How India can reclaim leverage over the Tibet issue

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Brahma Chellaney, Mint, November 12, 2014

Despite booming two-way trade, India-China strategic discord and rivalry is sharpening. At the core of their divide is Tibet, an issue that fuels territorial disputes, border tensions and water feuds.

Beijing says Tibet is a core issue for China. In truth, Tibet is the core issue in Beijing’s relations with countries like India, Nepal and Bhutan that traditionally did not have a common border with China. These countries became China’s neighbours after it annexed Tibet, which, after waves of genocide since the 1950s, now faces ecocide.

China itself highlights Tibet as the core issue with India by laying claim to Indian territories on the basis of purported Tibetan religious or tutelary links, rather than any professed Han Chinese connection. Indeed, ever since China gobbled up the historical buffer with India, Tibet has remained the core issue.

The latest reminder of this reality came when President Xi Jinping brought Chinese incursions across the Indo-Tibetan border on his recent India visit. Put off by the intrusions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government permitted Tibetan exiles to stage protests during Xi’s New Delhi stay, reversing a pattern since the early 1990s of such protests being foiled by police during the visit of any Chinese leader.

imagesHowever, India oddly bungled on Tibet and Sikkim during Xi’s visit — diplomatic goof-ups that escaped media attention.

In response to China’s increasing belligerence — reflected in a rising number of Chinese border incursions and Beijing’s new assertiveness on Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) — India since 2010 stopped making any reference to Tibet being part of China in a joint statement with China. It has also linked any endorsement of “one China” to a reciprocal Chinese commitment to a “one India.”

Yet the Modi-Xi joint statement brought in Tibet via the backdoor, with India appreciating the help extended by the “local government of Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China” to Indian pilgrims visiting Tibet’s Kailash-Mansarover, a mountain-and-lake duo sacred to four faiths: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Tibet’s indigenous religion, Bon. Several major rivers, including the Indus, the Brahmaputra, the Sutlej and the Karnali, originate around this holy duo.

The statement’s reference to the “Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China” was out of place. It lent implicit Indian support to Tibet being part of China by gratuitously changing the formulation recorded during Premier Li Keqiang’s 2013 visit, when the joint statement stated: “The Indian side conveyed appreciation to the Chinese side for the improvement of facilities for the Indian pilgrims.” Did those in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) who helped draft the statement apprise the political decision-makers of the implications of the new, China-inserted formulation?

After all, the new wording ran counter to India’s position since 2010 — a stance that came with the promise of repairing the damage from India’s past blunders over Tibet, including by Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi. Nehru, in the 1954 Panchsheel pact, ceded India’s British-inherited extraterritorial rights in Tibet and implicitly accepted the sprawling region’s annexation without any quid pro quo. Under the terms of this accord, India withdrew its “military escorts” from Tibet, and handed over to China the postal, telegraph and telephone services it operated there.

But in 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee went further than any predecessor and formally surrendered India’s Tibet card. In a statement he signed with the Chinese premier, Vajpayee used the legal term “recognize” to accept what China deceptively calls the Tibet Autonomous Region as “part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China.”

Vajpayee’s blunder opened the way for China to claim Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet,” a term it coined in 2006 to legitimize its attempt at rolling annexation. Had Vajpayee not caved in, China would not been emboldened to ingeniously invent the term “South Tibet” for Arunachal, which is three times the size of Taiwan and twice as large as Switzerland. And since 2010, Beijing has also questioned India’s sovereignty over J&K, one-fifth of which is under Chinese occupation.

In this light, the reference to China’s Tibet region in the Modi-Xi joint statement granted Beijing via the backdoor what India has refused to grant upfront since 2010. This sleight of hand implicitly endorsed Tibet as being part of China without Xi committing to a “one India” policy.

Now consider India’s second mistake — falling for China’s proposal for establishing an alternative route for Indian pilgrims via Sikkim, a state that strategically faces India’s highly vulnerable “chicken’s neck” and where Beijing is working to insidiously build influence.

Ironically, it is by agreeing to open a circuitous alternative route for pilgrims via Sikkim’s Nathula crossing that Beijing extracted the appreciation from India to China’s Tibet government. Given that Kailash-Mansarovar is located close to the Uttarakhand-Nepal-Tibet tri-junction, the new route entails a long, arduous detour — pilgrims must first cross eastern Himalayas and then head toward western Himalayas through a frigid, high-altitude terrain.

Unsurprisingly, the meandering route has kicked up controversy, with the Uttarakhand chief minister also injecting religion to contend that scriptures “recognize only the traditional paths for pilgrimage passing through Uttarakhand.” China currently permits entry of a very small number of Indian pilgrims through just one point — Uttarakhand’s Lipulekh Pass. The Indian foreign ministry, which organizes the Kailash-Mansarovar visits, is to take a maximum of 1,080 pilgrims in batches this year, with no more than 60 travellers in each lot.

