BRICS reduced to a “talk shop”?


The real winner from the two BRICS-initiated financial ventures is China, with BRICS left carrying the can.

Brahma Chellaney, Nikkei Asian Review


On paper, the five BRICS countries — Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa — look like a powerful grouping: the member states combined represent more than a quarter of the earth’s landmass, over 42% of the global population, almost 25% of the world’s gross domestic product, and nearly half of the global foreign exchange and gold reserves. In reality, though, BRICS is still struggling to define a common identity and build institutionalized cooperation among its members. Their just-concluded summit, held in the Indian beach resort of Goa on Oct. 14-15, underscored inherent challenges.

As the first important non-Western global initiative of the post-Cold War world, BRICS reflects ongoing global power shifts, including the slow retreat of Atlantic dominance.

If BRICS can get its act together, it will be able to exercise significant geoeconomic and geopolitical clout and evolve into a major instrument to bring about fundamental changes in the architecture of global finance and governance. By serving as the building blocks of overhauled financial and governance systems, the BRICS economies would be a catalyst in the qualitative reordering of power and in reshaping the entire international order.

After all, in a spectacular reversal of fortunes, the developing economies, with their large foreign reserves, now finance the mounting deficits of the wealthy economies. More importantly, the BRICS economies are likely to remain the world’s most important source for future growth.

However, given that BRICS is just an extension of the BRIC concept conceived by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001, it is surprising that the grouping has stuck to an alien acronym. BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) became BRICS with the addition of South Africa in late 2010. Had the grouping pursued a more forward-looking approach, it could have simply called itself the “R-5” after the names of its members’ currencies — the real, rand, ruble, renminbi and rupee — and presented itself, in contrast to the obsolescent Group of Seven (G-7), as the face of the future.

The plain fact is that the challenges BRICS faces today are fundamental, making its future uncertain. These disparate countries have starkly varying political systems, economies, and national goals, and are located in different corners of the globe. There is little in common among the BRICS states.

For example, what is common between the world’s largest democracy, India, and the largest autocracy, China? The biggest real estate claimed by a revanchist China is an Indian state almost three times larger than Taiwan — Arunachal Pradesh, an ecological paradise of virgin forests, orchids and soaring mountain ranges. How can BRICS create rules-based cooperation among its members if international norms of behavior are flouted, as by China’s territorial creep in the South China Sea and its shielding of Pakistani terrorism at the United Nations Security Council and by Russia’s annexation of Crimea?

To compound BRICS’ challenges, the Brazilian, Russian and South African economies have nose-dived in recent years, even as China’s faltering growth and downside deflationary risks have unsettled global markets. Only India has defied the BRICS’ slump, priding itself as the world’s fastest-growing major economy.

Almost six years after it expanded from four to five member-states, BRICS has yet to evolve into a coherent grouping with defined goals and an institutional structure. Of course, it has created the Shanghai-based New Development Bank and set up, as a shield against global liquidity pressures, the $100-billion, China-dominated Contingent Reserve Arrangement. The real winner from both these initiatives is China, with BRICS left carrying the can.

Despite its utility as a non-Western grouping, BRICS cannot remain just a “talk shop.” The Goa summit was a reminder that it has yet to devise a common action plan to go forward.

To be sure, the annual BRICS summit provides a useful platform for bilateral discussions on the sidelines, as between the Chinese president and Indian prime minister on a host of issues that bedevil their countries’ bilateral relationship. Some member states, by piggybacking on the BRICS summit, hold their own bilateral summits before or after the event. For example, the annual India-Russia summit was held in Goa just before the start of the BRICS summit.

Still, BRICS faces nagging questions about whether its members, with their different priorities and interests, can unite on key international issues. If BRICS is to build collective clout, its members must frame common objectives and approaches to tackling the pressing international issues. Take the scourge of terrorism: The Goa Declaration omitted any reference to cross-border terrorism or state sponsorship of terror or even to any Pakistan-based terrorist group at the instance of China, which sought to protect its close ally Pakistan from charges that its intelligence service was behind recent grisly attacks in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India.

The G-7 began as a discussion platform like BRICS but, by defining its members’ common interests, it advanced within years to joint coordination on key international issues. BRICS, lacking the shared political and economic values that bind the G-7 members together, cannot stay relevant if it does little more than bring together its leaders and various stakeholders for discussions. Indeed, the most important bilateral relationship for each BRICS country is not with another BRICS member but with the United States.

Worse still, an overly ambitious China, seeking to dominate the grouping and emerge as America’s peer rival, has cast a lengthening shadow over BRICS. For example, as part of its quest to build the yuan, or renminbi, as a global currency that could eventually rival the dollar or euro, a cash-rich China is using BRICS as an important vehicle to expand the renminbi’s international role, including by offering renminbi loans to other BRICS members. Lending and trading in renminbi helps China to boost its exports and international clout.

