of its most valued, it was not ready to paint in anti-American colours. While Beijing brings a lot of aid and investment into Pakistan, it can’t provide the kind of international political legitimacy and financial support that Islamabad gets from its Western patrons.

After rocking the bilateral relationship with its assertiveness in 2010, Beijing is in the mode of improving ties with Washington. As Gilani arrived in China, a senior Chinese military official was in Washington to lay the foundation for a new security dialogue.Last week, China and the United States also agreed to establish a special dialogue on Afghanistan. Beijing knows that its moment in the Sun in south-west Asia and the Persian Gulf is not far away. For now it might more sense not to contest the dominance of the United States in the region.

As Gilani arrived in Beijing, the ‘China Daily’ in an editorial cautioned against the impression that China is ganging up with Pakistan against the United States. “Any over-interpretation of Gilani's ongoing visit to China will prove to be superficial and speculative”. The Daily added that “China hopes to see US-Pakistani relations improve as it is in the same boat with the two countries in fighting terrorism.”.