Pakistan’s New Leaf?

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Brahma Chellaney

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

As U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton bluntly told Pakistan in 2011 that “you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors.” But her warning (“eventually those snakes are going to turn on” their keeper), like those of other American officials over the years, including presidents and CIA chiefs, went unheeded.

17pakistan-hp-slide-03-articleLarge-v2The snake-keeper’s deepening troubles were exemplified by the recent massacre of 132 schoolchildren in Peshawar by militants no longer under the control of Pakistan’s generals. Such horror is the direct result of the systematic manner in which the Pakistani military establishment has reared jihadist militants since the 1980s as an instrument of state policy against India and Afghanistan. By continuing to nurture terrorist proxies, the Pakistani military has enabled other militants to become entrenched in the country, making the culture of jihad pervasive.

The Peshawar massacre was not the first time that the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism became a terror victim. But the attack has underscored how the contradiction between battling one set of terror groups while shielding others for cross-border undertakings has hobbled the Pakistani state.

As a result, the question many are asking is whether, in the wake of the Peshawar killings, the Pakistani military, including its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, will be willing to break its ties with militant groups and dismantle the state-run terrorist infrastructure. Unfortunately, developments in recent months, including in the aftermath of the Peshawar attack, offer little hope.

On the contrary, with the military back in de facto control, the civilian government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in no position to shape developments. And, despite the increasing blowback from state-aided militancy, the generals remain too wedded to sponsoring terrorist groups that are under United Nations sanctions – including Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and the Haqqani network – to reverse course.

Reliance on jihadist terror has become part of the generals’ DNA. Who can forget their repeated denial that they knew the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden before he was killed by US naval commandos in a 2011 raid on his safe house in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad? Recently, in an apparent slip, a senior civilian official – Sharif’s national security adviser, Sartaj Aziz – said that Pakistan should do nothing to stop militants who do not intend to harm Pakistan.

The nexus among military officers, jihadists, and hardline nationalists has created a nuclear-armed “Terroristan” that will most likely continue to threaten regional and global security. State-reared terror groups and their splinter cells, some now operating autonomously, have morphed into a hydra. Indeed, as the country’s civilian political institutions corrode, its nuclear arsenal, ominously, is becoming increasingly unsafe.

Pakistan is already a quasi-failed state. Its anti-India identity is no longer sufficient to stem its mounting contradictions, which are most apparent in the two incarnations of the Taliban: the Afghan Taliban, which is the Pakistani military’s surrogate, and the Pakistani Taliban – formally known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – which is the military’s nemesis. Pakistan also provides sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban’s chief, Mullah Mohammad Omar (and also harbors a well-known international fugitive, the Indian organized crime boss Dawood Ibrahim).

Meanwhile, Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the ISI’s largest surrogate terror organization, LeT, remains the generals’ darling, leading a public life that mocks America’s $10 million bounty on his head and the UN’s inclusion of him on a terrorist list. Earlier this month, Pakistani authorities aided a large public rally by Saeed in Lahore, including by running special trains to ferry in participants, so that the architect of the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack (among many others) could project himself as some sort of messiah of the Pakistani people.

Yet none of that stopped Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, Raheel Sharif, and ISI Director-General Rizwan Akhter from rushing to Kabul after the Peshawar attack to demand that President Ashraf Ghani and the U.S.-led military coalition extradite TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah or allow Pakistani forces to go in after him. In other words, they seek the help of Afghanistan and the U.S. to fight the Pakistani Taliban while unflinchingly aiding the Afghan Taliban, which has been killing Afghan and NATO troops.

Such is the generals’ Janus-faced approach to terrorism that six years after the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has yet to try the seven Pakistani perpetrators in its custody. Indeed, under the cover of indignation over the Peshawar attack, the leading suspect in the case – UN-designated terrorist Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who served as LeT’s operations chief – secured bail. International outrage soon forced Pakistan to place him in preventive detention for up to three months.

Those who believe that the Peshawar massacre might serve as a wakeup call to the Pakistani military should ask why the generals have ignored hundreds of earlier wakeup calls. Despite the blowback imperiling Pakistan’s future, the generals show no sign that they have tired of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.

The international community should stop placing its hope in some abrupt change of heart on the generals’ part. Creating a moderate Pakistan at peace with itself can only be a long-term project, because it hinges on empowering a feeble civil society and, ultimately, reining in the military’s role in politics. As long as the military, intelligence, and nuclear establishments remain unaccountable to the civilian government, Pakistan, the region, and the world will continue to be at risk from the jihadist snake pit that the country has become.

© Project Syndicate, 2014.

From a nonaligned to multialigned India?