China’s hidden export subsidies, however, have been systematically undermining manufacturing in the other BRICS states. Chinese dumping is blighting Indian and Brazilian manufacturing in particular. Consequently, China’s rapidly growing trade surplus, for example, with India has doubled since Narendra Modi became prime minister two-and-a-half years ago. This has armed Beijing with greater leverage over New Delhi.

For Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa, BRICS offers largely symbolic benefits, including underscoring their growing international role and their desire to pluralize the global order. By contrast, China, which needs no recognition of its rise as a world power, is milking BRICS for tangible benefits, including to advance its economic and political benefits.

Even on international institutional reforms, China is hardly on the same page as the other BRICS members. The present international order emerged in the post-1945 period as a U.S.-led hierarchical order involving a group of likeminded countries, largely in the West. Since then, the global institutional structure has remained largely static, even as the world has changed dramatically. As a result, the global financial and governance systems, ranging from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to the United Nations Security Council, no longer look truly global in terms of representation. This has made fundamental reforms to international institutions and rules imperative.

China is a revisionist power with respect to the global financial architecture, seeking an overhaul of the Bretton Woods system that emerged in the mid-1940s. It also seeks to dominate the first tangible challenge to the Bretton Woods institutions, as symbolized by the BRICS’ New Development Bank and the China-created Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, headquartered in Beijing.

China, however, is a status quo power in regard to the U.N. system and wishes to remain Asia’s sole country with a permanent seat in the Security Council, which means keeping fellow BRICS member India (and Japan) out. China’s strategy, by extension, also seeks to shut out India from other political institutions, including the Nuclear Suppliers Group, where it has almost singlehandedly blocked a U.S.-led push for India’s entry.

Against this backdrop, if BRICS remains just a “talk shop,” it will not only fail to fulfill its true potential but will also wither away under the weight of its contradictions. The Goa summit did little to belie the contention of cynics that BRICS is just an acronym with little substance.

Brahma Chellaney, a geostrategist and author, is Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin and professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.

© Nikkei Asian Review, 2016.

Why India must not neglect Myanmar


Brahma Chellaney, The Times of India, October 15, 2016

downloadThe visit of Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de factor leader, to India is significant. Myanmar’s geographic, cultural and geostrategic positioning between India and China makes it critical to long-term Indian interests. Yet it took 25 years for an Indian prime minister to visit Myanmar, India’s gateway to the east.

Since that visit in 2012 by Manmohan Singh, India has upgraded its Myanmar policy from constructive engagement to comprehensive interconnection. It was at the India-ASEAN Summit in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw in late 2014 that Narendra Modi launched India’s “Act East” policy. Yet, for his own inauguration in office, Modi invited leaders of all regional states, including Mauritius, but not next-door Myanmar, in a reminder of how India episodically neglects an important neighbour.

Suu Kyi’s visit is part of India’s invitation to member-states of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) for a joint summit with BRICS at Goa. Bringing together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, BIMSTEC is a better alternative for India than the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which is likely to remain a stunted organization. Indeed, SAARC boxes India in an artificial regional framework; India’s natural strategic compass is broader.

Suu Kyi, committed to reviving her country’s old tradition of a neutral foreign policy, is seeking to carefully balance relations with major powers. On her first visit to a major capital since her party won a landslide election victory less than a year ago, Suu Kyi in August visited Beijing, not New Delhi where she was educated. Her aim was to smooth over the frayed relationship with China. Ties with China have been roiled by Myanmar’s 2011 suspension of the $3.6-billion, Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam project.

The suspension on the eve of China’s national day constituted a slap in the face to Beijing — a loss of face made worse by the fact that the action became a turning point for Myanmar’s democratization and reintegration with the outside world. The bold move, by demonstrating that Myanmar was no client state of China and by helping to accelerate the country’s transition to democracy, set in motion an easing of Western sanctions and ending Myanmar’s international isolation — best symbolized by Barack Obama’s 2012 visit, the first ever by a U.S. president.

But with China still wielding more leverage over Myanmar than any other power, President Xi Jinping is now pushing for the Myitsone project’s revival — or the undoing of the 2011 humiliation. To blunt Chinese pressure, Suu Kyi, before visiting Beijing, appointed a 20-member commission to review the project.

After her China trip, Suu Kyi, as part of her balancing act, visited Washington, where she was warmly received. But it was just last weekend that Obama lifted U.S. economic sanctions on Myanmar, while retaining military-related sanctions.

Myanmar, like India, has long complained about the flow of Chinese arms to guerrilla groups, accusing Beijing of backing several of them in its north as levers against it. Still, recognizing that Beijing holds the keys to ending decades of armed conflict in Myanmar, Suu Kyi has given China an important role in her new initiative to promote ethnic reconciliation. Yet, despite China playing mediator, a Suu Kyi-sponsored peacemaking gathering attended by ethnic warlords in Naypyidaw ended early last month without any headway.