One obvious reason China chose the roundabout route via Sikkim is that the only section of the Indo-Tibetan border it does not dispute is the Sikkim-Tibet frontier, except for the tiny Finger Area there. Beijing recognizes the 1890 Anglo-Sikkim Convention, which demarcated the 206-kilometre Sikkim-Tibet frontier, yet paradoxically rejects as a colonial relic Tibet’s 1914 McMahon Line with India, though not with Myanmar.

tibet_china_rail_map_600_20060828The more important reason is that China is seeking to advance its strategic interests in the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction, which overlooks the narrow neck of land that connects India’s northeast with the rest of the country. Should the chicken’s neck ever be blocked, the northeast would be cut off from the Indian mainland. In the event of a war, China could seek to do just that.

Two developments underscore its strategic designs. China is offering Bhutan a territorial settlement in which it would cede most of its other claims in return for being given the strategic area that directly overlooks India’s chokepoint. At the same time, Beijing is working systematically to shape a Sino-friendly Kagyu sect, which controls important Indian monasteries along the Tibetan border and is headed by the China-anointed but now India-based Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley.

The Indian government has barred Ogyen Trinley — who raised suspicion in 1999 by escaping from Tibet with astonishing ease — from visiting the sect’s headquarters at Rumtek, Sikkim.

Yet — redounding poorly on Indian intelligence — the Mandarin-speaking Ogyen Trinley has been regularly receiving envoys sent by Beijing. In recent years, he has met Han religious figures as well as Xiao Wunan, the effective head of the Asia-Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation. This dubious foundation, created to project China’s soft power, has unveiled plans with questionable motives to invest $3 billion at Lord Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal — Lumbini, located virtually on the open border with India.

Ogyen Trinley — the first Tibetan lama living in exile to include Han Buddhist rituals in traditional Tibetan practices — was recently accused by the head of the Drukpa sect in India of aiding Beijing’s frontier designs by using his money power to take over Drukpa Himalayan monasteries, including in the Kailash-Mansarovar area. Indeed, Himachal Pradesh police in 2011 seized large sums of Chinese currency from the Karmapa’s office.

Since coming up to power, Modi has pursued a nimble foreign policy. His government, hopefully, can learn from its dual mistakes. With China now challenging Indian interests even in the Indian Ocean region, it has become imperative for India to find ways to blunt Chinese trans-Himalayan pressures.

One key challenge Modi faces is how to build leverage against China, which largely sets the bilateral agenda, yet savours a galloping, $36-plus billion trade surplus with India. Modi’s “Make in India” mission cannot gain traction as long as Chinese dumping of goods undercuts Indian manufacturing.

Also, past blunders on Tibet by leaders from Nehru to Vajpayee have helped narrow the focus of Himalayan disputes to what China claims. The spotlight now is on China’s Tibet-linked claim to Arunachal, rather than on Tibet’s status itself.

To correct that, Modi must find ways to add elasticity and nuance to India’s Tibet stance.

One way for India to gradually reclaim its leverage over the Tibet issue is to start emphasizing that its acceptance of China’s claim over Tibet hinged on a grant of genuine autonomy to that region. But instead of granting autonomy, China has make Tibet autonomous in name only, bringing the region under its tight political control and unleashing increasing repression.

India must not shy away from urging China to begin a process of reconciliation and healing in Tibet in its own interest and in the interest of stable Sino-Indian relations. China’s hydro-engineering projects are another reminder that Tibet is at the heart of the India-China divide and why India must regain leverage over the Tibet issue.

That a settlement of the Tibet issue is imperative for regional stability and for improved Sino-Indian relations should become India’s consistent diplomatic refrain. India must also call on Beijing to help build harmonious bilateral relations by renouncing its claims to Indian-administered territories.

Through such calls, and by using expressions like the “Indo-Tibetan border” and by identifying the plateau to the north of its Himalayas as Tibet (not China) in its official maps, India can subtly reopen Tibet as an outstanding issue, without having to formally renounce any of its previously stated positions.

Tibet ceased to be a political buffer when China occupied it in 1950-51. But Tibet can still turn into a political bridge between China and India. For that to happen, China must start a process of political reconciliation in Tibet, repudiate claims to Indian territories on the basis of their alleged Tibetan links, and turn water into a source of cooperation, not conflict.

(c) Mint, 2014.

Friendly backer of jihadists

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Seeking to undercut Russia’s petro-economy, Obama is bolstering the petroleum clout of the jihad-bankrolling Qatar and Saudi Arabia while turning a blind eye to Qatar’s jihadist rampages in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond. 

