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Afghanistan could be biggest puzzle in Asian geopolitics

America’s withdrawal from Kabul is likely to render Afghanistan and a great part of Asia into a state of insecurity and geopolitical ambivalence.

Rudra P. Pradhan

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As the Americans left Afghanistan, the Taliban were seen in gunfire celebrations of their victory. Gun-toting Taliban fighters moving around in American vehicles and American uniforms, the future of Afghanistan is acutely chaotic. The nature, structure and scope of the Afghanistan government are very sketchy. However Afghanistan has certainly emerged to be the epicentre of several shades of Islamist radicalism which will have debilitating impact on Asian geopolitics in several ways.

With American arms and ammunition virtually donated to the Taliban, there is a great arms bazaar and its devastating implications bound to be felt in West Asia, South Asia and Central Asia. It may also find its way to Xinjiang province—China’s Islamic underbelly. While these seem scary to the peace and security of the region, the emerging consequences are likely to be far more dreaded than that meets the eye. The Americans possibly have scripted a much deeper chaos and engineered two major structural and normative designs that may keep the Asian geopolitics at boiling point for some time to come. First design pertains to Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ imagined way back in 1993. Second, American withdrawal leaves a leadership vacuum and prospect for all shades of regional strategic realignments that may push the region into a ‘Kindleberger Trap’ too.

WASHINGTON’S ARMS BAZAAR IN AFGHANISTAN

Washington seems to have spent over $83 billion in Afghanistan since 2001 to train and equip the Afghan army (NDS) that quickly melted away as the Taliban approached Kabul. As per Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report, since 2003, the United States has provided Afghan forces with at least 600,000 light weapons such as M-16 and M-4 rifles, 76,000 vehicles, 16,000 night-vision goggles, 162,000 radios and other communications equipment. As per the SIGAR report, Washington’s recent 2017-19 arms supplies include 4,700 Humvees, 20,000 hand grenades and thousands of small munitions and grenade launchers et al.

Soon these weapons would need repair, servicing, maintenance systems and spare parts. They will also need replenishment including such supplies to opposite forces facilitating a full-fledged weapons market operating from Kabul.

The bigger question is: Are the Americans so naïve that they left such quantities of weapons innocently? It is unimaginable that Americans who forged NATO, engineered the fall of their Cold War bête noire Soviet Union, masterminded devastation of the Middle East, and now trying to contain China are as innocent and naïve. Instead, it could well be a conspicuous plan to push Afghanistan into chaos and Islamic radicalism to keep the Asian geopolitics at tenterhooks.

AFGHAN PEACE: THE AMERICAN WAY

Way back in the early 1990s, former editor of Foreign Affairs magazine Samuel Huntington became very popular for his ‘Clash of Civilisations’ hypothesis. Huntington imagined international geopolitics in the post-Cold War to be more and more galvanising into religious and identity-based confrontations where finally Christianity, Islam and Confucianism shall tussle over dominance. Egypt to Afghanistan and West Asia included, the region is now more known as the ‘conflict crescent’ of the world. Thanks to American ingenuity, the Middle East already is in flames and now Afghanistan completes the Conflict Crescent with all possible implications to Pakistan, India and several parts of Asian geopolitical space.

Americans came to Afghanistan two decades ago to impose American-guided peace. For market consumption, they also orchestrated the Doha peace agreement. With all their statesmanship and geopolitical wisdom, Washington signed the Doha peace agreement with the Taliban without involving the ruling government of the country. Finally, conspicuously, they deserted the beleaguered nation to the Taliban with around $85 billion worth of arms and ammunition gift so that Afghanistan and the region remain peaceful.

AFGHANISTAN IN KINDLEBERGER TRAP

American economic historian Charles P. Kindleberger is known for hegemonistic Stability Theory (HST). Kindleberger in his 1978 book Maniacs, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises captures the 1930s as the time of market chaos leading to Great Economic Depression and ultimately the arrival of World War II. Kindleberger argues that a hegemon is needed to impose stability in a market failing which, the market may become chaotic and crash. He argues that in the 1930s, Britain was beginning to vacate its international hegemonic role and the rising America didn’t step in to provide stability which led to World War II. The same analogy in geopolitics is known as hegemonistic stability theory. The 1990s American ‘Soft Power’ advocate, Joseph Nye, recaptured the phenomenon as ‘Kindleberger Trap’—absence of hegemonic power as equivalent to geopolitical chaos.

Afghanistan has precisely gotten into a Kindleberger Trap that has every possibility, inclination and motivation to percolate into the greater Asian geopolitical scenario which is already dealing with the pressure of China’s hegemonic rise and its corresponding challenges in the entire Indo-Pacific region.

WASHINGTON’S POSSIBLE END GOAL

The ‘International Order’ is in great transition today. Larger narratives talk of declining ‘Pax Americana’, rising vacuum in the international system, and a possible Kindleberger Trap. The Covid-19 pandemic critically exposed the vulnerability of the United States. Over 658,103 people are already dead in the US as of now which is one of the highest casualty rates in the world. Along with the death toll and their vulnerability exposed, the American economy also crumbled to -3.48% GDP growth rate in 2020 which had not happened even during the peak of the American economic meltdown. American allies in Europe seemed utterly helpless too. For the first time in several centuries, European and North American dominance and the notion of ‘White Supremacy’ seem to be in serious question.

Apart from ‘White Supremacy’ notion being in decline, the rise of Asia is the next big psychological blow to the Anglo-Saxon hegemony protagonists. Non-White, non-Anglo-Saxon Asiatic people rising to fill the vacuum Americans are vacating in international affairs seem to be a stark reality.