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkie Asian Review

When a country hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama in rapid succession for bilateral meetings, it demonstrates its ability to forge partnerships with rival powers and broker cooperative international approaches in a changing world. This is exactly what India is doing under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a display of diplomatic footwork that recently prompted the Russian ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, to publicly remark: “India is a rich fiancee with many bridegrooms.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of their meeting in New Delhi on Dec. 11. Modi will receive U.S. President Barack Obama in January. © Reuters

At a time when a new U.S.-Russia Cold War appears to be brewing, Modi — just after hosting Putin — will receive Obama in January, marking the first time an American president will have the honor of being the chief guest at India’s Jan. 26 Republic Day parade. The charismatic Modi, who won Time magazine’s recent reader poll for “Person of the Year” with his rock star-like following, has also sought to strengthen bilateral partnerships with other key players, including Japan, Australia and Israel. For example, his much-photographed bear hug with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has come to symbolize the dawn of an alliance between the world’s largest democracy and Asia’s oldest (and richest) democracy.

Since sweeping to power in May in India’s biggest election victory in a generation, Modi has shaken up the country’s reactive and diffident foreign-policy establishment with his proactive approach and readiness to break with conventional methods and shibboleths. The Modi foreign policy appears geared to move India from its long-held nonalignment to a contemporary, globalized practicality.

In essence, this means that India — a founding leader of the nonaligned movement — is likely to become multialigned. Building close partnerships with major powers to pursue a variety of interests in diverse settings will not only enable India to advance its core priorities but will also help to preserve strategic autonomy, in keeping with its longstanding preference for policy independence.

In the last quarter century, the world witnessed the most profound technological, economic and geopolitical changes in the most compressed timeframe in modern history. But much of India’s last 25 years was characterized by political weakness and drift, resulting in erosion of its regional and extra-regional clout. For example, the gap in power and stature between China and India widened significantly in this period. A 2013 essay in the journal Foreign Affairs, entitled “India’s Feeble Foreign Policy,” focused on how India is resisting its own rise, as if political drift had turned the country into its own worst enemy.

Against this background, Modi — widely known for his decisiveness — has made revitalizing the country’s economic and military security his main priority. So far he has made more impact in diplomacy than in domestic policy, a realm where he must prove he can help transform India. Nevertheless, Modi’s focus on the grand chessboard of geopolitics to underpin national interests suggests a strategic bent of mind.

Modi indeed has surprised many by investing considerable political capital in high-powered diplomacy so early in his term, even though he came to office with little foreign-policy experience. He has succeeded in putting his stamp on foreign policy faster than any predecessor, other than the country’s first post-independence prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Foreign policy pragmatist

Modi’s actions thus far suggest a clear intent to recoup India’s regional losses and to boost its global standing. One trademark of Modi’s foreign policy is that it is shorn of ideology, with pragmatism being the hallmark. In fact, India’s new leader has demonstrated a knack to employ levelheaded ideas in both domestic and foreign policies to lay out a nondoctrinaire vision and to win public support. For example, he has launched a “Make in India” mission to turn the country into an export-driven powerhouse like China and Japan and to transform it from being the world’s largest importer of weapons to becoming an important arms exporter. Modi’s clarity and vision, coming after a long era of ad hoc, reactive Indian diplomacy, is seen as a welcome change for India.

To be sure, the Modi foreign policy faces major regional challenges, exemplified by an arc of failing, revanchist or scofflaw states around India. India’s neighborhood is so chronically troubled that the country faces serious threats from virtually all directions. This tyranny of geography demands that India evolve more dynamic and innovative approaches to diplomacy and national defense. India must actively involve itself regionally to help influence developments, which is what Modi is attempting to do.

A broader and more fundamental challenge for him is to carefully balance closer cooperation with major players in a way that advances India’s economic and security interests, without New Delhi being forced to choose one power over another. One balancing act, for example, is to restore momentum to a flagging relationship with Moscow while boosting ties with the U.S., which has quietly overtaken Russia as the largest arms supplier to India.

Even though Modi told Putin during a summit of BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — in Brazil in July that “every person, every child” in India knows Russia is the country’s “biggest friend,” the reality is that the India-Russia camaraderie of the Cold War era has been replaced by India-U.S. bonhomie. Modi must stem the new risks as Russia moves closer to India’s strategic rivals — selling top-of-the-line weapon systems to China and signing a military-cooperation agreement with Pakistan in November.

Despite the challenges confronting Modi, India seems set to become multialigned, while tilting more toward the U.S. and other democracies in Europe and Asia. Yet, importantly, India will also continue to chart its own independent course. For example, it has rebuffed U.S. pressure to join American-led financial sanctions against Russia and instead has publicly emphasized “the need to defuse Cold War-like tensions that are increasingly manifesting themselves in global relations.” A multialigned India pursuing omnidirectional cooperation for mutual benefit with key players will be better positioned to expand its strategic influence and promote peace and cooperation in international relations.

Because of its geographical location, India is the natural bridge between the West and the East, and between Europe and Asia. Through forward thinking and a dynamic foreign policy, India can truly play the role of a facilitator and soother between the East and the West, including serving as a link between the competing demands of the developed and developing worlds. At a time of heightened geopolitical tensions, the world needs such a bridge-builder.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and the author of “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” the winner of the 2012 Bernard Schwartz Award.