BY BRAHMA CHELLANEYThe Japan Times

p7-Chellaney-a-20141104-870x627Tiny Qatar, the world’s richest country in per capita terms, has leveraged its natural-gas wealth to emerge as a leading backer of Islamist causes, paralleling the role that the much-larger, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has long played to promote militant groups in countries stretching from the Maghreb and the Sahel to Southeast Asia. Qatar’s clout comes from the fact that it is the world’s largest supplier of liquefied natural gas and boasts one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds.

Located on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar has propped up violent jihadists in other lands. It has contributed, among others, to the rise of the terrorist Islamic State group and to Libya’s descent into a lawless playground for Islamist militias.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia’s sclerotic leadership, Qatar’s 34-year-old emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, is the youngest head of state in the Arab world. In fact, Qatar, which controls the Al Jazeera television network, seeks to present itself as a “progressive” oasis in the Persian Gulf — a nation that aspires to be “modern” in a way that few other Arab monarchies do, with the exception of Dubai.

Still, as a global funder of jihadists and a key negotiator for release of Western hostages held by Islamists it supports, Qatar has repeatedly bared its dual leverage, including by helping to free a number of Western hostages.

It brokered U.S.-backed peace talks between Israel and Hamas, helped to free U.S. journalist Peter Theo Curtis from the Qatari-aided Jabhat Al Nusra terrorist group in Syria in August, and played a role in the earlier American swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Guantánamo Bay detainees from Afghanistan. The five, all prominent Taliban figures, now reside in Qatar as guests of its government under a deal with Washington.

Qatar has underscored its usefulness for U.S. policy in other ways too, including hosting a huge U.S. air facility (which it built at a cost of more than a billion dollars), agreeing in July to buy $11 billion worth of U.S. arms, and facilitating U.S. secret talks with the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban. Indeed, with U.S. support, it allowed the Afghan Taliban to open a de facto diplomatic mission in Doha, the Qatari capital.

The U.S. today directs its air war in Syria and Iraq from the Qatar-based Al Udeid Air Base, home to 8,000 American military personnel and 120 aircraft, including supertankers for in-flight refueling of fighters. Another sprawling facility in Qatar, Camp As-Saliyeh, serves as the U.S. Central Command’s forward headquarters. Qatar charges no rent for either facility.

Qatar’s critical importance for U.S. policy has deterred the Obama administrating from leaning too heavily on it to halt its support for violent jihadists. Qatar indeed has sought to augment its influence by funding some prominent American think-tanks, including the Brookings Institution, of which it is the single biggest foreign donor.

Qatar’s clout allows it to run with the foxes while hunt with the hounds. Like another U.S. ally, Pakistan, Qatar panders to America’s demands while working simultaneously to undercut U.S. interests. Some of America’s Arab allies indeed have been warning that Qatar is playing a double game — claiming to back U.S. policies while sponsoring dangerous extremists. Even as it bankrolls global jihad, Qatar participates in the U.S. air war in Syria — but not in the bombing campaign, limiting its role to surveillance flights.

Qatar is the world’s third largest holder of natural-gas reserves, nearly all of them located in one vast field — the North Field, widely considered to be the largest single gas reservoir in the world. The geographically concentrated reserves makes it is easy and cheap to extract gas. By contrast, Russia has nearly twice as much gas reserves as Qatar but located in hundreds of different places.

Seeking to undercut Russia’s gas-and-oil exports as part of its new sanctions drive against President Vladimir Putin’s government, the U.S. is aiding the petroleum clout of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This role further crimps Washington’s ability to prevent funds and arms from flowing to violent Islamists.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia generously supplied weapons and funds to violent Sunni extremists in Syria, opening the door for the Islamic State to emerge as a Frankenstein’s monster. The two monarchies, however, have supported opposing proxies in other places, including Egypt, Libya, Gaza and Mali, leading to a rift in the Gulf Cooperation Council, the grouping of the cloistered, petroleum-rich sheikhdoms.

The Qatari government has aided the Afghan Taliban, Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, Hamas in Gaza, and Muslim Brotherhood movements across the Middle East and North Africa. Additionally, wealthy Qataris have served as private fund-raisers for a spectrum of violent Islamist groups, with U.S. Treasury officials singling out Qatar and Kuwait as “permissive jurisdictions” for terrorist fund-raising.

Yet the Obama administration has remained unwilling to confront Qatar directly. Even as the U.S. wages war on the Islamic State, it has enforced no sanctions against those that helped create this monster. Indeed, there is conspicuous U.S. silence over who aided the Islamic State’s rise, lest unpalatable truths be uncovered.

Today, as a result of sharpening geopolitical competition between Arab monarchies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are arrayed on opposite sides. While Saudi Arabia backs strongman regimes in Islamic states, Qatar supports grassroots Islamist groups. The rival top-down and bottom-up approaches, however, cannot obscure the role of both camps in instilling a jihad culture in other states.

In continuing to back Muslim Brotherhood-style movements — which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates view as a dangerous threat to the region and to their own security — Qatar has not been deterred by its strategic vulnerability: the Saudi military could snap it up in short order.