American withdrawal from Afghanistan is likely to render Afghanistan and a great part of Asia into a state of insecurity and geopolitical ambivalence. By withdrawing, Americans successfully demonstrated the centrality of their presence as a geopolitical stability axis or the relevance of Kindlebergers’ hegemonistic stability notion.

Afghan peace is not the American or NATO forces’ direct accountability now. However, in the event of rising Islamic radicalism in the region which could well be the case as a direct consequence of American huge arms and weapons left behind, the Americans will have a moral responsibility and authority to deal with it in preferential terms. Instead of spending critical resources in Afghanistan, the Americans may well have wider arms supply and servicing avenues to revive the American economy back to life.

Additionally, American withdrawal from Afghanistan is directly proportional to chaotic power competition in Asia which may deepen Asian geopolitics into a greater chaos and puzzle. Divided and distraught, Asia shall need Washington more as an arms trader and as a peace broker at the same time—difficult time indeed for Asian geopolitics which the Pentagon had visualised back in 1999 Summer in its ‘Asia 2025 Report’.

Rudra P. Pradhan is an Associate Professor at the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, BITS Pilani, KK Birla Goa Campus and serves as a Distinguished Fellow, Political Economy at Centre for Public Policy (CPPR), Kerala. The views expressed are personal.

Afghan peace is not the American or NATO forces’ direct accountability now. However, in the event of rising Islamic radicalism in the region which could well be the case as a direct consequence of American huge arms and weapons left behind, the Americans will have a moral responsibility and authority to deal with it in preferential terms.

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Opinion

INDIA MUST SHED RETICENCE ABOUT QUAD AS A SECURITY ALLIANCE

Joyeeta Basu

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Beijing is angry that the first in-person Quad summit among the leaders of India, United States, Japan and Australia is taking place this week in Washington, on 24 September, Friday. Beijing is unnerved at the possibility of the Quad taking a formal shape and is calling it a grouping based on Cold War ideology and thus “detrimental to the international order”. Ahead of the meeting, a significant defence and intelligence sharing pact was announced among the US, UK and Australia. Clearly directed at countering People’s Republic of China, AUKUS introduces an element of security in the Indo-Pacific construct, where Australia is provided with nuclear submarine technology by the US. AUKUS, being described as one of the biggest defence pacts for Australia, also covers AI and other technologies—all of which will likely go a long way in countering China. It goes without saying that China is livid at this latest development and has described AUKUS as a reflection of a “Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice” apart from being “extremely irresponsible”. Almost in the same breath Chinese commentators are describing AUKUS as a case of US snubbing India and Japan by selecting Australia to be its “watchdog”—a term used by the PRC propaganda rag, Global Times—in the Indo-Pacific. Also according to GT, AUKUS has inflicted a “psychological blow on Japan and India” (as Quad members), which “will last for a period of time”. In fact, much of the Chinese commentary is now revolving around how Quad has lost relevance because of AUKUS and why India has taken a hit.

This is indicative of the focus that the Chinese are devoting to Quad, while simultaneously trying to run it down. In this is hidden PRC’s fear of Quad’s potential—the fear of Quad metamorphosing into a formal alliance of like-minded democracies that are not willing to see the world fall prey to PRC’s cannibalism.

However, will the Quad ever reach its potential? It is ironic that this question is being asked in the week when the first meeting of the Quad leaders is taking place. But there is reason to be sceptical about the summit, given the Quad’s currently diffused focus. It is almost certain that the summit will speak of issues such as vaccine manufacturing and climate change, supply chain resilience and free and open Indo-Pacific, but there is no indication that the Quad, even if it is formalized, will take the dragon by its tail by metamorphosing into a security alliance. And that is the only way to contain China—forming a security alliance. AUKUS came into existence with lightning speed. The Quad has been dragging on for years. How much longer will this continue?

There is no reason to believe that AUKUS makes Quad irrelevant or that it is a snub to India and Japan. Rather, AUKUS ought to be seen as a force multiplier for the democracies, and as some analysts have been saying, it can also be regarded as an extension of the Quad, where there is a convergence of interests, with countering China being the focus. Also, India’s relevance for any anti-China grouping can never diminish, courtesy it being China’s immediate neighbour, sharing a land border of 3,000 kilometres, apart from its economic and military might. No one understands this better than China, whatever be the public posturing by Chinese analysts.

But all that talk about the Quad developing into a Nato-like security alliance prevalent during Donald Trump’s presidency somehow has fizzled out. So much so that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made it clear during his visit to India in July that the Quad was not a security alliance, but a means “to advance cooperation on regional challenges while reinforcing international rules and values that we believe together underpin peace, prosperity, stability in the region”. Although he did not explain what all those military exercises among the Quad countries are about.

So what is the Quad? An alliance of do-gooders? A pressure group? But when the power to be contained is China, a country that has made grabbing a neighbour’s territory its state policy, and which is trying to overthrow the established order by trying to Sinicise the world in a toxic manner, can pressure groups without a formal security pact deliver the desired results? There is a view that India’s insistence on multilaterism—the latest avatar of the old and discarded nonalignment—is preventing the Quad from becoming a “sword arm” of the free world. India is good at fence-sitting in the name of multilateralism and strategic autonomy, although these two aspects need not be in conflict with any security alliance that may come into existence. India will have to shed its reticence and factor in the security aspect in the Quad construct, as else the Quad is not going anywhere.

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Time’s 100 list: PM Modi cannot be pigeonholed

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One would be surprised if Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not figure in any list prepared by any select people in the list of influential global leaders. But equally surprising is the opinion of CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria wherein he has said that PM Modi “has pushed the country (India) away from secularism and towards Hindu nationalism”.