China values Myanmar as a strategic asset, viewing its long shoreline as a gateway to the Indian Ocean, where it is seeking to chip away at India’s natural-geographic advantage. Having established a foothold in Myanmar’s Kyaukpyu port, from where the new energy pipelines lead to southern China, Beijing is seeking to open a shorter, cheaper trade route to Europe via Myanmar’s River Irrawaddy.

Against this backdrop, India can ill afford to neglect Myanmar, or persist with its sluggish implementation of projects there, or unilaterally conduct cross-border military strikes on Naga guerrillas. While being sensitive to Myanmarese concerns, India must actively involve itself in Myanmar through greater trade, investment and counterinsurgency cooperation to help reduce the salience of Chinese influence and to further Suu Kyi’s agenda for a balanced, neutral and pragmatic foreign policy.

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

© The Times of India, 2016.

The Pakistani Mecca of Terror


How the world’s first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era, Pakistan, became the Mecca of terrorism and a global threat.

A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

Almost seven decades after it was created as the first Islamic republic of the postcolonial era, Pakistan is teetering on the edge of an abyss. The economy is stagnant, unemployment is high, and resources are scarce. The government is unstable, ineffective, and plagued by debt. The military — along with its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, comprising the country’s spies and secret policemen — is exempt from civilian oversight, enabling it to maintain and deepen its terrorist ties.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan is now at risk of becoming a failed state. But even if it does not fail, the nexus between terrorist groups and Pakistan’s powerful military raises the specter of nuclear terrorism — a menace so large that the United States has prepared a contingency plan to take out the country’s fast-growing nuclear arsenal should the need arise.

Make no mistake: Pakistan is “ground zero” for the terrorist threat the world faces. The footprints of many terrorist attacks in the West have been traced to Pakistan, including the 2005 London bombings and the 2015 San Bernardino killings. Two key actors behind the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States — Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed — were found ensconced in Pakistan. In the recent Manhattan and New Jersey bombings, the arrested suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was radicalized in a Pakistan seminary located near the Pakistani military’s hideout for the Afghan Taliban leadership.

But it is Pakistan’s neighbors that are bearing the brunt of its state-sponsored terrorism. Major terrorist attacks in South Asia, like the 2008 Mumbai strikes and the 2008 and 2011 assaults on the Indian and US embassies in Afghanistan, respectively, were apparently orchestrated by the ISI, which has reared terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the Haqqani network to do its bidding. This is no hearsay; former Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf has largely acknowledged it.

In India, in particular, the Pakistani military — which, despite being the world’s sixth largest, would have little chance of winning a conventional war against its giant neighbor — uses its terrorist proxies to wage a clandestine war. This year alone, Pakistani military-backed terrorists have crossed the border twice to carry out attacks on Indian military bases.

In January, Jaish-e-Mohammad struck India’s Pathankot air base, initiating days of fighting that left seven Indian soldiers dead. Last month, members of the same group crossed the border again to strike the Indian army base at Uri, killing 19 soldiers and prompting India to carry out a retaliatory surgical strike against militant staging areas across the line of control in disputed and divided Kashmir.

Afghanistan and Bangladesh also accuse ISI of undermining their security through terrorist surrogates. They blame Pakistan for the recent grisly attacks in their respective capitals, Kabul and Dhaka, in which a university and a café were among the targets.

Such activities have left Pakistan isolated. Just recently, its regional neighbors — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka — pulled the plug on a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit that was scheduled for next month in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Sri Lanka’s prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has warned that “cross-border terrorism” imperils the very future of SAARC.

But diminished international standing and growing regional isolation have been insufficient to induce Pakistan’s dominant military to rethink its stance on terrorism. One reason is that Pakistan retains some powerful patrons. Beyond receiving financial support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has, in some ways, become a client of China, which provides political protection — even for Pakistan-based terrorists — at the United Nations Security Council.

This month, China torpedoed, for the fifth time in two years, proposed UN sanctions on Masood Azhar, the Pakistan-based head of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which the UN designated as a terrorist outfit years ago. The sanctions were backed by all other members of the Security Council’s anti-terror committee, not least because India had presented evidence linking Azhar to the terrorist killings at its two military bases.

In terms of financial aid, however, it is the US that serves as Pakistan’s biggest benefactor. Yes, even after finding the likes of Bin Laden on Pakistani soil, the US — the country that has spearheaded the so-called War on Terror — not only continues to deliver billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, but also supplies it with large amounts of lethal weapons. US President Barack Obama’s administration also opposes a move in Congress that would officially brand Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism.

This approach reflects Obama’s commitment to using inducements to coax the Pakistani military to persuade the Taliban to agree to a peace deal in Afghanistan. But that policy has failed. The US remains stuck in the longest war in its history, as a resurgent Taliban carries out increasingly daring attacks in Afghanistan with the aid of their command-and-control structure in — you guessed it — Pakistan. No counterterrorism campaign has ever succeeded when militants have enjoyed such cross-border havens.