Qatar has sought to mitigate that vulnerability in two ways — by hosting major U.S. air and ground facilities, which control access routes to Qatar; and by trying to punch far above its weight internationally.

In the Sunni world, Qatar does not have the same religious-political maneuverability as Saudi Arabia, home to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. But Qatar is buying influence by other means, including funding grassroots militant movements and hosting major international events, including the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

In fact, Qatar believes its investment in Islamist causes puts it on the side that is bound to eventually win. It sees grassroots Islamism as representing the political aspirations of the majority, and has teamed up with the pro-Islamist government in Turkey to empower political Islam. In Syria, Mali, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Gaza, and elsewhere, Qatar has played an overtly militant role.

Qatar’s jihadist agenda is clearly spawning more dangerous Islamists and rearing forces of destabilization and terror.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist.

© The Japan Times, 2014.

A broken international system?

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Pakistan’s internal dynamics strain subcontinental peace

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Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times, October 18, 2014

terrorist-pakIndia is a confident and vibrant nation, while Pakistan — created in 194 — remains a country that is adrift and still searching for a national identity. So, the India-Pakistan “peace process” has produced a lot of process over the decades but no peace.

In fact, every time a Pakistani leader moves to build better ties with India, the step is undermined by Pakistan’s politically strong military masterminding a serious cross-border attack or terrorist strike. In recent months, the Pakistani military establishment — which includes the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — has actively sought to undercut Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and derail any prospect of a rapprochement with India.

It is not an accident that this month’s border tensions and artillery duels have followed a power struggle in Pakistan that culminated with Sharif’s wings being clipped and the military reasserting authority in foreign policy.

Sharif has emerged as a diminished figure and the main loser from a crisis triggered by street protests that were tacitly backed by the army and the ISI, the rogue agency that has been accused of seeking to pull down the elected government and of orchestrating the abortive assassination of a senior journalist, Hamid Mir.

The military has allowed Sharif to stay on in power, at least for the time being, but only after politically castrating him. With the military back in the driving seat without staging an overt coup, Pakistan’s democratic transition has again been disrupted.

Such has been Sharif’s weakening that he had little say in last month’s appointment of the new ISI chief, even though the spy agency, theoretically, answers to the prime minister. Indeed, it was the military that announced Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar’s appointment as ISI chief, as if to highlight the true line of authority in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s internal dynamics have a direct bearing on its relations with India.

Sharif and India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, come from the political right and enjoy parliamentary majority. Both are business-oriented and eager to revive flagging economic growth at home. Yet the expectations aroused by Sharif’s presence at Modi’s inauguration five months ago proved false because they failed to factor in the role of a powerful, meddling third party — the Pakistani military, which holds virtual veto power over any fundamental change to the India-Pakistan dynamic.

This party is simply not ready to allow better bilateral relations because peaceful cooperation with India will undermine its extraordinary power and privilege in Pakistan.

Indeed, it was during Sharif’s previous term in office that a major Indian peace initiative — as symbolized by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s 1999 bus diplomacy — collapsed spectacularly, with the bus itself getting hijacked allegorically. A war flared over the Pakistani military’s surreptitious encroachment into Indian Ladakh’s Kargil region.

This has served as a cautionary lesson on how the pursuit of peace can lead to war when one side’s military is not answerable to the civilian government.

The Pakistani military, seeking to test the resolve of India’s new government, has again escalated border tensions with India through artillery exchanges. In fact, it sought to test Modi soon after he won the national election.

On the eve of Modi’s inauguration, ISI-backed militants stormed the Indian consulate in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat. The Pakistani plan was to take some Indians hostage and execute them one by one, bringing India under siege just as Modi took office. The plan, however, went awry as the consulate’s Indian security guards heroically killed all the attackers.

The U.S. blamed the Herat attack on the same ISI front organization that it held responsible for the highly deadly 2008 Mumbai terrorist strikes — Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). LeT’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, remains the Pakistani military’s darling, with his public life in Pakistan mocking America’s $10-million bounty on his head and the U.N.’s inclusion of him on a terrorist list.

The daring attack in Herat, 1,000 kilometers from Pakistan, must have had ISI’s nod. The ISI’s “S” branch — tasked specifically with aiding and abetting acts of terrorism in India and Afghanistan — handles LeT, the Jalaluddin Haqqani network and other terror organizations. This shows the ISI is itself a terrorist entity.

The war by terror is a reminder that the scourge of cross-border terrorism emanates more from Pakistan’s whiskey-sipping generals than its rosary-holding mullahs. The real jihadists are the self-styled secular generals, who have reared the forces of jihad and fathered the LeT, the Taliban and other terror groups.