Time’s list in itself is not very objective since it is based on opinion and recommendations of its international staff and alumni numbering 100. This is not based on an international anonymous poll and is an opinion of a select few elite. For credibility’s sake, they can’t ignore certain leaders but inclusion of Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar raises eyebrows.

The bias is clear in Zakaria’s description. One can imagine that America’s biggest debacle will need to be assuaged by Western media by projecting Baradar as a more presentable face of the Taliban. It is also a way to tell the Taliban who is acceptable to the West. Not that the Taliban are bothered.

Most interesting is the description of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. She is described as “the face of fierceness in Indian politics”. “Of Banerjee, it is said, she does not lead her party, the Trinamool Congress, she is the party. The street fighter spirit, and self-made life in a patriarchal culture set her apart.”

One wonders why this description was not given in 2012 when she appeared in the same Time’s list. Banerjee was then described as a “mercurial oddball and a shrieking street fighter”, however, what she has proved to be is a “consummate politician”. “Banerjee, 57, spent years struggling on the margins, her Trinamool Congress party a feisty rabble compared with the leviathan of West Bengal’s communists…”

It did not mention her mesmerising spell on the electorate that uprooted the Left Front’s 34 year of misrule in West Bengal in 2011. Time’s list in 2011 had come a month before election results. So, in 2012, it definitely merited a strong mention which was sadly missing.

Banerjee is hugely popular no doubt, but not for the right reasons. She has adopted the technique of the Left Front to stay in power and has adopted minority appeasement and violence to intimidate adversaries. One wonders whether the West has this as the ideal type for their society.

Although the Left and the Congress bundled themselves out to enable a Trinamool victory in West Bengal in May, they together failed to prevent the BJP from becoming the single largest Opposition in the state with victory on 77 seats, a remarkable improvement from its tally of three in 2016. The BJP secured a vote percentage of 41 per cent which was a mere three per cent less than that of the Trinamool Congress.

And to say that she stood out despite a patriarchal culture is a feat she achieved a long time back. In fact, the US took a long time to field a woman—Hillary Clinton—as a presidential nominee. In India, there is a rich culture of women rulers and leaders who have etched their names in history despite patriarchy. Razia Sultan, Rani Lakshmibai and Rani Gaidinliu—historical figures—are household names.

Suchita Kriplani, the first woman chief minister of any Indian state (Uttar Pradesh), Indira Gandhi, Mayawati are examples who have made their mark in politics by dint of their hard work. And we should not forget the late J. Jayalalithaa who held sway over Tamil Nadu politics for quite a long time. Patriarchy never came in their way.

If you ask a person like Fareed Zakaria to write a profile, you don’t expect him to hide his bias. In fact, this suits the narrative Western media tries to peddle to feed vested interests. PM Modi is in the Time’s list but something must be given to Islamists and Leftists who may not like this. Zakaria has done just that. He has tried to cater to those who dominate the media and policy making and tries to see India in a particular way.

In April 2012, Zakaria had predicted that Narendra Modi would not become a national leader in India. Modi could never become the face of India, he had asserted. He keeps looking at opportunities to hurl punches at Modi without trying to get into details. His credibility as an impartial observer is very low, except among so-called secular journalists, because of his Congress links and also because of intellectual dishonesty. You cannot form an opinion based on a few reports here and there. The India of today definitely thinks differently than Lutyens’ elite.

Even credible international agencies make their reports on India not based on facts but perceptions after talking to a few individuals favourably inclined. There are media persons who are paid handsomely to write against the Modi government. An organisation wanted to hire a journalist who would be anti-Modi. Only such narratives suit the West that try to paint India in a bad light.

Let us try to analyse Zakaria’s specific criticisms: “Pushing India away from secularism and towards Hindu nationalism” and mishandling of Covid-19. A Prime Minister who worked over time to ensure that cryogenic tankers were imported from wherever possible and liquified medical oxygen filled cylinders were supplied to various Indian states using oxygen express trains cannot be spoken so loosely. Zakaria is speaking like Indian Opposition parties who have to criticise to score a political point and live for another day.

Such irresponsible writing is not expected from a journalist who would like to call spade a spade. His bias is there even when he describes Indian media as servile to the government and cannot show mirror to the ruling dispensation. The same media publishes or broadcasts his interview freely and nobody objects.

In the second wave, because of insistence by states, the management of Covid was handed over to the states. The role of the Centre was limited to setting protocols and providing resources and advisories. A real assessment would emerge only if someone prepares an unbiased, objective and fact-based narrative of what happened in those two months—April and May 2021—that appeared like dark clouds and took toll on even the most empowered houses. Needless to point out that Zakaria in an interview to CNN News in May had spoken about why a nationwide second lockdown was not possible.

On secularism, the entire country is debating what should be described as secularism—appeasement of minorities or equal opportunities to all. If you say that India is being pushed away from secularism, you are holding something that is beholden to you and you have reasons to lament. Are you talking of secularism that existed in India before the word “secularism” was inserted in the constitution’s Preamble by the 42nd amendment in 1976? First Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and chairman of the Constitution drafting committee Dr B.R. Ambedkar decided after due debate to keep the word out of the Preamble because the word was a Western evolution and not suited to Indian context. Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi thought otherwise and she even amended the vision enshrined in the Preamble.  

There are no concrete examples to demonstrate Zakaria’s views even if the criticism is taken at face value. The Minority Ministry is working remarkably well. Crores of scholarships have been allocated for students from the minority community for “secular” education and not madrasa-type education. Due to the introduction of biometric Aadhaar cards (that was opposed by secularists) so many bogus names have been taken out of the fake enrollment list of students in many States. This has happened in the case of ration cards and also other lists that get subsidies from the government.