Chickens of terror come home to roost

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Brahma Chellaney, Mint, December 23, 2014

Kids firing heavy weaponry at terror-training camp in Pakistan

Kids firing heavy weaponry at terror-training camp in Pakistan

For the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism — Pakistan — the chickens are coming home to roost with a vengeance, as the Peshawar massacre has shown. Then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had publicly warned Pakistan three years ago that keeping “snakes in your backyard” was dangerous as “those snakes are going to turn on” it. Pakistani generals dismissed her warning with disdain. With its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in the vanguard, the Pakistani military has continued to blithely nurture “good” terrorists for cross-border undertakings while battling “bad” militants that fail to toe its line. Its dual-track approach has now become so deeply entrenched that Pakistan risks approaching the point of no return.

Ironically, Pakistani military officers learned how to rear and employ snakes from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). CIA and ISI partnered in the 1980s Afghan jihad by creating mujahedeen — the militants out of which Al Qaeda and the Taliban evolved. “We helped to create the problem that we are now fighting”, Hillary Clinton candidly told Fox News in 2010, referring to how the US equipped mujahedeen with “Stinger missiles and everything else”.

The problem so spawned undermined the security of India more than any other country. ISI, as the conduit, siphoned off large portions of the US multibillion-dollar military aid for the mujahedeen to trigger an insurgency in India’s Punjab and then Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the 1980s. The US did not penalize Pakistan.

Rather, narrow geopolitical interests after 9/11 prompted America to shower Pakistan with renewed military and economic aid, with that country still a top recipient of US assistance, which has aggregated to more than $30 billion since 2001. Such generous aid — by propping up Pakistan, including with weapon transfers—has given Pakistani generals little incentive to hunt down the snakes in their backyard or stop unleashing them on India and Afghanistan. Even as American aid continues to fatten the Pakistani military, a “Pakistan fatigue” — accelerated by the new US wars in Syria and Iraq — has left little motivation in Washington to salvage a crumbling Pakistan policy.

India thus is on its own to deal with the scourge of infiltrating snakes, with Pakistan’s jihad-inspired war on it showing no sign of abating. Indeed, with Pakistan’s ceasefire violations triggering a fierce Indian response, Pakistani generals are now using terrorist proxies to attack security camps in J&K, as highlighted by the cross-border raid in Uri that left 11 troops dead. The way Pakistani authorities recently helped UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed — the architect of the Mumbai attacks — to stage a large Lahore rally added insult to injury for India.

It was unrealistic to believe Pakistan would bring the Mumbai perpetrators to justice after having reared them. Manmohan Singh’s commitment to “uninterruptible dialogue” with Pakistan as part of his peace-at-any-price approach only brought serial outrages against India. Narendra Modi has done well to craft a clearer policy on Pakistan that blends a firm response to provocations (best illustrated by India’s mortar-for-bullet retort to Pakistani ceasefire violations since September) with friendly signals (for example, inviting Sharif to his inauguration and asking schools nationally to honour the victims of the Peshawar attack with a two-minute silence).

To focus on his broader regional and global agenda without being weighed down by a venomous issue, Modi has effectively sidelined Pakistan in his policy priorities. After all, no nation gets peace by merely seeking peace or staying put in talks with a recalcitrant neighbour. Securing peace demands that a nation must be able to defend peace, including by imposing deterrent costs when peace is violated.

Important countries go to extraordinary lengths to shun and squeeze scofflaw or renegade states. It has taken America 53 years to agree to establish normal diplomatic relations with tiny Cuba but without lifting its trade embargo. It took the US almost a quarter century to resume full diplomatic ties with Myanmar. And after 61 years, the chill in America’s relations with North Korea persists. New Delhi has always maintained full diplomatic relations with Islamabad, even though Pakistan is effectively a rogue or terrorist state waging a “war of a thousand cuts” against India.

Not just that, India continues to unilaterally extend Most Favoured Nation (MFN) trade benefits to Pakistan and adhere to the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty — the world’s most generous water-sharing pact that reserves over 80% of the six-river Indus system’s waters for Pakistan. With Pakistan expecting eternal Indian water munificence even as it bleeds India, the same question must haunt Pakistani generals as Lady Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”

As long as Pakistan persists with its unconventional war, New Delhi must not reward it with talks or any new generosity. In any case, with the Pakistani military back in the driving seat without staging an overt coup, the politically castrated Nawaz Sharif is in no position to deliver on any deal with India. India, while shining an intense spotlight on officially sponsored Pakistani terrorism, should shun Pakistan until it adheres to well-established international norms.

How can Pakistan be a normal state when an abnormal situation prevails there? A moderate, stable Pakistan can emerge only if ISI is cut down to size and the military establishment brought under civilian oversight — steps still distant.

Until then, India must heed a German proverb: “Look before you leap, for snakes among sweet flowers do creep”.

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

(c) Mint, 2014.

Asia on the frontlines of natural disasters

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Brahma Chellaney, Nikkie Asian Review 

No continent is more vulnerable to natural disasters than Asia, the world’s largest and most populous region. It has the dubious distinction of being home to some of the world’s leading natural disaster-related hot spots.