Another reminder is that India-Pakistan relations will be shaped largely by Pakistan’s internal dynamics. Pakistan’s civil society remains too weak to influence the direction of ties with India. In the absence of a structural correction to Pakistan’s historically skewed civil-military power equation, a peace dialogue with India only encourages the Pakistani military to carry out cross-border shootings, ambushes and acts of terror.

With the Pakistani army and intelligence services still using terrorist proxies as an instrument of the country’s foreign policy, India’s dilemma is compounded by its own situation, which is diametrically opposite to that in Pakistan: India continues to shut out its military from the policymaking loop in a way unmatched in any other established democracy. This exclusion also puts pressure on India’s China policy, given that the Communist Party and the military shape Chinese foreign policy.

Modi’s cautious, measured start has masked his discreet gradualism. Border and other provocations are molding his policy approach, founded on the premise that preventing hostile actions hinges on India’s capacity and political will to impose deterrent costs in response to any aggression. In Modi’s policy of graduated escalation, pressure on the adversary begins at low levels and then progressively increases in response to the target’s continued provocations and aggression.

There was no Indian reprisal to the Herat attack, and India’s response to summertime Pakistani border shootings was circumspect. But, in keeping with the doctrine of graduated escalation, this month’s Pakistani machine-gun fire along the Kashmir frontier brought a heavy response, including retaliation with 81-mm mortars, which have a range of up to five kilometers.

The mortar-for-bullet response showed Modi is different from his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, whose peace-at-any-price approach was founded on the naïve belief that the only alternative to do nothing in response to terror is to go to war. So, whether it was the Mumbai attacks or a border savagery, such as a captured Indian soldier’s beheading, Singh responded by doing nothing.

The real choice was never between persisting with a weak-kneed policy and risking an all-out war. Indeed, that was a false, immoral choice that undermined the credibility of India’s own nuclear deterrent and emboldened the foe to step up aggression.

The Modi government, by building a range of options, including to neuter Pakistani military’s nuclear blackmail, is indicating that aggression will attract increasing costs. It is clearly signaling that India’s response to the Pakistani military’s strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts will no longer be survival by a thousand bandages; the response will be punitive so as to bolster deterrence and mend conduct.

Brahma Chellaney is a New Delhi-based geostrategist, author, and professor.

© The Japan Times, 2014.

Doctrine of graduated escalation

Pakistan’s internal dynamics strain peace, blocking better relations with India

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindu, October 15, 2014

The India-Pakistan “peace process” has produced a lot of process over the decades but no peace. While India is a vibrant, buoyant nation, Pakistan remains a notion in search of a national identity. Yet, given Pakistan’s foundational loathing of India, many among Pakistani strategic elites still pine for India’s unravelling or at least Balkanization.

In this light, the Pakistani military has again escalated border tensions with India. Since the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks it scripted, it has initiated intermittent exchanges of fire along the Line of Control (LoC), including this summer and then in recent days. This month’s artillery exchanges along the LoC were unusual in terms of their ferocity and the sudden eruption in violence, resulting in the highest single-day death toll in over a decade.

In provoking a second series of firing duels along the LoC since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office, the Pakistani military establishment — which includes the rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — was doing more than using gunfire as cover to allow Pakistan-trained militants to infiltrate into India. It was also testing the resolve of India’s new government while simultaneously undermining Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and derailing any prospect of rapprochement with India.

Every time a Pakistani leader wishes to build better ties with New Delhi, his effort is undermined by the military masterminding a serious cross-border attack or terror strike. Indeed, it was during Sharif’s previous stint in office that a major Indian peace initiative — as symbolized by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bus diplomacy — collapsed spectacularly, with the bus itself getting hijacked allegorically to Kargil, triggering a war. This has served as a cautionary lesson on how the pursuit of peace can lead to war when one side’s military is not answerable to the civilian government.

The Pakistani military actually sought to test Modi soon after he won the national election. On the eve of his inauguration, ISI-backed militants stormed the Indian consulate in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat. The Pakistani plan was to take some Indians hostage and bring India under siege just as Modi took office. The plan, however, went awry as Indian security guards at the consulate heroically killed all the attackers.

The U.S. blamed the Herat attack on the same ISI front organization it held responsible for the 2008 Mumbai terrorist strikes — Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). LeT’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, remains the Pakistani military’s darling, with his public life mocking America’s $10-million bounty on his head and the U.N.’s inclusion of him on a terrorist list.

The daring attack in Herat, 1,000 kilometres from Pakistan, must have had ISI’s nod. The ISI’s “S” branch — tasked specifically with aiding and abetting acts of terrorism in India and Afghanistan — handles LeT, the Jalaluddin Haqqani network and other terror organizations. This shows the ISI is itself a terrorist entity.