Zakaria has special abhorrence for the CAA legislation as evidenced in his quoting a tweet from another secularist Shashi Tharoor. On 15 December 2019 Zakaria tweeted: “India’s new citizenship law is just the latest evidence that under PM Narendra Modi, the country is departing from its founding principles as a secular, open democracy, says opposition MP @ShashiTharoor”. Is his profile analysis a reflection of this tweet? Can he prove that CAA legislation is anyway opposed to Indian Muslims, or is in any way taking away any rights of any community? It is a legislation that confers citizenship on original Indian subjects residing in neighbouring countries but are persecuted due to Islamic radicalisation.

Saying that the country is being pushed to Hindu nationalism is baffling? It sounds like an Indian Leftist or Islamist bewailing unity of people for national cause. There used to be a time when it was fashionable among secular analysts of Indian affairs to see Hindus in terms of caste divides and Muslims as one monolithic entity. Their phraseology and understanding stemmed from that. By that count 14 per cent Muslims would be bigger than any caste Hindu grouping. Even the Jatavs (SC caste) constitute only about 14 per cent. Hence some of the caste Hindus who have their own community practice would fall in the category of minorities.

When there is nothing to unite people here, they vote on caste lines or other issues of mass mobilisation. At times they have risen to speak as one despite differences. When people have dreams of a strong India through the vision of PM Modi, they have reasons to vote for the country. This explains why social divisions don’t come in the way of a new national polity. They all want India to play its role in the world.

India cannot be India if it is divested of its rich cultural heritage. For example, yoga, which the world has accepted as one of the best ways for wholesome health. Even followers of Islam follow their traditional roots. For anything rich is Islamic culture, people would look towards other countries that are Islamic and have a serious history to claim a unique place. For example, Saudi Arabia. Where 80 per cent of the population is Hindus, one cannot grudge if they feel glorified and have started taking pride in their cultural roots.

And one must know that it is the Hindu culture and not the police or state that guarantees the safety of minorities in this country. The culture that has allowed experiment and does not consider anything blasphemous—even sage Charvaka who advocated bohemian existence was considered a saint—has given shelter to world religions. While separatists are trying to inject virus of communalism, the second largest Muslim population of the world lives in India in perfect peace and harmony. One needs to be truly Indian to appreciate this and not ones who try to judge India from Western stereotypes. Modi rising has scripted an India rising story. Doomsayers would be proved wrong. PM Modi cannot be pigeonholed.

The writer is the convener of the Media Relations Department of the BJP and represents the party as a spokesperson on TV debates. He has authored the book ‘Narendra Modi: The Game Changer’. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

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CONGRESS GAMBLES ON SIDHU-CHANNI COMBINATION IN PUNJAB

Pankaj Vohra

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By naming Charanjit Singh Channi, a third time MLA from Chamkaur Saheb and a former minister as the first Dalit Chief Minister of Punjab, the Congress High Command has got into a damage control exercise following the dramatic resignation of Captain Amarinder Singh on Saturday. In fact, the central leadership arrived at the decision after examining the claims of several top leaders including Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Partap Singh Bajwa, Sunil Jakhar and also Navjot Singh Sidhu. Late last night, the High Command appeared to have made up its mind to send Ambika Soni as Amarinder’s successor after ascertaining that she was the only one who enjoyed the support of every faction in the party. The Captain is understood to have called her twice to express his support for her candidacy as did Sidhu subsequently. However, resisting temptation and holding on to her conviction, Ambika declined the offer and stated that only a Sikh should be the State’s Chief Minister. Taken aback by her polite no to the Central leadership, Rahul Gandhi apparently commented that she was perhaps the first leader in the party who had declined a powerful position.

Being the senior most politician from Punjab by virtue of being elected to the Rajya Sabha for the first time in 1976 during the tenure of Giani Zail Singh, the only non Jat CM since reorganization of the State, she decided to withdraw from the race of which she never was a part. She informed the Interim president, Sonia Gandhi that her conscience did not permit her to accept the coveted position which should go to a Sikh. Throughout Sunday, the Central party observers obtained the views of MLAs and gave their report to the High Command. Charanjit Singh Channi’s name cropped up and he was finally chosen to head the government which would also have two deputy CMs in Brahm Mohindra and Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa. Although, Channi was one of the four senior leaders (others being Tript Bajwa, Randhawa and Sidhu) from the state who started the uprising against the Captain, the former Chief Minister is unlikely to put up any resistance to his appointment.

Had Sidhu been named, Amarinder would have stepped out openly to oppose him tooth and nail. There are 32 percent Dalit votes in Punjab and the Congress decision has attempted to factor the Jat Sikh-Dalit combination to win the Assembly polls next year. The move is also to counter the Akali Dal tie up with the Bahujan Samaj Party. However, in the process, the day witnessed many squabbles amongst the Jat Sikhs, who seemed uncomfortable if anyone other than themselves was promoted. There were reports that Sidhu felt peeved and insecure if Randhawa, his close friend was promoted. The two faces of the party would now be Sidhu and Channi. The flip side of the Jat Sikhs being denied the position is that one of them or more can switch to AAP which desperately needs a face in Punjab. The Captain who had in the most uncharacteristic manner granted interviews to TV channels to hit out at Sidhu, seemed to have mellowed down on Sunday. Many of his detractors accused him of using the BJP political idiom to attack Sidhu and the Pradesh president’s strategic adviser, Mohammad Mustafa took to twitter to warn the Captain that his description of anti-national against Sidhu was uncalled for and he should desist from using such language since there would be retaliation. The BJP attempted to drag in the Gandhis by asking them as to why were they silent on Amarinder’s allegations.