Achieving peace in Afghanistan, like stemming the spread of international terrorism, will be impossible without making the Pakistani military accountable to the country’s civilian government. The US has a lot of leverage: Pakistan has one of the world’s lowest tax-to-GDP ratios, and is highly dependent on American and other foreign aid. It should use that leverage to ensure that the Pakistani military is brought to heel — and held to account.

Brahma Chellaney, Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, is the author of nine books, including Asian Juggernaut; Water: Asia’s New Battleground; and Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.

© Project Syndicate, 2016.

Fashioning water as a weapon



39510d2200000578-3833294-image-a-1_1476223932637China’s cutting off the flow of a Brahmaputra tributary is just the latest example of its emergence as the upstream water controller through a globally unparalleled hydro-engineering infrastructure centred on dams.

Earlier this year, Beijing itself highlighted its water hegemony over downstream countries by releasing some of its dammed water for drought-hit nations in the lower Mekong basin.

Blocking the flow of the Xiabu river, a Brahmaputra tributary, through a dam project is a significant development, a forewarning that China intends to do a lot more to re-engineer flows in the Brahmaputra system by riding roughshod over the interests of the lower riparians, India and Bangladesh.

Just as it has heavily dammed the Mekong, China is now working to complete a cascade of dams in the Brahmaputra basin.


On the Mekong, China has erected six giant dams, with the smallest of them bigger than the largest dam India has built since Independence.

For the downriver countries in that basin, the release of water from the Chinese dams to combat drought was a jarring reminder of not just China’s new-found power to control the flow of a life-sustaining resource, but also of their own reliance on Beijing’s goodwill and charity.

With a further 14 dams being built or planned by China, their dependence on Chinese goodwill is likely to deepen – at some cost to their strategic leeway and environmental security.

Armed with such leverage, Beijing is pushing its Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) initiative as an alternative to the lower-basin states’ Mekong River Commission, which China has spurned over the years.

Indeed, having its cake and eating it, China is a dialogue partner but not a member of the Mekong River Commission, underscoring its intent to stay clued in on the discussions, without having to take on any legal obligations.

The Mekong, Southeast Asia’s lifeline, is just one of the international rivers China has dammed.

It has also targeted the Arun, the Indus, the Sutlej, the Irtysh, the Illy, the Amur and the Salween, besides the Brahmaputra.

These rivers flow into India, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Russia or Myanmar.

Asia’s water map changed fundamentally after the communists took power in China in 1949.

It wasn’t geography but guns that established China’s chokehold on almost every major transnational river system in Asia, the world’s largest and most-populous continent.


By forcibly absorbing the Tibetan Plateau (the giant incubator of Asia’s main river systems) and Xinjiang (the starting point of the Irtysh and the Illy), China became the source of trans-boundary river flows to the largest number of countries in the world, extending from the Indochina Peninsula and South Asia to Kazakhstan and Russia.

Beijing’s claim over these sprawling territories, which make up more than half of China’s landmass today, drew from the fact that they were imperial spoils of the earlier foreign rule in China.

Before the communists seized power, China had only 22 dams of any significant size. But now, China boasts more large dams on its territory than the rest of the world combined.

If dams of all sizes and types are counted, their number in China surpasses 85,000. Strongman Mao Zedong initiated an ambitious dam-building programme, but the majority of the existing dams were built in the period after him.

China’s dam frenzy, however, shows no sign of slowing. The country’s dam builders, in fact, are shifting their focus from the dam-saturated internal rivers (some of which, like the Yellow, are dying) to the international rivers, especially those that originate on the waterrich Tibetan Plateau.

This raises fears that the degradation haunting China’s internal rivers could be replicated in the international rivers.


China, after all, has graduated to erecting mega-dams.

Take its latest dams on the Mekong: the 4,200- megawatt Xiaowan (taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris) and the 5,850- megawatt Nuozhadu, with a 190-square-kilometre reservoir.

Either of them is larger than the current hydropower-generating capacity of the lower Mekong states combined.

Despite its centrality in Asia’s water map, China has rebuffed the idea of a water-sharing treaty with any neighbour. The concern is thus growing among is downstream neighbours that China is seeking to turn water into a potential political weapon.

After all, by controlling the spigot for much of Asia’s water, China is acquiring major leverage over its neighbours’ behaviour in a continent already reeling under low freshwater availability.

China is clearly not content with being the world’s most dammed country, and the only thing that could temper its dam frenzy is a prolonged economic slowdown at home.

Flattening demand for electricity due to China’s already-slowing economic growth, for example, offers a sliver of hope that the Salween river could be saved from the cascade of hydroelectric mega-dams that Beijing has planned to build on it.

Even so, China’s riparian might will remain unmatched.

© Mail Today, 2016.

India’s critical test on Pakistan


Brahma Chellaney, Open magazine

pakistan_mapDoes the military operation conducted by Indian para commandos across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in the wee hours of September 29 change the fundamentals of India’s strategic dynamic with Pakistan? The answer is no. A single military operation, however successful at the tactical level, cannot by itself impose sufficient deterrent costs on the enemy or demonstrate India’s strategic resolve, which has been found wanting for years. New Delhi has a long way to go before it can hope to reform the Pakistani military’s conduct or deter its rogue Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency from staging more cross-border terrorist strikes, whether in India or on Indian targets in Afghanistan.