One fact confirms Asia’s status as a high humanitarian risk area: It accounts for the majority of all people killed, injured or uprooted by natural disasters globally in the past four decades. In the first half of 2014, 820 people were killed and 31 million affected in 56 disasters in Asia, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Looking a little further back and including the humanitarian impact of Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippine island of Leyte last November, the estimated death toll exceeds 10,000.

Asia’s vulnerability to disasters arises from five factors: geography, geology, natural climate extremes, human-induced changes to the environment and global warming.

The most common and potent hazards in Asia are water-related: floods, cyclones and droughts, for example. Geological hazards, such as earthquakes, landslides and volcanic eruptions, also claim lives and displace residents regularly, wreaking serious economic damage at the same time. Asia’s poor bear the brunt of the recurrent cataclysms.

People stand among debris and ruins of houses after Typhoon Haiyan pulverized the city of Tacloban.

People stand among debris and ruins of houses after Typhoon Haiyan pulverized the city of Tacloban.

The region’s geographical vulnerability — Asia has suffered 40% of the world’s disasters in the past decade and 80% of the disaster-related fatalities — is compounded by two factors. The continent’s high population density in low-lying areas and its vast stretches of coastline, the world’s longest, lead to increased risk. Southeast Asia, in particular, stands out for its coastline-related vulnerability: It has 3.3% of the global landmass, but more than 11% of the world’s coastline. The majority of the 600 million people in the world living in areas less than 10 meters above sea level are Asian, residing mainly in Southeast and South Asia.

Moreover, the areas of Asia experiencing high economic growth are located along coastlines, which tend to be heavily populated and constitute prime real estate. Indeed, many of Asia’s major cities, energy plants and industries are located along the coasts. The vulnerability of coastal infrastructure has emerged as an important concern.

Nuclear-power plants, for example, guzzle water. All new nuclear plants in Asia — the center of global atomic energy construction — are located along coastlines, allowing them to draw on seawater for cooling. Seaside reactors face big risks from the global-warming-induced increase in natural disasters, as was highlighted by Japan’s 2011 Fukushima disaster, in part caused by a tsunami.

Cursed land

Geologically, Asia is one of the world’s most complex and vulnerable zones, as the interaction of the region’s tectonic plates shows. Its vulnerability extends from where the Indian plate meets the Eurasian plate in the Himalayas to the northern margins of the Australian plate. The edges of the plates meet along Pacific’s Ring of Fire.

Tectonic plate interactions make Asia vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis. Two of the world’s biggest ever combined earthquake and tsunami disasters have occurred in Asia in the past decade: in the Indian Ocean in late 2004 and in Japan in March 2011. The 2004 disaster led to more than 230,000 deaths, while Japan’s cost more than 15,000 lives.

Asia’s climate extremes are shaped by water: There can be too little, or too much, of it; it can be too dirty, becoming unsafe to drink; when it rains, it often pours; dry periods can go on too long; and weak monsoons can trigger serious droughts.

Much of Asia receives most of its yearly rainfall during monsoon periods, which can last from three to four months. Flooding in this season is endemic, exacting heavy economic and human costs. But drought — a slow-onset hazard with crippling effects — often tends to be a bigger problem, as this year has shown. Indeed, global drought risks, in terms of the number of people exposed, are concentrated in Asia.

Human-induced changes to the landscape — which are distinct from global warming, though they can be a stepping stone to it — are also contributing to extreme weather events and aggravating their impacts. Environmental change arises from human actions such as reckless land use, contamination of surface-water resources, groundwater depletion, environmentally unsustainable irrigation, degradation of coastal ecosystems, waste mismanagement, and the destruction of forests, mangroves and other natural habitats.

Coastal erosion, for example, has become a serious problem in certain zones, in part because of the clearing of coastal forests. The over-exploitation of coastal aquifer systems is accelerating seawater intrusion. When freshwater reserves are depleted in coastal aquifers, seawater seeps in to supplant the lost freshwater. This factor is beginning to affect drinking-water supplies in coastal cities such as Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok and Dhaka.

Consider another example: The rivers originating on the Tibetan plateau form 11 Asian mega-deltas, which are home to cities such as Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Bangkok, Dhaka, Kolkata and Karachi. But these megadeltas, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have become “much more vulnerable” to the effects of global warming and sea-level rise because of deforestation in Tibet’s upstream catchment areas and the over-damming of the rivers.

Global warming is a fifth factor. There are some gaps in our scientific understanding of this phenomenon. Climate science, after all, is still young. Yet what we know should be a cause for concern for Asia, which must cope with new challenges, such as greater variability in the movement, distribution and quality of water. Natural climate events, such as the intermittent El Nino and La Nina ocean currents that cause secondary disasters in tropical regions, including forest fires with trans-boundary haze, further complicate the problem.

Two water-related implications of global warming for Asia are beyond dispute. First, water stress will intensify and spread to new areas. Asia already has the lowest per-capita water availability among all continents, with large parts of the region now facing water crises. Second, shifts in precipitation and runoff patterns will mean greater variability in water availability, potentially affecting Asian food security.