A senior Congress leader said that it was below their dignity to respond to the BJP. With Amarinder declaring that he was keeping all his options open, there is speculation that he could float his own party. This appears unlikely at this juncture since the Captain spoke to Sonia multiple times since Saturday. His decision to quit seemed to have been taken on an impulse as undoubtedly, he continues to be a leader whose stature was above the rest. Senior leaders including Salman Khurshid, his friend is now trying to pacify him and the Congress general secretary, Harish Rawat has praised his tenure as the CM in order to placate him. Punjab politics may see many more developments in the next few months.

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India urgently needs a thorough Himalayan policy

The time for philosophy and romanticism is over; the Chinese have built more than 600 villages near India’s borders. Something needs to be done, and done now.

Claude Arpi

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Since a few years, the authorities in Tibet have started implementing Xi Jinping’s theory: “To govern the nation, govern the borders; to govern the borders, strengthen the development of border regions.”

The formula can be found in every speech of the local satraps posted in Tibet; they repeat parrot-like that the inhabitants of China’s borders (with India) should be “the protectors of the sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes.”

The slogan has taken a concrete shape with the building of 604 ‘model’ villages on the Tibetan side of the Indian border, mainly north of Arunachal Pradesh, but also in Himachal and Ladakh. Officially, the scheme is linked with ‘poverty alleviation’ and the ‘defence of the borders’.

In the meanwhile, on the Indian side, the border villages are quickly getting empty.

According to a RTI, more than 5 lakh people have migrated from Uttarakhand in the last 10 years. It is said that more than one lakh has permanently migrated out of their villages (not to return), while 3,83,726 people, who have left in search of work and a better life, keep visiting their native places. The RTI also mentions 3,946 villages from where people have ‘permanently’ left land and home; these villages are being termed ‘ghost villages’.

Arunachal Pradesh is facing a similar situation.

Following a meeting of several legislators in Itanagar, an Indo-China Border Development Legislators Forum of Arunachal Pradesh (ICBDLFAP) has recently been constituted to formulate plans and strategies to curb the migration of people from the border villages to urban areas.

India.com reported that MLAs representing constituencies along the India-China border have started this forum to prevent the exodus of border residents by speeding up the development of the 1,080 km frontier with China.

State Assembly Speaker PD Sona, who represents the Mechuka assembly constituency, observed: “The villagers along the international borders are still lacking basic amenities due to which they migrate to urban areas in search of better life and livelihoods.”

The Forum suggested modifying the guidelines of the existing Border Areas Development Plan: “The inhabitants of the border villages are considered India’s first line of defence. They have never failed in reporting transgressions by the Chinese troops. …Basically the border areas remained backward owing to topographical factors and inaccessibility.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately) India is not China, where a word from the Emperor suffices to put a scheme on rail; India nevertheless badly needs a Himalaya Policy, based on a close collaboration between the Center and the States bordering China.

Twelve years ago, on October 30, 2009, the Himachal Pradesh Government organized the first ever Himalayan Chief Ministers Conclave on ‘’Indian Himalaya: Glaciers, Climate Change & Livelihoods’’ in Simla.

The main objective was to discuss the issues of environment degradation, climate change and its impact on the livelihood of local inhabitants of Himalayan region.

The Chief Ministers’ Conclave, attended amongst others by Jairam Ramesh, the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, the Chief Ministers of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and representatives of other Himalayan States, took place and a ‘Simla Declaration’ was agreed upon.

Unfortunately, ‘migration’ was not specifically mentioned and in any case, there was no follow up; this is happening all too often in India.

In Spring 2022, a national workshop is to be organized by NITI Aayog on the development of the Indian Himalayan region; it has been announced: “Central Ministries, State Government agencies, research institutions, NGOs, and other stakeholders will be part of the workshop. It will provide a national platform for sharing best practices on the science, governance, and field-work aspects of spring revival. The workshop will conclude with a roundtable discussion on the way ahead.”

Once again something more holistic and radical is required, because in most of these cases, the security issues so crucial today, are omitted, like it was decades ago, when Verrier Elwin’s romantic ‘Philosophy of NEFA’, became the Gospel for those dealing the borders. It resulted in a War with China.

The times for philosophy and romanticism are over; the Chinese have built more than 600 villages at India’s doors. Something needs to be done, and done now.

What is today required is a coordinated policy between the different stakeholders, including the defence forces.

A Department of Himalayan Affairs (DHA) needs to be created.

In view of the individualistic tendencies of the Indian bureaucracy, coordination will be a crucial element; it will need to be manned with (or in coordination with) officers of the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence, Education, Home, Culture, Environment as well as officers of the Indian Army, other border defense forces and intelligence agencies.

Without proper coordination, it will be just one more futile policy.

The DHA should work under the Prime Minister’s Office because if a ‘coordinator’ were to work under one of the above agencies only, he/she will not be in a position to coordinate and implement the holistic Government policy. A DHA should be headed by a Secretary, preferably with an Army/Security background.

In the 1950s and 1960s, an officer category called SOFA (Special Officer of Frontiers Affairs) existed; the scope of the SOFA’s responsibilities was limited due to the fact it was functioning under the MEA only; it was however manned by (excellent) officers, who were professionally looking after border areas.

It needs not being replicated as the situation has changed, though the DHA would have to keep in mind the welfare and the customs of the local population; this would include measures to stop the migration of the local populations towards the big cities; the building of infrastructure, the relations between the defence forces and the local population, the border trade and eventually trans-border pilgrimages.