The Indian Army had conducted cross-LoC operations previously, often in reprisal to military provocations, such as when intruding Pakistani forces chopped three Indian soldiers in 2011, taking away the severed heads of two as a “trophies”. What broke new ground on September 29 was the scale of the cross-LoC military action (hitting multiple targets located several kilometres deep) and its public disclosure by the Indian Army and government.

Yet, despite the frenzied hype, the set of surgical strikes on cross-LoC terrorist launchpads was a limited military operation, with limited military objectives, and yielding limited military benefits. The operation cannot by itself dissuade the Pakistani military from continuing to wage an undeclared war against India through terrorist proxies. Indeed, the Indian military must now exercise utmost vigilance to ward off likely Pakistani retaliation, including through terrorist surrogates.

To be sure, the political, psychological, diplomatic and strategic benefits from the Indian surgical strikes are greater than the tactical military gains. The strikes represented a break from India’s “do nothing” approach, which came to define its policy for long. By symbolizing an end to Indian indecision and inaction, the action has helped lift the sense of despair that had gripped the country over the lack of any tangible response to Pakistan-backed terrorist attacks. Politically, by signalling an end to the era of Indian inaction, the operation has put the Pakistani military on notice that India would henceforth respond in punitive, hard-to-anticipate ways.

Still, the benefits accruing from the action can easily be frittered away if India does not stay the course to squeeze Pakistan in a calibrated but ever-increasing manner to help bring it to heel.  The risk of India squandering the gains is real. After all, the biggest shortcoming in India’s Pakistan policy has been the country’s inability to maintain a consistent Pakistan policy. India finds it very difficult to stay its course for more than a few months, before the itch to win a Nobel peace prize or political pressure from the United States prompts whoever is the prime minister to reverse course and resume “peace” talks with Pakistan.

The focus of successive Indian governments on short-term considerations at the expense of India’s enduring interests has remained the country’s Achilles heel. This has exacerbated India’s Pakistan challenge, despite that country’s descent into a jihad-torn, dysfunctional state.

In fact, India’s own passivity and indecision played no small part in fuelling Pakistan’s proxy war by terror. There was little discussion in India as to why it should allow itself to be continually gored by a country that is much smaller than it economically, demographically and militarily. For long, India’s response to the Pakistani strategy to inflict death by a thousand cuts was survival by a thousand bandages.

The illogic of India’s long-suffering, “do nothing” approach to Pakistan’s unconventional war was exposed when it finally mustered the political courage and ordered a daring cross-LoC operation. The surprise action — staged at a time when the Pakistani military, after the Uri terrorist attack, was in a state of full combat readiness — demonstrated how military power can be smartly applied below the threshold of nuclear use and without creating an undue risk of conventional escalation. In doing so, India has created strategic space for staging repeated and more-intense military forays across the LoC to inflict pain and punishment on the terror masters and their surrogates.

In fact, the imperative for further cross-LoC punitive actions in a calibrated manner — not immediately but whenever tempting opportunities open up — has been underscored by the Pakistani military remaining in denial mode over India’s September 29 operation. With Pakistan’s military generals covering up the Indian strikes, Pakistanis seem sceptical of the Indian claims. Deterrence, to be effective, must be targeted not just at the military generals but also at the elected civilian leadership and the public. No military can sustainably operate without public support at home.

In this light, to deter Pakistan’s war by terror, India must carefully but convincingly re-demonstrate its punitive conventional capability in propitious settings. Deterrence, after all, is like beauty: It lies in the eyes of the beholder. It is not what India claims but what its adversary believes that constitutes deterrence (or the lack of it). A one-off cross-LoC operation, in any event, cannot keep the Pakistani military off balance and forestall further terrorist attacks.

For that reason, only time will tell whether the September 29 action constitutes a break with India’s passive, reactive and forbearing mindset or represents just a one-off operation to salvage the Indian leadership’s credibility, which had been dented by inaction on a series of Pakistan-backed terrorist strikes that have occurred over many years, fuelling public wrath. On Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watch alone since his election in May 2014, Pakistan-scripted terrorist attacks have extended from Indian consulates at Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad in Afghanistan to targets at Mohra, Gurdaspur, Udhampur, Pathankot, Pampore and Uri in India.

The attacks on Modi’s watch have suggested that the terror masters in Pakistan, learning from the international outrage over their November 2008 strikes on civilians in Mumbai, are concentrating their spectacular hits on symbols of the Indian state, including security forces.