To deal with their disaster vulnerability, Asian states must do two things: develop greater institutional and organizational capacity to manage environmental stresses and increasing susceptibility to natural hazards; and build resilience. As underscored by the Indian Ocean tsunami and the more recent typhoons that hit the Philippines, building resilience is at the heart of the challenge.

Warning not enough

Resilience is the capacity to absorb shocks and disturbances in such a way as to be able to reorganize fairly quickly. But to be able to reorganize rapidly, a state must have the necessary institutional and organizational means, including implementing forward-looking measures.

Along with developing early-warning systems and preparedness, states must establish smart water-resource management, adapt to water stress by adopting innovative practices and technologies, and develop new crop varieties more tolerant of drought and flooding. Not just governments but also communities and companies need to become more resilient by going beyond traditional risk management to prepare for systemic changes and unforeseen events.

When a disaster strikes a country, the crucial first response cannot come from outside. It must come from within. When nuclear meltdowns occurred at Fukushima, even the International Atomic Energy Agency, a specialized agency, was not initially in a position to offer any concrete assistance to Japan. In the early phase, the IAEA offered criticism but little else.

Yet it is in this critical early phase that a country’s institutional and organizational capacity can make an important difference in saving lives and rescuing people. Rapid-response capability, including local emergency action and providing clean water, food and shelter to survivors, can significantly limit fatalities.

More fundamentally, risk-reduction measures, including protecting or restoring ecosystems that buffer the impact of natural disasters, can help limit both fatalities and economic losses from cataclysms. But the ability of states to adopt best-available practices and technologies to mitigate their disaster-related vulnerabilities very much depends on their political and economic capabilities.

Simple preventive actions, such as the mass evacuation of residents on the basis of early warning systems, can save countless lives. For example, the evacuation of half a million residents from the southeastern Indian coast in October in advance of Typhoon Hudhud — one of the fiercest cyclones to hit the region in years — kept the death toll to fewer than 50. When a typhoon struck the same area in 1999, 10,000 were killed. In contrast to India’s improvement, the failure to evacuate residents caused an estimated 84,500 deaths in Myanmar’s 2008 Typhoon Nargis, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In Asia as elsewhere, countries must develop institutional, organizational and financial capacity as a bulwark against disasters. States with good governance and adequate financial resources will deal with their vulnerabilities in a much better way than cash-strapped nations wracked by internal turmoil and corroding governance.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and the author of “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” the winner of the 2012 Bernard Schwartz Award.

© Nikkie Asian Review, 2014. 

Tibet core to Sino-Indian ties

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BY BRAHMA CHELLANEYThe Japan Times

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

The Tibetan plateau is Asia’s “water tower.” © Brahma Chellaney, “Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013).

The Tibetan plateau is Asia’s “water tower.”          © Brahma Chellaney, Water: Asia’s New Battleground (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013).

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 neighbors after it annexed Tibet, a sprawling, high-altitude plateau where, after waves of genocide since the 1950s, ecocide now looms large.

Take China’s relations with India: Beijing itself highlights Tibet as the core issue with that country by laying claim to large chunks of Indian land on the basis of purported Tibetan ecclesial or tutelary links, rather than any professed Han Chinese connection. Indeed, since 2006, Beijing has a new name — “South Tibet” — for the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which is three times the size of Taiwan and twice as large as Switzerland.

Tibet historically was the buffer that separated the Chinese and Indian civilizations. Ever since Communist China, in one of its first acts, gobbled up that buffer with India, Tibet has remained the core matter with India.

In the latest reminder of this reality, President Xi Jinping brought Chinese military incursions across the Indo-Tibetan border on his India visit in September. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government responded to the border provocations by permitting Tibetan exiles to stage protests during Xi’s New Delhi stay.

In response to China’s increasing belligerence — reflected in a rising number of Chinese border incursions and Beijing’s new assertiveness on the two Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir — India since 2010 has 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 Chinese side managed to bring in Tibet via the back door in the Modi-Xi joint statement, which recorded India’s appreciation of 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 and the Brahmaputra, originate around this holy place.

Actually, a succession of Indian prime ministers has blundered on Tibet. Jawaharlal Nehru in 1954 ceded India’s British-inherited extraterritorial rights in Tibet and implicitly accepted the plateau’s annexation by China without any quid pro quo. Under the terms of the 1954 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 to legitimize its attempt at rolling annexation. In fact, since 2010, Beijing has also questioned India’s sovereignty over the state of Jammu and Kashmir, one-fifth of which is under Chinese occupation and another one-third under Pakistani control.

During Xi’s visit, it was by agreeing to open a circuitous alternative route for pilgrims via the Himalayan Indian state of Sikkim that Beijing extracted the appreciation from India to China’s Tibet government. Given that the sacred Kailash-Mansarovar site is located toward the western side of the Tibet-India border, 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.