The DHA could be supported by an Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS). In the 1950s, IFAS officers did a great job on India’s northern borders and in Tibet; most of them had sacrificed their careers to join the Service; all were remarkable personalities. Even though the cadre does not exist anymore, their lives should be role models for young officers posted on the borders. Detailed studies should be undertaken about the fascinating achievements of those daring IFAS officers; a similar Service needs to be recreated for the welfare of the Himalayan population and a sound strategic development of India’s Northern borders.

The DHA will also have the responsibility to write the History of the Indian Borders, this will be important to lay the foundation of a solid long-term policy for the Himalaya.

Finally, let us not deny that the Chinese President has a valid point: “to govern a nation, it is necessary to govern the borders…”

The Government will have to be bold to bypass the babus, but it is the pressing need of the hour; China is often moving its pawns faster; but with the right moves, Delhi could win a great Himalayan battle, and show Xi Jinping the advantages of democracy over totalitarianism.

The writer is a noted author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.

A Department of Himalayan Affairs needs to be created.In view of the individualistic tendencies of the Indian bureaucracy, coordination will be a crucial element; it will need to be manned with (or in coordination with) officers of the Ministries of External Affairs, Defence, Education, Home, Culture, Environment as well as officers of the Indian Army, other border defence forces and intelligence agencies.Without proper coordination, it will be just one more futile policy.

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STIC TRAVELS APPROACHES GOLDEN JUBILEE WITH UNPRECEDENTED RECORD

Pankaj Vohra

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It was precisely 48 years ago, when former Delhi University Students’ Union president Subhash Goel launched his own travel agency, STIC, which at that time meant Students’ Travel Information Centre. His aim was, and is even now, to help students get international tickets at discounted prices to enable them to undertake trips abroad. No wonder that STIC, which is the General Sales Agent for 10 international carriers including United Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines, has a track record that is unmatched by any of its rivals. STIC has over 25,000 vendors, among them a large number of registered IATA recognised travel agents, who buy their tickets through this agency which started from the Theatre Communication Building in Connaught Place, the site where Palika Bazar is located at present.

Goel had withdrawn himself from his family business and launched his enterprise with just a table and a chair at the building complex. During the Emergency, it was decided by the government to demolish both the Indian Coffee House and the Theatre Communication Building to make way for an air-conditioned underground market. The Coffee House was the meeting place for all intellectuals, most of whom did not endorse the political views of the then government. The consequence of the decision was that Goel who was the DUSU president in 1966 was left with no place to operate from. He did not lose hope and started selling tickets from an old Ambassador car, he owned and which was parked nearby at a parking lot. Shortly after that, he took up a counter at the Yorks Hotel and continued with his business. The inspiration for the travel agency had come when he had to travel abroad for a conference but had no money to buy the ticket. The then DU Vice Chancellor, Dr C.D.Deshmukh offered to pay for his trip but accepting the ticket from the authorities would have hurt his anti-establishment image. A friend in Mercury Travels told him that if he could get 15 persons to buy the tickets, he would get one ticket free. This he did in no time and discovered that the travel business was indeed money making. With some help from Dr Karan Singh, the then Union Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister and Rangarajan Kumaramanglam, the first NSUI president, whose father was also a Union Minister, Goel embarked on a new journey. It was a voyage of struggles and both he and his wife, embraced the challenge and worked tirelessly towards their targets.

Air Lanka was the first GSA milestone and subsequently, both Air Nippon and Virgin Atlantic were also introduced to the Indian traveler by STIC. Goel recognized that students would always be attracted towards his venture since in the past, another entrepreneur, also a Delhi University student, Inder Sharma had successfully started SITA travels. SITA was inspired by a US company, which stood for Students Information Travel Agency. Goel expanded his business by first acquiring an office at the Imperial Hotel, and later in the Chandralok Building on Janpath. Subsequently, his agency functioned from multiple locations, with the Headquarters in `G’ Block of Connaught Place. Goel has the distinction of being the youngest DUSU president and has his both daughters as his partners in his venture, which represented his undying spirit and deep resolve. STIC is a landmark of Delhi and its success story also demonstrates how a successful DUSU president became a successful entrepreneur as well.

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PM Modi: The visionary and innovator

Sanju Verma

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Prime Minister Narendra Narendra Modi has clearly been the most popular and powerful leader in independent India because he has always been his own person, never allowing others to define who he is, which eventually is the true hallmark of great leaders. 

SOCIO-POLITICAL MEASURES

On the socio-political front, clearly, the historic step of abrogating Article 370 which came into effect in 1950 and Article 35-A, which came into effect in 1954, figure high on the list of achievements. However,after Kashmir’s special status gone, vide a Presidential order and a historic decision on the floor of the Parliament on August 5,2019,people from anywhere in India can now buy the property and permanently settle in the State.With revocation of Article 370,the ball was set rolling for the return of Kashmiri Pandits who were forced to flee their homes in 1990,in one of the most horrific genocides in 1990.

WOMEN EMPOWERMENT

From banning instant triple talaq and making it a criminal offence,defining the nation’s first menstrual hygiene protocol, amending the Medical Termination Pregnancy Act of 1971,giving women reproductive rights over their bodies and increasing the foetal gestation period from 20 to 24 weeks, welcoming more women recruits in the NCC,to banning commercial surrogacy, women empowerment had been the cornerstone of Modi’s policy making. 