The ISI is searching for new tools and methods to bleed India. In this context, is this fountainhead of transnational terror now using Osama bin Laden’s close associate, Ayman Zawahiri? The aging Zawahri, who U.S. officials say is hiding in Pakistan, announced the formation of an Indian branch of Al Qaeda in a videotaped message released early last month. The 55-minute video, in which Zawahiri threatens terrorist strikes across India, indicates that he is not holed up in some mountain cave but ensconced in a safe house, as bin Laden was.

pakistani-terroristsISI’s war by terror is a reminder that the scourge of cross-border terrorism emanates more from Pakistan’s whisky-sipping generals than its rosary-holding mullahs. The real jihadists are the self-styled secular generals, who have reared the forces of jihad and fathered the LeT, the Taliban and other terror groups. In fact, Pakistan’s descent into a jihadist dungeon occurred not under civilian rule but under two military dictators — one (Zia ul-Haq) who nurtured and let loose jihadist forces, and another (Pervez Musharraf) who took his country to the very edge of the precipice.

Another reminder is that India-Pakistan relations will be shaped largely by Pakistan’s internal dynamics, especially its civil-military relations. Although it is in India’s interest to help strengthen Pakistani civilian institutions, Pakistan’s civil society remains too weak to influence the direction of ties with India. In the absence of a structural correction to Pakistan’s historically skewed civil-military power equation, a peace dialogue with India only encourages the Pakistani military to carry out cross-border shootings, ambushes and acts of terror.

Modi and Sharif come from the political right and enjoy parliamentary majority. Both are business-oriented and eager to revive flagging economic growth at home. Yet the expectations aroused by Sharif’s presence at Modi’s inauguration proved false because they failed to factor in the role of a powerful, meddling third party — the Pakistani military, which holds virtual veto power over any fundamental change to the India-Pakistan dynamic. This party is simply not ready to allow better bilateral relations because that will undermine its extraordinary power and privilege in Pakistan.

It is not an accident that this month’s border provocations by Pakistani forces followed a power struggle in Pakistan that culminated with Sharif’s wings being clipped and the military reasserting authority in foreign policy. Sharif has emerged as a diminished figure and the main loser from a crisis triggered by street protests that were tacitly backed by the army and the ISI. With the military back in the driving seat without staging an overt coup, Pakistan’s democratic transition has again been disrupted.

Such has been Sharif’s weakening that he not only had little say in the recent appointment of the new ISI chief, but also his government, at the behest of the military, has sought to re-internationalize the Kashmir issue. The intensity of ceasefire violations indeed was designed to help shine an international spotlight on Kashmir and also demonstrate as to who is in charge of Pakistan’s foreign policy.

Modi’s cautious, measured start has masked his discreet gradualism. Border and other provocations are moulding his policy approach, founded on the premise that preventing hostile actions hinges on India’s capacity and political will to impose deterrent costs in response to any aggression. In Modi’s policy of graduated escalation, pressure on the adversary begins at low levels and then progressively increases in response to the target’s continued provocations and aggression.

There was no Indian reprisal to the Herat attack, and India’s response to the summertime border shootings was circumspect. But, in keeping with the doctrine of graduated escalation, this month’s Pakistani machine-gun fire along the LoC brought a heavy response, including retaliation with 81-mm mortars, which have a range of up to five kilometres. Modi wasn’t exaggerating when he said publicly, “Pakistan has been taught a befitting lesson.”

After hundreds of Indian mortars rained across into Pakistan, Modi told an election campaign rally that, “It is the enemy that is screaming,” adding: “The enemy has realized that times have changed and their old habits will not be tolerated.” Indeed, with the goal to make Pakistani forces think twice before firing across the frontier, local commanders of India’s Border Security Force have been permitted to retaliate with proportionately greater force if their troops come under attack. Under Modi’s predecessor, border commanders had been given no clear instructions on how to manage frontier-related provocations yet discouraged from reacting strongly.

The Modi government’s mortar-for-bullet response suggests that India’s policy of appeasement since 2003 is officially over. Indeed, to underscore that times have changed, the Modi government was quick to scrap foreign secretary-level talks in August after the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi defiantly met Kashmiri secessionists. For Islamabad, meeting Pakistan-backed Kashmiri separatists was “business as usual,” but for Modi’s government, such interaction was simply unacceptable.

Modi is showing he is no Vajpayee, whose roller-coaster policy on Pakistan traversed through Lahore, Kargil, Kandahar, Agra, Parliament House and Islamabad, inviting only greater cross-border terrorism. And Modi is clearly no Manmohan Singh, whose peace-at-any-price approach was founded on the naïve belief that the only alternative to do nothing in response to terror is to go to war. So, whether it was the Mumbai attacks or a border savagery, such as a captured Indian soldier’s beheading, Singh responded by doing nothing.

The real choice was never between persisting with a weak-kneed policy and risking an all-out war. Indeed, that was a false, immoral choice that undermined the credibility of India’s own nuclear deterrent and emboldened the foe to step up aggression.