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. Beijing recognizes the 1890 Anglo-Sikkim Convention, which demarcated the 206-km Sikkim-Tibet frontier, yet it paradoxically rejects as a colonial relic Tibet’s 1914 McMahon Line with India, though not with Myanmar.

The 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 China’s strategic designs. Beijing 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 to insidiously build influence in Sikkim, including by shaping a Sino-friendly Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

This sect 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 in Sikkim. Indian police in 2011 seized large sums of Chinese currency from his office.

India, however, has permitted the Mandarin-speaking Ogyen Trinley to receive envoys sent by Beijing. In recent years, he has met Han Buddhist 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 just 22 km from the open border with India.

Since coming up to power six months ago, Modi has pursued a nimble foreign policy. One key challenge he faces is how to build leverage against China, which largely sets the bilateral agenda, yet savors a galloping, $36-plus billion trade surplus with India.

Moreover, past Indian blunders on Tibet 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 dam-building frenzy is another reminder that Tibet is at the heart of the India-China divide.

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.

Brahma Chellaney, a regular contributor to The Japan Times, is the author of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield).

© The Japan Times, 2014.

Deconstructing the Modi foreign policy

BRAHMA CHELLANEYThe Hindu, December 4, 2014

India — home to more than a sixth of the human race — punches far below its weight. Internationally, it is a rule-taker, not a rule-maker. A 2013 essay in the journal Foreign Affairs, titled “India’s Feeble Foreign Policy,” focused on how India is resisting its own rise, as if political drift had turned the country into its own worst enemy.

Since the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago, the world has witnessed the most-profound technological, economic and geopolitical change in the most-compressed time frame in history. Unfortunately for India, despite its impressive economic growth overall, much of its last 25 years has been characterized by political weakness and drift. For example, between 1989 and 1998, India had a succession of six weak governments. It is not an exaggeration to call Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s two terms “the lost decade” for India strategically.

Waning regional influence

The result of the prolonged leadership crisis has been a sharp erosion in India’s regional and extra-regional clout. The gap in power and stature between China and India has widened significantly. After all, this was the quarter-century in which China took off.

More troubling has been India’s shrinking space in its own strategic backyard. Even tiny Maldives had the gall to kick India in the chin and get away with it. It kicked out its Indian airport operator from the capital Male and publicly dressed down the Indian Ambassador without fear of consequences. In Nepal, India found itself competing with China. And in Sri Lanka, India became content to play second fiddle to China.

The paradox is that India’s economy continued to grow even as India’s regional influence waned. This shows that GDP growth by itself cannot translate into stronger foreign policy in the absence of a dynamic, forward-looking leadership and cogent, strategic goals. In fact, when India was economically weak under Indira Gandhi, it had a fairly robust foreign policy, with no neighbour daring to mess with it.

Job_9086Against this background, the political rise of Narendra Modi — known for his decisiveness — could be a potential game-changer. It is too early to define, let alone judge, his foreign policy, given that Mr. Modi has been in office for just six months. Yet, as he focuses on revitalizing the country’s economic and military security, five things stand out.

First, Mr. Modi continues to invest considerable political capital in high-powered diplomacy so early in his term. Critics may contend that his exceptionally busy foreign-policy schedule, coupled with campaign meetings in serial state elections, leaves him restricted time to focus on his most critical responsibility — domestic issues, which will define his legacy.

Powered by ideas

No previous Indian Prime Minister participated in so many high-powered multilateral and bilateral summits in his or her first months in office as Mr. Modi. U.S. President Barack Obama’s high-profile visit in January will keep national attention on diplomacy. To be sure, Mr. Modi’s focus on the grand chessboard of geopolitics to underpin national interests suggests a strategic bent of mind that only one previous Prime Minister credibly demonstrated — Indira Gandhi.

Second, the Modi foreign policy is powered by ideas, not by any ideology. Indeed, Mr. Modi has demonstrated a knack to skilfully employ level-headed ideas to shape a non-doctrinaire vision and galvanize public opinion. On domestic policy, too, he is using the power of ideas, such as “Swachh Bharat” (or Clean India). In the strategic domain, he is taking his “Make in India” mission to the heavily-import-dependent defence sector. The real test ultimately will be Mr. Modi’s ability to translate his ideas into transformative accomplishments.

Third, he has projected a nimble foreign policy with pragmatism as its hallmark. Nothing better illustrates this than the priority he has accorded — by shaking off U.S. visa-denial humiliation heaped on him over nine years — to restoring momentum to the relationship with America. Mr. Obama’s scheduled visit as chief guest at Republic Day represents both a thank you to Mr. Modi for rising above personal umbrage and an effort to lift the India-U.S. relationship to a higher level of engagement through the major new opportunities being opened up for American businesses by Mr. Modi’s commitment to pro-market economic policies and defence modernization.

The U.S. already conducts more military exercises with India than with any other country. And in recent years, it has quietly overtaken Russia as the largest arms supplier to India.