FOREIGN POLICY HEFT

Again,significant headway has been made on the foreign policy front. For instance, while the Quad was initiated in 2007, it was only on March 12, 2021 that the first, serious leader level Quad summit was held to thwart Chinese policy of expansionism and aggression that neither India nor like-minded nations have taken kindly to. One of the other big achievements of the Modi government was, forcing China to undertake a syncronized and organised disengagement, starting February 2021, post the Galwan stand-off. While under an incompetent Nehru, India was forced to cede 38,000 square kilometre of Aksai Chin, under Modi, India forced China to disengage, without ceding an inch of territory. Be it the surgical strike in 2016 or the Balakot strike in 2019, or for that matter the Galwan disengagement, strongman Narendra Modi’s foreign policy has always been driven by the “India First” approach. 

THE UNSTOPPABLE MODI FACTOR

The moot question then is, what about the “Modi Factor”? The charisma and connect with the electorate, popularity and indomitable capacity for relentless hard work are factors that make Prime Minister Narendra Modi a leader who is in a league of his own. To even try and create a false equivalence between the indefatigable Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee, a fascist,rabble rouser, limited to Bengal, is doing a great disservice to even the basic understanding of Indian polity. On May 28,2021, Mamata Banerjee kept the Prime Minister and Governor of Bengal waiting and what is worse, stormed out of a review meeting to discuss the impact of the recent cyclone, without bothering to make a presentation. Time and again, Mamata Banerjee has shown why she is a callous, deplorable leader, unfit for any national role in Indian politics and why TMC, the party she heads, is a certified party of goons and vandals.

A FAILED CONGRESS

Modi’s meteoric rise has led to the Congress Party’s rapid fall into oblivion, changing India’s political landscape irrevocably. The Congress has ceased to matter, after a string of debilitating defeats, with compulsive liar, Rahul Gandhi turning into a vacuous paper tiger on Twitter, whom no one takes seriously. The Left, barring in Kerala, has been wiped out. Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav never had any national stature to start with and both these Parties were almost reduced to nothingness in the Uttar Pradesh (UP) assembly polls in 2017,with SP winning only 47 seats compared to the massive 312 that the BJP won. Even in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls,while the BJP secured 62 seats from UP,Congress was reduced to 1 seat, Samajwadi Party, merely 5 seats and Mayawati’s BSP,to 10 seats.

The “Khan Market Gang”, has tried to resurrect the political fortunes of many failed regional satraps in a bid to checkmate the Modi aura, but these efforts repeatedly came to nought. Winning Bihar in 2020, despite a 15 year anti-incumbency, winning Assam for the second time in a row in 2021, with a thumping majority, raising BJP’s tally by 2467% from 3 to 77 seats in Bengal, forming the government in Puducherry, winning 483 of the 576 seats in local body polls in Gujarat with a 84% strike rate, raising tally in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls by 400% from 4 to 48 seats, winning the erstwhile, impregnable bastions like Dubbaka in Telangana and Pandharpur in Maharashtra, are a reflection of PM Modi’s unmatched, winnability quotient.

FARM REFORMS

On the economic front, the Modi government passed the historic Farm laws in September 2020, to empower India’s farm community. These laws had been pending for fourteen long years since 2006, based on recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and National Commission of Farmers. It needs to be mentioned here that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agrarian reforms have been sweeping, far reaching and inclusive. Over 6 crore farmers are taking benefit of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) paying a meagre premium of just between 1.5-2.5%.

What has the Modi government done for uplifting the well being of India›s farm community? The Modi government has been transferring cash directly to farmers, as is evident from the Rs 6000 per year that is paid to over 10 crore farmers, under the PM Kisan scheme. Over Rs 1.54 lakh crore has been paid via PM-KISAN, since its inception, in December 2018. From just 255 million tonnes in 2012-13,under an inept Congress regime,to 297.5 million tonnes in 2019-20 and 305.43 million tonnes in 2020-21, is a vindication of how India›s self sufficiency, with exportable surplus in the foodgrain space, has added to India›s economic heft. Besides agriculture, a bright spot has been the foreign portfolio investments (FPI) amidst the pandemic, with December 2020 recording the single highest-ever monthly inflow from FPIs at Rs 62,016 crore, surpassing the previous high of Rs 60,358 crore recorded in November 2020. The year 2020 also recorded the highest ever yearly net inflow of FPIs into equities, at over Rs 1.70 lakh crore. Do note that the huge surge of FDI inflow of $82 billion in FY21,is a vote of confidence from global investors, in the Modi government›s structural reforms. India›s forex reserves at over $642 billion,is a new high too.

LABOUR REFORMS

The new Labour Code seeks to transform India and rid it of outdated technologies and methodologies. The reduction in compliance burden would also facilitate expansion of establishments, helping to create jobs on a large-scale across a plethora of segments and sectors.

AATMANIRBHAR BHARAT

The Modi government announced a stimulus of Rs 2.65 lakh crore under Aatmanirbhar Bharat 3.0, taking the total stimulus since the onset of Covid, to Rs 29.88 lakh crore, which was akin to almost a massive 15% of GDP. The government’s contribution to the stimulus was 9%, with the remaining 6% came from the RBI. It is true that the Rs 1.97  lakh crore expenditure in the form of production-linked incentives (PLIs) to 13 new sectors will be over five years. That said, there is no denying the fact that Aatmanirbhar Bharat 3.0 will have a multiplier impact on consumption, especially across stressed sectors, accelerate economic recovery and incentivise job creation through a virtuous cycle. Despite Covid-19 second wave, most global rating agencies and the IMF are predicting between a 9.3% and 11.5% GDP growth for India in FY22, amongst the highest worldwide. No other leader could have, or would have done what Narendra Modi did, in terms of unleashing some of the most historic reforms, during the pandemic, to shape a new India, better equipped to deal with a post Covid-19 global order.

