Saturday, July 30, 2011

Geopolitical drive behind Manmohan's Dhaka visit

Pakistan's first female foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, on a visit to Delhi for Indo-Pak dialogues declared jointly with her counterpart Indian external affairs minister SM Krishna that "a new era of bilateral cooperation between the two countries" have begun "indeed", and the "desire of both governments (is) to make it (dialogue) an uninterrupted and uninterruptable process." Recent multiple bomb blasts and casualties in Mumbai by yet-undetected perpetrators did not derail the talks as in the past, although far-right demonstrators dangling "no talks" and "go back" festoons and shouting anti-Pakistani slogans were very much there on the streets of New Delhi. Confidence building measures for traffic across the Line of Control in Kashmir and containing terrorism were at the top of the agenda. Hina Khar went so far as to say in an interview with New Delhi Television that there has been a marked "change of mindset" (in Delhi as well as in Islamabad).

Last week, Sonia Gandhi, Chairman of Indian National Congress, the ruling party of India was on a short visit to Dhaka to attend a conference and to receive the highest national award of Bangladesh posthumously for Indira Gandhi, her late mother-in-law who took the political decision as the-then Prime Minister of India to join the on-going liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. The main opposition party in Bangladesh, the BNP joined the chorus of the ruling alliance in welcoming the visit of Sonia Gandhi as a positive step towards "strengthening" India-Bangladesh relations, albeit on the footing of sovereign equality and with the promise of "fair" resolution of bilateral disputes. At the height of a snow-balling public agitation over tyranny and misrule in Bangladesh, the regular opposition parties of Bangladesh altogether appear to have given signal that no political disturbance will be there until the conclusion of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Dhaka visit immediately after Eid, which "is expected to infuse fresh dynamism into the multi-faceted and multi-dimensional relationship between the two countries". A contrary signal from a section of Indian power structure, by killing not by bullet this time but by barbaric beating and chopping of a Bangladeshi youth at the hands of India's Border Security Force, was sent the very day when Sonia Gandhi arrived in Dhaka.

Nevertheless, a new ambience of regional cooperation and hints of change of mindset in South Asian capitals under strong American persuasion is unmistakable, as particularly evident from comments in Indian media suggesting that India needs the cooperation of its smaller neighbours more than the neighbours may themselves need. Some analysts suggest that a lot diplomatic spadework on the part of US State Department and pentagon officials has been done to obtain this wind of change.

Asif Ezdi, a Pakistani analyst goes to the genesis of this geopolitical turn as follows: "The decision to sponsor the rise of India as a major player on the geopolitical landscape was taken by the US early in the second term of George W Bush. It was communicated to Manmohan Singh in March 2005 by Condoleezza Rice, then secretary of state, who told the Indian prime minister that Washington wanted to make India a global power.

This effort was launched against the background of the growing political, economic and military power of China, seen by Washington as a challenge to its position as the sole superpower. India's assigned role in the US strategy was to serve as a counterweight to China and to stem its assertiveness."

 But global situation and Asian developments did not go the way the sole superpower divined. Analyst Ezdi observed after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Delhi and Chennai visits in India enroute to ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali, Indonesia:

"On her visit to India for the second round of strategic dialogue with India, Hillary Clinton promised some more help for India's great power ambitions. In a major speech in Chennai on a vision for the 21st century, she called upon India to become a more assertive leader in Asia and pledged Washington's support in assisting India to expand its influence beyond its immediate neighbourhood and in particular in China's backyard in South-East Asia and the Pacific rim, as well as China's western flank in Central Asia.

"Since India does not lie on the Pacific and has no capacity for power projection in the region, Clinton had to resort to some verbal acrobatics to declare India qualified for a role as a Pacific power. India, she declared, straddled the waters from the Indian to the Pacific Ocean. That is dubious geography because it is not India but Malaysia and Indonesia that sit astride those waters. But Clinton was obviously not prepared to let that come in the way of her argument. The US and India, she said, had invested deeply in shaping the future of the region that they connect, and with the US, India was a steward of these waterways.

In urging New Delhi to take a stronger role across Asia, Clinton told India, It is time to lead. She pushed Delhi to translate its Look East policy into a stronger action: 'We encourage you not just to look east, but continue to engage and act east as well,' she said. Clinton urged India to start in its immediate neighbourhood by using its influence to promote democratic reforms in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal and increasing its engagement with Bangladesh and Maldives.

"Clinton's other project - building up India as a counterweight to China in Asia-Pacific - is much too grandiose. The fact is that India is having a hard time holding its own in its immediate neighbourhood, as China's growing links with Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Nepal show. To expect India to match China in Southeast Asia and the Pacific rim, where China enjoys numerous longstanding built-in advantages, is not realistic, even when these plans are backed by Washington."