For Modi, the pre-Uri inaction damaged his strongman image that helped bring him to power in the first place. Indeed, the apparent naiveté the government displayed in responding to the Pathankot air-base attack early this year, which killed seven Indian military men, invited public ridicule: It shared intelligence with Pakistan about the Pakistani origins of the attackers while the four-day siege of the base was still on, and then invited a Pakistani team, including at least one ISI officer, to visit the base — all in the fond hope of winning Pakistan’s anti-terrorism cooperation, despite India’s bitter experience in the Mumbai case where it presented dossiers of evidence to Pakistan.

Against this backdrop, the deadly Uri attack, by claiming the lives of 19 Indian soldiers, became Modi’s defining moment, putting his credibility at stake and eliminating inaction as a continuing option. The government had to act to redeem its image. In keeping with Modi’s fondness for springing surprises, the cross-LoC operation caught everyone by surprise, including analysts in India who had been claiming that the country had no military option even against transboundary terrorist bases.

If the latest developments bring consistency to Modi’s often erratic and meandering Pakistan policy, they would represent a potential game changer. But if India some months down the road were to return to “peace” talks with Pakistan, this would be clear proof not only that the Modi government largely designed the September 29 operation to politically save face, but also that the country is still unable to stay its course by kicking its principal weakness.

Let’s be clear: No short-term Indian strategy can help tame a scofflaw Pakistan. That country’s roguish actions spring from its foundational loathing of India. That loathing is rooted in its dual belief that it was created as an embodiment of the legacy of the medieval conquerors and plunderers who unfurled the standard of Islam over India and that Pakistanis, as the progeny of the conquerors and plunderers, are innately braver than the Indian “infidels.” Barely 10 weeks after its birth as the world’s first Islamic republic of the post-colonial era, Pakistan launched its first war against India by sending raiders into J&K while denying any such action. Today, the Pakistani military, steeped in jihadism, controls the deep state, rearing terrorists for cross-border missions and turning the country into the Mecca of terrorism.

India’s fight to tame Pakistan thus will be long and hard. India’s Pakistan dilemma is compounded by the lack of credible military options to inflict unbearable costs on the adversary in peacetime or, in the event of a full-fledged war, to impose peace on India’s terms by decisively defeating the Pakistani military on the battlefield. India thus must exercise its conventional reprisal options in peacetime cautiously and close to the LoC or risk the outbreak of a full-blown war. This may explain why India called its September 29 action an anti-terrorist operation “not aimed at the Pakistani military”, although the military, as the sponsor and protector of terrorist groups, is the root of all terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

Still, bearing in mind that Pakistan’s activities to undermine India are largely carried out across the LoC, a proactive India can make life difficult for the Pakistani military along the LoC, without its special forces having to penetrate too deeply. India, moreover, controls the escalation ladder. The burden is on Pakistan to take any step up on the escalation ladder, knowing that India will respond to such a move by inflicting severe pain and punishment on it.

More fundamentally, without imposing significant and direct costs on the Pakistani military and, by extension, on the Pakistani state, India cannot hope to deter Pakistan’s war by terror. This means India must initiate a comprehensive campaign that uses all employable instruments to squeeze Pakistan hard. Indeed, to organize sustained and mounting pressure on Pakistan, India will have to rely more on non-military tools of leverage than on cross-border operations by its special forces. And if India wants the rest of the world to act against Pakistan, it must first act itself against that country.

Thus far, India has taken no direct action to penalize the Pakistani state, other than informally suspend the Permanent Indus Commission and cause the collapse of the SAARC summit by withdrawing from it — an action that pre-empted Bangladeshi and Afghan moves to pull the plug on the summit. India’s diplomatic relations with Pakistan have not even been downgraded; the Most Favoured Nation status granted to Pakistan on a non-reciprocal basis for two decades has not been withdrawn; and New Delhi has made no move to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism or to declare bounties on the heads of terrorist leaders operating openly from Pakistan.

How can India expect the rest of the world to isolate Pakistan while it maintains full diplomatic relations with that country and shies away from imposing sanctions on it? In fact, with Pakistan’s principal benefactors, China and America, continuing to prop it up, it will not be easy for India to internationally isolate Pakistan.

By repeatedly vetoing United Nations action against terrorist Masood Azhar since 2014, China is culpable in the killing of Indian soldiers at Uri and Pathankot. China has shown the extent to which it is willing to go to shield Pakistan’s patronage of terrorism in order to undermine Indian security. To make matters worse, Modi, by letting China double its trade surplus with India on his watch, has weakened his bargaining position with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The U.S., for its part, enforces sanctions against a host of countries, from Russia and North Korea to Sudan and Syria, yet shields from sanctions the world’s top state sponsors of terrorism — Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The White House recently went to the extent of shutting down an online petition calling for designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism, after the petition had garnered 625,723 signatures. America is indirectly subsidizing a renegade Pakistan with the soaring profits from its booming arms sales to India.

Leverage holds the key to effective diplomacy. Yet India has shied away from leveraging its weapon purchases or its recent early ratification of the Paris climate change agreement (weighted in favour of the world’s top two polluters, the U.S. and China) to bring about change in the American stance of opposing any sanctions on Pakistan. If Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, India can be sure that the U.S. will continue to shield its terrorist protégé, Pakistan.