GARIB KALYAN

The Rs 1.93 lakh crore allocated for the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP), Rs 11.03 lakh crore allocated towards the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan 1.0, Rs 82,911 crore for the PMGKP Anna Yojana (which was extended till November 2020) and Rs 12.71 lakh crore infused via RBI measures, announced till 31 October 2020, not only injected liquidity into money markets, but also increased purchasing power via direct benefit transfer (DBT), improved cash flows by recalibrating EMIs and provided access to cheap credit for MSMEs, migrants and farmers. 

INFRASTRUCTURE

National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) plans to spend Rs 110 lakh crore on nearly 7,000 projects across sectors such as transport, communications, urban development, energy and water. The plan is a grand vision involving private and state-run players and many believe it is too ambitious in its scope.According to data, these projects include the Rs 3.66 lakh crore Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, the Rs 1.08 lakh crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail corridor and the Rs 1.09-lakh crore North South Dedicated Freight Corridor,amongst others.

MEGA COVID VACCINATION DRIVE

Every sixth person in the world is an Indian. Also, India has a high population density of 455 persons per square kilometre. In the given circumstances, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to vaccinate everyone from 18 years onward is not only an extraordinarily bold move, but completely do-able too. In an unprecedented display of political will power and conviction,the Modi government,till date,has administered over 77 crore (770 million) doses,with over 57.86 crore people,given the first dose.

India’s daily positivity and weekly positivity rates at less than 3%.The active caseload too,is less than 2%,while the recovery rate is almost 98%.In August 2021 alone,India administered over 18.35 crore doses,with a daily average run rate of 59.19 lakh vaccines.Till 16th September 2021, over 11.16 crore doses were given, with a daily average run rate of roughly 74.4 lakh vaccines, which is excellent by any yardstick. What is however,gigantic,is the fact that over 2 crore,as in 20 million doses were administered on a single day on 17th September 2021, equal to the population of four New Zealand’s put together. To put it in lay man’s terms, of late, India has been on an average, vaccinating more people daily than the average number of people vaccinated in 18 major nations globally on a daily basis. 

VARANASI MODEL AND HEALTH INFRASTRUCTURE

Clearly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has done a phenomenal job, with the Command and Control (CAC),Varanasi model, being a huge success story. While India’s electorally puny opposition has done absolutely nothing apart from blaming the PM, it is the Modi government which has done all the heavy lifting. The Congress ruled India for sixty years and could not even provide 47,000 ventilators. In just 14 months, the Modi government provided 60,000 ventilators to States. Despite ruling for 10 years between 2004-2014, the Congress under Manmohan Singh could set up only one AIIMS. In sharp contrast, in just the last 7 years, the Modi government has set up 15 AIIMS and the number of medical seats too has gone up by 70%, from 52,000 in 2014 to 88,250 now. Hence the Congress and its paid brigade of jaded acolytes, journalists and “Durbaaris”, have no political or moral authority whatsoever to wax eloquent about India’s health infrastructure. While the Nehru-Gandhi parivaar and their family retainers left India’s healthcare in a shambolic state, it is PM Modi who has been steadfastly putting the system back on track with almost 3 lakh crore dedicated to health spending in 2021-22, alone.

MAKE IN INDIA

Speaking of vaccines, Bharat Biotech’s homegrown Covaxin,made alongwith ICMR,is a tribute to India’s stellar Make in India, initiative. The telecom reforms and setting up of a Bad Bank,that were announced in the last 48 hours,will further propel India’s corporate sector and unleash animal spirits,by eradicating the NPA mess, left behind by successive Congress regimes, much before the Modi government assumed charge, in 2014.

Speaking of the virus, while Rahul Gandhi did nothing for the people of his constituency in Wayanad, besides trolling the Modi government on Twitter and Sonia Gandhi did zilch for the people of Rae Bareli, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has been toiling hard 24/7 to ensure India’s war against Covid is taken to its logical conclusion. While the Modi model has been powering ahead, the Kerala model has failed miserably, with over 73% of India’s daily new Covid cases coming from Kerala alone.

The good news for Indians and India lovers is the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi ran the world›s biggest food security program amidst a full fledged lockdown in 2020, where-in every month,for 9 months in a row, 810 million people,including daily wage earners and migrant workers, were given free food grains.Basically,every month,for 9 months at a stretch,India fed a population that was almost 2.5 times,the size of the US in 2020 and likewise,the scheme is underway in 2021 too.

In 2021,in yet another ambitious turn of events,India is in the midst of the largest and most ambitious vaccination drive ever in mankind. Given his past track record of seamlessly translating vision into reality, PM Modi is set to deliver yet again! Don›t forget, India is a massive country with a population that is equal to the population of 196 countries. Solely due to the indefatigable conviction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite being a country that is widely spread out geographically, India has in the shortest time span vaccinated over 61% of its adult population with atleast one dose, despite the opposition promoting «vaccine hesitancy». Also, overall, more than 54 crore Coivid tests have already been conducted, keeping in sync with the larger goal of testing,tracking and treatment.

CONCLUSION

In the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, there is a quote which goes: “Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones that we miss.” Well, the last two years of the Modi government have been extraordinary, for the sheer number of opportunities that were seized to create new milestones. “When the world is in crisis, we must pledge—a pledge which is bigger than the crisis itself. We must strive to make the 21st century India’s century. And the path to do that is self-reliance”—this powerful quote by Prime Minister Narendra Modi sums up the ethos of his vibrant political philosophy in more ways than one.

The writer is an economist, national spokesperson of the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. Views expressed are her personal.

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