The Modi government, by building a range of options, including to neuter Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail, is indicating that Pakistani aggression will attract increasing costs. If the ISI is planning new attacks in India, with the intent to fob them off as the work of Al Qaeda’s supposed new India franchise, it can be sure that it will invite an Indian response imposing serious costs on the entire Pakistani security establishment.

Modi is clearly signalling that India’s response to the Pakistani strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts will no longer be survival by a thousand bandages, but punitive so as to bolster deterrence and mend conduct. Given that the “do nothing” approach allowed India to be continually gored, prudent gradualism has been a long time coming.

(Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of Water, Peace, and War.)

© The Hindu, 2014.

Qatar’s Jihad

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An internationally syndicated column by Project Syndicate

Qatar may be tiny, but it is having a major impact across the Arab world. By propping up violent jihadists in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond, while supporting the United States in its fight against them, this gas-rich speck of a country – the world’s wealthiest in per capita terms – has transformed itself from a regional gadfly into an international rogue elephant.

imagesUsing its vast resources, and driven by unbridled ambition, Qatar has emerged as a hub for radical Islamist movements. The massive, chandeliered Grand Mosque in Doha – Qatar’s opulent capital – is a rallying point for militants heading to wage jihad in places as diverse as Yemen, Tunisia, and Syria. As a result, Qatar now rivals Saudi Arabia – another Wahhabi state with enormous resource wealth – in exporting Islamist extremism.

But there are important differences between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Qatar’s Wahhabism is less severe than Saudi Arabia’s; for example, Qatari women are allowed to drive and to travel alone. In Qatar, there is no religious police enforcing morality, even if Qatari clerics openly raise funds for militant causes overseas.

Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that, whereas Saudi Arabia’s sclerotic leadership pursues reactionary policies rooted in a puritanical understanding of Islam, Qatar’s younger royals have adopted a forward-thinking approach. Qatar is the home of the Al Jazeera satellite television channel and Education City, a district outside of Doha that accommodates schools, universities, and research centers.

Similar inconsistencies are reflected in Qatar’s foreign policy. Indeed, the country’s relationship with the United States directly contradicts its links with radical Islamist movements.

Qatar hosts Al Udeid air base – with its 8,000 American military personnel and 120 aircraft, including supertankers for in-flight refueling – from which the US directs its current airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. Camp As-Sayliyah – another facility for which Qatar charges no rent – serves as the US Central Command’s forward headquarters. In July, Qatar agreed to purchase $11 billion worth of US arms.

Moreover, Qatar has used its leverage over the Islamists that it funds to help secure the release of Western hostages. And it hosted secret talks between the US and the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban. To facilitate the negotiations, Qatar provided a home, with US support, to the Taliban’s de facto diplomatic mission – and to the five Afghan Taliban leaders released earlier this year from US detention at Guantánamo Bay.

In other words, Qatar is an important US ally, a supplier of weapons and funds to Islamists, and a peace broker all at the same time. Add to that its position as the world’s largest supplier of liquefied natural gas and the holder of one of its largest sovereign-wealth funds, and it becomes clear that Qatar has plenty of room to maneuver – as well as considerable international clout. Germany’s government found that out when it was forced to retract its development minister’s statement that Qatar played a central role in arming and financing the Islamic State.

Qatar’s growing influence has important implications for the balance of power in the Arab World, especially with regard to the country’s rivalry with Saudi Arabia. This competitive dynamic, which surfaced only recently, represents a shift from a long history of working in tandem to export Islamist extremism.

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia generously supplied weapons and funds to Sunni extremists in Syria, opening the door for the emergence of the Islamic State. Both have bolstered the Afghan Taliban. And both contributed to Libya’s transformation into a failed state by aiding Islamist militias. During the 2011 NATO campaign to overthrow Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, Qatar even deployed ground troops covertly inside Libya.

Today, however, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are on opposite sides. Qatar, along with Turkey, backs grassroots Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots in Gaza, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, and the Levant. That pits it against Saudi Arabia and countries like the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan, whose rulers view such movements as an existential threat, with some, including the House of Saud, investing in propping up autocratic regimes like their own.

In this sense, Qatar’s tack has produced a rare schism within the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose members collectively possess nearly half of the world’s oil reserves. The proxy competition among rival monarchies, which led some of them to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar in March, is intensifying violence and instability throughout the region. For example, the UAE, with Egyptian assistance, secretly carried out airstrikes in August to stop Qatari-aided Islamist militias from gaining control of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Qatar’s leaders are willing to challenge their neighbors for a simple reason: They believe that the grassroots Islamist movements they support – which, in their view, represent majority political aspirations – eventually will win. Anticipating that such groups will increasingly shape Arab politics, displacing strongman regimes, Qatar has set out to empower them.