Food security issue

Fourth, Mr. Modi has put his stamp on foreign policy faster than any predecessor, other than Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet, he appears to have no intent to enunciate a Modi doctrine in foreign policy. In contrast to the meretricious “Gujral Doctrine,” which delivered little more than words, Mr. Modi wants his actions to define his policy trademarks.

In fact, his actions have started speaking for themselves — from his moves to engineer stronger partnerships with Japan and Israel (countries critical to Indian interests but which also courted him even as the U.S. targeted him) to his mortars-for-bullet response to Pakistani ceasefire violations. His firm stand at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on the food-stockpiling issue, central to India’s food security, stood out.

After vetoing the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement in Geneva, Mr. Modi made the U.S. climbdown on the food-stockpiling issue, yet earned praise from Mr. Obama for helping to break the impasse. Even the head of the U.N.’s International Fund for Agricultural Development backed the veto, saying the real choice for India in Geneva was between “feeding” its citizens and “creating jobs” for wealthy economies. After all, the main providers of agricultural subsidies are the rich countries plus China.

For monsoon-dependent, drought-prone India, stockpiling food through a minimum support price to farmers serves as an insurance policy against a 1960s-style mortifying situation that saw New Delhi beseeching foreign food aid, including under U.S.’s PL-480 programme. At Bali, however, the Singh government meekly delinked the Trade Facilitation Agreement from a deal on food stockpiling. By agreeing to kick the can on the stockpiling issue to 2017, it put India’s food security at risk in case no deal was reached by that deadline — a probable scenario. Mr. Modi has succeeded in undoing Dr. Singh’s egregious concession by clinching a deal under which the developing countries’ food-stockholding programmes will face no WTO challenge until a permanent solution is found, thus shielding them from pressures indefinitely.

Looking East

Fifth, Mr. Modi — unlike the leaders who preceded him — attaches major significance to diplomatic symbolism. For example, with the opening of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit coinciding with the sombre anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks, he gave the cold shoulder to his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, for refusing to prosecute the masterminds of that Pakistani scripted and executed operation. Mr. Modi publicly shook hands with Mr. Sharif only the following day at the Dhulikhel retreat. In fact, to concentrate on his broader regional and global agenda, Mr. Modi has done well to sideline Pakistan, a noxious issue that weighed down Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s foreign policy. Mr. Modi, in any event, faces an important dilemma on Pakistan: With whom to engage there? After being politically cut to size by the military establishment, Mr. Sharif is like a parrot perched on the generals’ shoulders, trying to echo their lines on India, even if stutteringly.

To be sure, Mr. Modi faces major regional challenges, exemplified by the arc of failing, revanchist or scofflaw states around India. This tyranny of geography demands that India evolve more dynamic and innovative approaches to diplomacy and national defence. India must actively involve itself regionally to help influence developments, which is what Mr. Modi is seeking to do. Indeed, his priority — apparent from the time he invited regional leaders to his inauguration — is to retrieve India’s lost ground in its strategic backyard.

As Pakistan’s obstructionism at Kathmandu to greater intra-regional cooperation highlighted, SAARC is likely to remain a stunted organisation. India, while building stronger bilateral linkages with other neighbours, must strengthen its “Look East” policy. India indeed has little choice but to look east because when it looks west, it sees only trouble. The entire belt to India’s west from Pakistan to Syria is a contiguous arc of instability and extremism. Looking east allows India to join the economic dynamism that characterizes the region to its east.

For a politician who came to office with virtually no foreign-policy experience, Mr. Modi has demonstrated impressive diplomatic acumen, including in taking bold new directions, charting a vision to reclaim India’s lost strategic clout, holding his ground in talks with world leaders, and responding to provocations by regional foes. Mr. Modi has shaken India’s foreign-policy establishment with his proactive approach and readiness to break with conventional methods and shibboleths.

All in all, the Modi foreign policy appears geared to reinvent India as a more competitive, confident and secure country claiming its rightful place in the world. A robust foreign policy, however, can sustain itself only on the foundation of a strong domestic policy, a realm where Mr. Modi must prove he can help transform India.

(Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.)

© The Hindu, 2014.

Nuclear power’s dark future  

Featured

Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times, November 26, 2014

Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

Nuclear power constitutes the world’s most-subsidy-fattened energy industry, yet it faces an increasingly uncertain future. The global nuclear-power industry has enjoyed growing state subsidies over the years, even as it generates the most dangerous wastes whose safe disposal saddles future generations. Despite the fat subsidies, new developments are highlighting the nuclear-power industry’s growing travails. For example, France — the “poster child” of atomic power — is rethinking its love affair with nuclear energy. Its Parliament voted last month to cut the country’s nuclear-generating capacity by a third by 2025 and focus instead on renewable sources by emulating neighboring countries like Germany and Spain.

As nuclear power becomes increasingly uneconomical at home because of skyrocketing costs, the U.S. and France are aggressively pushing exports, not just to India and China, but also to “nuclear newcomers,” such as the cash-laden petroleum sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. Such exports raise new challenges related to freshwater resources, nuclear safety and nuclear-weapons proliferation.

Still, the bulk of the reactors under construction or planned worldwide are in just four countries — China, Russia, South Korea and India.