Earlier in April this year, Robert O. Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs had testified before relevant subcommittee of House Foreign Affairs Committee highlighting the following. "With the fulcrum of geopolitics shifting quickly to Asia, India plays an increasingly critical role in our strategic thinking.

The rise of India is in our best interest, and its growth redounds with benefits to our own economy. For instance, during the President's historic visit to India in November, he announced commercial deals that exceeded $14.9 billion in total value with $9.5 billion in U.S. export content, supporting an estimated 53,670 jobs.

One core facet of the U.S-India global strategic partnership - and one that will reap extraordinary dividends both in economic and security terms - is our increasing defence ties.
   Two American aircraft, the F/A 18 Super Hornet and F-16IN Viper, are among the contenders for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition, an $11 billion tender which we hope will further enhance strategic, military, and economic ties between the U.S. and India."

The MMRCA orders, however, were lost by USA to French competition, and as BRICS member, India also withheld its support to NATO actions in Libya. The Clinton visit appears to have swung back this Indian drift away from the superpower fold. In the joint press conference with SM Krishna in New Delhi, Hillary Clinton was fully backed by her Indian counterpart in her essential comments as follows: "We discussed the challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan and our efforts to assist them.

We discussed our shared interest in peaceful and stable Asia, Pacific and the Indian Ocean region, and the evolution of an open, balanced, inclusive architecture in the nation. We will continue to work together and with other countries towards this goal through various mechanisms such as our bilateral dialogue, the regional forums, and our trilateral dialogue with Japan. Secretary Clinton and I will continue this engagement in the ARF meeting later this week.

Reference trade and investment, we think as much progress as we've made, both the United States and India can take further steps to reduce barriers, open our markets, and encourage new business partnerships to create jobs and opportunity for millions of our people while strengthening both of our nations' economic competitiveness.

On security cooperation, we are deepening and expanding our efforts and making great strides together on behalf of counterterrorism, but also with respect to maritime security, we believe strengthening our military-to-military ties, including through the sale of defence technologies, will assist the Indian and American militaries to work together in a constructive way on everything from patrolling the seas, combating piracy, providing relief to the victims of natural disasters.

And finally with regard to our civil nuclear agreement, this represents a major investment by both of our countries in this critical bilateral relationship. We need to resolve those issues that still remain so we can reap the rewards of the extraordinary work that both of our governments have done."

Questioned about June NSG meeting, which raised apprehension that India might again be subjected to restrictions when it comes to transfer of sensitive technology like the ENR, Clinton said "Nothing about the new enrichment and reprocessing transfer restrictions agreed to by the Nuclear Suppliers Group members should be construed as detracting from the unique impact and importance of the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement or our commitment to full civil nuclear cooperation. But I have to add that we are looking forward to India ratifying the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage during this year, before the end of this year. And we would encourage engagement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that the liability regime that India adopts by law fully conforms with the international requirements under the convention." And she added: "As President Obama has said, we believe this relationship will be a defining partnership of the 21st century, and we wholeheartedly support the rise of India as a regional and global leader. I will be in Chennai tomorrow and I will speak at greater length on our view of India's role in the region and the world."

In Chennai, her essential message was "Foreign Minister Krishna and I will attend the ASEAN Regional Forum, and we will there be working in conjunction with ASEAN partners and others, and we will soon inaugurate a trilateral U.S.-India-Japan dialogue. America's treaty alliances with Japan has long been a cornerstone of security in East Asia, and as a fellow democracy with us and India, we believe enhanced cooperation will be beneficial. We are also committed to a strong, constructive relationship among India, the United States, and China. Now, we know this will not always be easy. There are important matters on which we all disagree, one with the other. But we do have significant areas of common interest. We could begin by focusing on violent extremism, which threatens people on all - in all of our countries. Ultimately, if we want to address, manage, or solve some of the most pressing issues of the 21st century, India, China, and the United States will have to coordinate our efforts."

Analyst Asif Ezdi observed "While leaving little doubt that Washington would like a rising India to be a partner in countering China's assertiveness, Clinton took care not to name China as a rival or competitor in her public statements, and she emphasised - to the delight of the Indians and the dismay of the Japanese, America s principal Asian allies for six decades - that India, China and the United States (but not Japan) would have to coordinate their efforts as they all seek to build Asia's future."

In this geopolitical context, one may reasonably expect that if Bangladesh is ready with necessary exercise for fruitful bargains, the Manmohan visit may indeed open the door for "multi-faceted and multi-dimensional" Indo-Bangladesh relationship. But in toeing the Krishna-Clinton roadmap, Bangladesh ought to be wary of the pitfalls already surfacing in Indo-US strategic partnership, and we must not send the wrong signal to China, who has been techno-strategically assisting our national defence.