In these circumstances, the onus is on the victim, India, to act against and discipline terror-exporting Pakistan on its own. This means India must stay its course, rebuffing U.S. pressure. As the American academic C. Christine Fair has said in a recent essay in the journal National Interest, the U.S., by exerting diplomatic pressure on India after each terrorist carnage to exercise restraint, “rewards Pakistan in numerous ways,” including “from the consequences of its illegal behaviour” and by implying that “there is a legitimate dispute and that both sides are equally culpable for the enduring nature of this dispute”.

India needs to pursue a doctrine of graduated escalation, applying multipronged pressure on the adversary’s vulnerable points to inflict pain and punishment through economic, diplomatic, riparian and political instruments and its special forces. Consistent with this doctrine, India should start imposing costs on Pakistan in a calibrated and gradually escalating manner.

If Pakistan can wage an undeclared war by terror for over three decades, India, with its greater economic, military and diplomatic resources, is better positioned to spearhead a more-potent undeclared war by other means. India’s objective should be to assist a quasi-failed Pakistan in becoming a failed state that no longer has the capacity to threaten regional and international security. Realizing this objective calls for an unrelenting silent war, employing multiple tools of leverage and coercion to squeeze Pakistan on all fronts, even if it takes years to defang it.

However, if, in a year’s time or so, New Delhi returns to “peace” talks with Pakistan, it will be crystal clear that India’s biggest enemy is India.

Brahma Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi and Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

© Open, 2016.

Sino-Pakistan nexus shields terror


BRAHMA CHELLANEY | DNA, 12 October 2016

imagesThe implications for India of the growing strategic nexus between China and Pakistan are stark because the two are hostile, non-status-quo powers bent upon seizing additional Indian territory and undermining Indian security in different ways. Indeed, the nexus extends to shielding Pakistani terrorism at the United Nations. This makes China complicit in Pakistan’s proxy war by terror against India.

Pakistan’s value for Beijing as a strategic surrogate to help box in India has risen even as that country has descended into greater jihadist extremism and political disarray. In fact, a dysfunctional, debt-ridden Pakistan gives China greater leeway to strategically penetrate it. Having deployed thousands of Chinese army troops in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, especially Gilgit-Baltistan, since at least 2010, Beijing is working to turn Pakistan into its land corridor to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean through the so-called “one belt, one road” project.

China’s nexus with Pakistan has been likened by Beijing to the closeness between lips and teeth. Beijing has also been calling Pakistan its “irreplaceable all-weather friend”. The two often boast of their “iron brotherhood”. The relationship has also been described in flowery terms — “taller than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey”.

In reality, a rapidly rising China has little in common with aid-dependent Pakistan, beyond the fact that both are revisionist states not content with their existing frontiers. They do, however, share an interest in containing India, including by unconventional means. This explains why China, seeking to destabilize India, has gone to the extent of shielding Pakistan’s patronage of terrorism.

By repeatedly vetoing UN sanctions on terrorist Masood Azhar, China is culpable in killing of 26 Indian soldiers at Uri and Pathankot by Jaish-e-Mohammed, a covert front organisation for Pakistan’s rogue Inter-Services Intelligence agency. When China on October 8 put a technical hold on the proposed UN sanctions on Azhar, it was its fifth such move since September 2014 blocking action against him.

Previously, China also came in the way of Indian efforts for the UN to proscribe United Jehad Council chief Syed Salahuddin, to censure Pakistan for freeing Lashkar-e-Taiba commander and 26/11 accused Zaki-ur Rehman Lakhvi on bail, and to probe how UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed is able to fund and organise large public rallies in Pakistan.

That Beijing shields Pakistan’s unconventional war against India through terrorist proxies should surprise few, given China’s own use of unconventional instruments in peacetime against India —from dispatching arms to Indian rebel groups, often through the Myanmar corridor, to carrying out intermittent cyber attacks on Indian government, defence and commercial targets. Like Pakistan’s export of terrorism, China employs non-state actors in such missions, designed to keep India off balance or gain asymmetrical advantages.

As China cements Pakistan’s status as its economic and security client, India must do what it can to throw a spanner in the Chinese works. The Chinese military presence in Pakistan-held J&K means that India faces Chinese troops on both flanks of its J&K state. New Delhi cannot stay mum on China’s growing military footprint in a region that India regards as its own territory. The planned $46-billion economic corridor from Xinjiang to Gwadar constitutes China’s new pincer strategy.

India should seek to raise the diplomatic and security costs for China’s activities in Pakistan. After all, no other country in the world faces an axis between two expansionist nuclear-armed neighbours with a proven track record of covert actions in breach of international norms.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© DNA, 2016.