In doing so, Qatar is destabilizing several countries and threatening the security of secular democracies far beyond the region. For the sake of regional and international security, this elephant must be tamed.

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, is the author of Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© 1995-2014 Project Syndicate. 

PLA aborts Modi’s China reset

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Brahma Chellaney, Mint, October 7, 2014

Despite China finally withdrawing its troops from Ladakh’s Chumar area after extracting a concession from India to demolish a key observation post, the tense standoff on the frigid heights of western Himalayas will be remembered as the symbol of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s abortive effort to reset India’s relationship with Beijing. After assuming office, Modi went out of his way to befriend China, making a series of overtures.

Modi received the Chinese foreign minister before welcoming any other foreign dignitary. His first bilateral meeting with an important head of state was with President Xi Jinping at the BRICS summit in Brazil. Indeed, Modi postponed his own Japan trip so that he met Xi first in Brazil. Furthermore, Xi was given the honour of being the first G-8 head of state to visit India. Not only that, Modi became the first prime minister to receive a foreign leader outside New Delhi — that too on his own birthday.

ximodisabarmati4So when Xi, wearing a Nehru jacket, toasted the birthday of his host at a private dinner on the bank of River Sabarmati in Gujarat, it highlighted Modi’s charm offensive to build a more cooperative relationship with a country that poses the main strategic challenge to India. Such was Modi’s courtship that Xi quoted him as saying “India and China are two bodies in one spirit”.

But the diplomatic love-fest quickly turned into diplomatic discomfiture as news trickled in that hundreds of Chinese soldiers had intruded into Chumar. While Modi was publicly espousing “inch toward miles” as the motto of India-China cooperation, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was implementing that call through a fresh action on the ground. Even more galling was the fact that this incursion — the worst in troop numbers in many years — came to epitomize Xi’s birthday gift for Modi.

China has used virtually every high-level visit to flex its muscles while talking peace. For example, China conducted its most-powerful nuclear test ever in 1992 during the first-ever state visit of an Indian president. In 2003, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was surrendering India’s Tibet card in Beijing at the altar of diplomatic expediency, a PLA patrol intruded 14 kilometres into Arunachal Pradesh and abducted a 10-member Indian security team.

When Chinese leaders have visited India, their trips have been preceded by or coincided with territorial provocations. It was just before President Hu Jintao’s 2006 visit that China began claiming Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet”. Likewise, prior to Premier Wen Jiabao’s 2010 trip, Beijing began questioning India’s sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir, one-fifth of which China occupies. And Premier Li Keqiang’s 2013 visit followed a deep PLA encroachment into Ladakh’s Depsang plateau.

The message that China seeks to deliver through such provocations is that if India does not behave, it seriously risks being taught a 1962-style lesson. Indeed, just as it deceptively accused an ill-prepared India in 1962 of having provoked the Chinese trans-Himalayan invasion, China has used its official media and think-tanks to charge India with intentionally ramping up border tensions during Xi’s visit to exert pressure on China.

Modi thought he could co-opt China as a partner in India’s development and help ease the territorial disputes. But in Chinese strategy, political and economic elements are closely integrated, with hard and soft tactics going hand-in-hand. This was demonstrated by China rattling its sabres while its president was paying a state visit to India.

Even without considering Xi’s “birthday gift” for Modi, his visit was underwhelming in substance. Xi’s $20-billion investment promise is like honey presented on a sharp knife: partaking it will cut India’s interests, including by giving China greater leeway to dump more goods in the Indian market and rake in larger profits. China’s exports to India already are almost 3½ times greater in value than its imports. Yet China’s total investment in India is a trifling $500 million, or only slightly over 1% of its yearly trade surplus with it at present.

Had the trade surplus been in India’s favour on this scale, imagine the kind of pressures China would have brought to bear. Indeed, China has a record of using trade as a political weapon, including against Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. India, by hinging China’s market access on progress in resolving political, territorial and water disputes, can prevent Beijing from fortifying its leverage.

The good news is that Modi is standing up to the pressure from an unyielding and revanchist China, signalling that India will no longer put up with incursions, which escalated significantly over the past seven years under his meek predecessor even as he stayed mum. Modi was so jolted by Xi’s “birthday gift” (the intruding Chinese force numbered 1,000 or more at its peak) that he forthrightly called border peace “an essential foundation” for India-China ties, saying it won’t be possible for the two countries to collaborate meaningfully without peace. Modi knows that China has exposed itself by opening fronts with several neighbours.

The PLA’s growing political clout emboldens its strategy of incremental encroachment through furtive nibbling. The only counter to its aggressive deterrence is offensive defence. But India still clings to defensive defence, deploying border police as its first line of defence against regular PLA troops. The result is that India continues to get blindsided by repeated incursions. It is time for India to reappraise its Himalayan defences, or else its posture of defensive defence will continue to spring nasty surprises.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

© Mint, 2014.