Six decades after Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, claimed that nuclear energy would become “too cheap to meter,” nuclear power confronts an increasingly uncertain future, largely because of unfavorable economics.

The just-released International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2014 report states: “Uncertainties continue to cloud the future for nuclear — government policy, public confidence, financing in liberalized markets, competitiveness versus other sources of generation, and the looming retirement of a large fleet of older plants.” The stock of the state-owned French nuclear technology giant Areva recently tumbled after it cited major delays in its reactor projects and a “lackluster” global atomic-energy market to warn of an uncertain outlook for its business.

For example, the Areva-designed plant in Finland, on Olkiluoto Island, in running at least nine years behind schedule, with its cost expected to rise from €3.2 billion to almost €8.5 billion. Even in Areva’s home market, the Flamanville 3 reactor project in northern France is facing serious delays and cost overruns.

In Japan, the last of its 48 commercial reactors went offline in September 2013. Repeated polls have shown that the Japanese public remains opposed to nuclear restarts by a 2-to-1 margin, despite toughened safety regulations after the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Yet the southern city of Satsuma Sendai in Kagoshima Prefecture recently gave its consent to restarting, as soon as early next year, two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company.

Nuclear power has the energy sector’s highest capital and water intensity and longest plant-construction time frame, making it hardly attractive for private investors. Plant-construction time frame, with licensing approval, still averages about a decade, as underscored by the new reactors commissioned in the past decade. In fact, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2014 acknowledges that 49 of the 66 reactors currently under construction are plagued with delays and cost overruns.

Commercial reactors have been in operation for more than half a century, yet the industry still cannot stand on its own feet without major state support. Instead of the cost of nuclear power declining with the technology’s maturation — as is the case with other sources of energy — the costs have escalated multiple times. Just in the past decade, average costs jumped from $1,000 per installed kilowatt to almost $8,000/kW.

In this light, nuclear power has inexorably been on a downward trajectory. The nuclear share of the world’s total electricity production reached its peak of 17% in the late 1980s. Since then, it has been falling, and is currently estimated at about 13%, even as new uranium discoveries have swelled global reserves. With proven reserves having grown by 12.5% since just 2008, there is enough uranium to meet current demand for more than 100 years.

Yet the worldwide aggregate installed capacity of just three renewables — wind power, solar power and biomass — has surpassed installed nuclear-generating capacity. In India and China, wind power output alone exceeds nuclear-generated electricity.

Before the Fukushima disaster, the global nuclear power industry — a powerful cartel of less than a dozen major state-owned or state-guided firms — had been trumpeting a global “nuclear renaissance.” This spiel was largely anchored in hope.

However, the triple meltdown at Fukushima not only reopened old safety concerns but also has set in motion the renaissance of nuclear power in reverse. The dual imperative for costly upgrades post-Fukushima and for making the industry competitive, including by cutting back on the munificent government subsidies it enjoys, underscores nuclear power’s dimming future.

New nuclear plants in most countries are located in coastal regions so that these water-guzzling facilities can largely draw on seawater for their operations and not bring freshwater resources under strain.

But coastal areas are often not only heavily populated but also constitute prime real estate. Moreover, the projected greater frequency of natural disasters like storms, hurricanes, and tsunamis due to climate change, along with the rise of ocean levels, makes seaside reactors particularly vulnerable.

The risks that seaside reactors face from global-warming-induced natural disasters became evident more than six years before Fukushima, when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami inundated the Madras Atomic Power Station. But the reactor core could be kept in a safe shutdown mode because the electrical systems had been installed on higher ground than the plant level.

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew caused significant damage at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Florida, but fortunately not to any critical system. And in a 2012 incident, an alert was declared at the New Jersey Oyster Creek nuclear power plant — the oldest operating commercial reactor in the U.S. — after water rose in its water intake structure during Hurricane Sandy, potentially affecting the pumps that circulate cooling water through the plant.

All of Britain’s nuclear power plants are located along the coast, and a government assessment has identified as many as 12 of the country’s 19 civil nuclear sites as being at risk due to rising sea levels. Several nuclear plants in Britain, as in a number of other countries, are just a few meters above sea level.

Yet even as Germany steps out of the nuclear power business, Britain is pressing ahead with a costly new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, underscoring the divisions among European countries over nuclear power. Britain indeed intends to build several more plants to replace its aging nuclear stations. The Hinkley Point project, however, is running years behind schedule, with the costs mounting.

Globally, nuclear power is set to face increasing challenges due to its inability to compete with other energy sources in pricing. Another factor is how to manage the rising volumes of spent nuclear fuel in the absence of permanent disposal facilities.

More fundamentally, without a breakthrough in fusion energy or greater commercial advances in the area that the U.S. has strived to block — breeder (and thorium) reactors — nuclear power is in no position to lead the world out of the fossil-fuel age.

Brahma Chellaney, a regular contributor to The Japan Times, is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of “Water, Peace, and War” (Rowman & Littlefield).

© The Japan Times, 2014.