The Challenge from Authoritarian Capitalism to Liberal Democracy


Brahma Chellaney

Liberal democracy today faces an internal challenge — from the populist movements of the left and the right that have resulted from the badly skewed distribution of the gains from globalization. The strong tides of anti-establishment anger have shaken politics to its core in a number of Western democracies, as symbolized by the British vote to leave the European Union and the rise of Donald Trump in the United States. Liberal democracy, however, faces a bigger threat from outside that few commentators are talking about.

One of the most profound developments in the post-Cold War era has been the rise of authoritarian capitalism as a political-economic model, especially for developing countries. This model, best symbolized by China, involves a fusion of autocratic politics and crony, state-guided capitalism.

Between 1988 and 1990, as the Cold War was winding down, pro-democracy protests broke out in several parts of the world — from China and Myanmar to Eastern Europe. The protests helped spread political freedoms in Eastern Europe and inspired popular movements elsewhere that overturned dictatorships in countries as disparate as Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Chile. After the Soviet disintegration, even Russia emerged as a credible candidate for democratic reform.

The overthrow of a number of totalitarian or autocratic regimes did shift the global balance of power in favor of the forces of democracy. But not all the pro-democracy movements were successful. And the subsequent “color revolutions” only instilled greater caution among the surviving authoritarian regimes, prompting them to set up countermeasures to foreign-inspired democratization initiatives.

More than a quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the global spread of democracy unmistakably has stalled. Democracy may have become the norm in the West but, in the rest of the world, only a minority of states are true democracies. Using market forces to liberalize tightly centralized political systems may actually have aided the rise of authoritarian capitalism.

Political homogeneity may be as inharmonious with economic advance as the parallel pursuit of market capitalism and political autocracy. But where authoritarianism is deeply entrenched, the fusion of autocratic politics and state-guided capitalism has progressed well in some prominent cases.

When U.S. President Barack Obama recently paid a historic visit to Cuba — the first by an American president since that small island-nation’s revolution established the first communist state in the western hemisphere in 1959 — it aroused hopes of change. After all, Cuba has incrementally implemented limited economic reforms. Some analysts have hoped that democracy would follow capitalism into Cuba.

However, where communists monopolize power or dominate the political scene, a transition to democracy needs more than capitalism to proceed. Nothing better illustrates this than the world’s largest and oldest autocracy, China, which has risen dramatically as a world power by blending market capitalism and political monocracy. The Chinese Communist Party — which boasts 88 million members, more than Germany’s total population ¬¬— dominates the country’s political, economic and social life.

Vietnam and Laos — two other countries that, like China, officially claim to be communist while practicing capitalism — have also dashed hope for market forces to create a freer flow of ideas and to gradually open up autocratic political systems thriving on private enterprise. Vietnam and Laos began decentralizing economic control and encouraging private enterprise in the late 1980s and now rank among Asia’s fastest-growing economies. Yet their one-party systems have maintained tight control on political expression.

Capitalism actually strengthens a communist state’s capacity to more effectively employ technology and other resources for internal repression and information control. One classic example is the notorious “Great Firewall of China,” a government operation that screens and blocks Internet content, creating a politically sanitized information realm for citizens.

By practicing authoritarian capitalism, an autocratic state can stay abreast with technological innovations to help deny dissidents the means to denounce injustice. Such denial can include blocking or real-time censorship of social-media platforms, including instant messaging.

The point is that, in countries where communists call the shots, a free market for goods and services does not generate a marketplace of ideas. In a communist state, rising prosperity through economic liberalization does not create conditions for political pluralism. In other words, countries that liberalize economically do not necessarily liberalize politically, especially when political conditions remain adverse to change.

As an ideology, communism may have lost its moorings, yet it remains antithetical to democracy, because it is centered on monopolizing political power. In all the communist-governed states, cloistered oligarchies have emerged as the original ideology has given way to new means to retain political power, including family lineage, network of connections, corruption and ruthless self-promotion.

Still, communism has helped to spawn the model of authoritarian capitalism. Communism was never a credible challenge to liberal democracy but authoritarian capitalism is.

Through its success story, China, for example, advertises that authoritarian capitalism is a more rapid and smoother path to prosperity and stability than the tumult and uncertainty of electoral politics and the constant tussle between the executive branch and the legislature in democracies. This model provides encouragement to other autocratic states to pursue economic growth and regime stability through authoritarian capitalism.

More broadly, at a time when democratic and free-market principles have come under pressure, the rise of authoritarian capitalism underscores the imperative for an international debate on a fundamental issue — why the global spread of democracy has stalled. Is the rise of authoritarian capitalism one factor?

Human dignity matters a lot. A poor person can be happy but a rich individual can be miserable, depending on the circumstances of their existence. With dignity, even a poor person can hold his head high. The question is: Can a political-economic system that strips citizens of their dignity survive indefinitely?

Authoritarian capitalism usually pretends to be meritocracy offering competent governance and economic opportunity for all. In reality, it entrenches corrupt oligarchies that are answerable to no one and that employ ultra-nationalism as the legitimating credo of their monopoly on power.

© China-US Focus, 2016.