March 19, 2018

Indialogue Newsletter , excerpt

Indialogue Newsletter
By Aman Thakkar


Worsening India-Pakistan Relations Amid Allegations of Harassment of Diplomats

India and Pakistan have traded accusations over mistreatment and harassment of their diplomats, with each alleging that the other is behind the harassment. India has alleged that vehicles from high commission, including that of the High Commissioner himself, in Islamabad have been forcibly stopped, a contractor who maintains the Indian chancery building has been threatened, and that an Indian official’s home in Islamabad was broken into and a laptop stolen. Meanwhile, Pakistan hasalleged that Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner’s children were stopped on their way to school, and that the car of another diplomat was “chased and scratched” in New Delhi. Among the more ridiculous (yet irritating) harassing has been the accusation of ringing the doorbell in the middle of the night and running away in both Islamabad and New Delhi.

Why this Matters?: Looking beyond the acts of harassment (as ridiculous as some of them might be), this exchange actually underscores worsening ties between India and Pakistan. New Delhi has reported 633 ceasefire violations (CFVs) by Pakistan in the roughly two and a half months in 2018. That’s a new high, and harassment of diplomats only makes any attempts to improve relations or facilitating discussions even more difficult.

India’s Army Has No Money to Modernize At a Time It Desperately Needs To

In a report to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, the Indian Army said that the central government had not allocated enough money to pay for emergency purchases that it made in the aftermath of the Uri attack in 2016, the surgical strikes against Pakistan that followed the attack, and the Doklam standoff against in China last year. Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen. Sarath Chand said that the funds allocated by the central government this year, totalling Rs 21,338 crore ($3 billion) would not even cover the installment payments for past purchases, which total Rs 29,033 crore ($4.46 billion). The Vice Chief of Army Staff went on to say that the goal of the army was to have “one-third of its equipment in the vintage category, one-third in the current category and one-third in the state of the art category. As far as we are concerned, the state today is 68% of our equipment is in the vintage category, with just about 24% in the current, and 8% in the state of the art category.”

Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Sarath Chand

Expert Round-Up

Manu Pubby writes that “the Indian defence budget is now dangerously skewed as the revenue bill has zoomed over the years. The sustained manpower-intensive nature of the services has resulted in a situation where resources available for modernisation of the forces are far outstripped by the money required to pay salaries and pensions to soldiers.”

Ajai Shukla notes that “The pared down capital allocations this year are not a one-off case. A summary of previous years’ projections and actual allocations illustrates that this has been the pattern of the past as well.”

Saikat Datta argues that “Insiders say the “hollowness” is so deep that the Indian Army barely has reserves to fight a war for more than one week. In 2012, the then Chief of Army Staff, General V. K. Singh, wrote a Top Secret letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, pointing out that the Indian Army could not fight a war beyond three days. Things are much worse now, India’s top generals insist.”

TDP Cuts Ties with BJP, To Motion for Vote of No Confidence

Last week’s Indialogue analyzed the public spat between the BJP and its regional ally in Andhra Pradesh, the Telegu Desam Party, over special category status for the state (If you missed it, please read here). Since, the TDP has decided to officially pull out of the BJP-led coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, and will motion for a vote of no-confidence against the government. A motion of no confidence is a vote to decide whether the elected Parliament has confidence in the government and its head, in this case Prime Minister Modi. Modi’s government is likely to survive this motion. The BJP has 274 members, more than the majority mark of 270, and enjoys the support of several allies despite the TDP’s 16 MPs leaving the coalition.

Bigger Picture: A vote of no-confidence, while not a threat to the BJP government, could be embarrassing if the TDP is joined by a number of other parties in a public show of dissatisfaction with the government. Moreover, it would underscore the BJP’s lack of support in the Southern states in India, where regional parties and, to some extent, the Indian National Congress remain more dominant. As we look to the upcoming general elections in 2019, signs of growing anti-incumbency sentiment in the BJP’s base, as well as growing discontentment in the South is something to keep in mind.

Prospects of an Indian Attempt to "Reset" Ties with China Escalate

Last week’s Indialogue also discussed a third attempt by the Modi administration to reset relations with China ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s visit Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit (read last week’s brief here). Reports later emerged that a slew of bilateral meetings have been planned for coming months. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is expected to visit China for the SCO’s Foreign Ministers’ meeting. However, her visit could also include bilateral engagements with Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, while she is there. Her visit will reportedly be followed immediately by a visit from Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Officials have noted that the back-to-back nature of these visits is supposed to signify a significant commitment to improving ties.

Indian Minister of Defence Nirmala Sitharaman (left) and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj (right)

Insight: This reset in relations comes after a turbulent year in Indo-China relations, but the deficit of trust between the two countries remains high.

Analysts note that India supporting China’s candidacy for the vice-presidency of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and asking government officials to skip all events to mark the Dalai Lama’s 60 years in exile is a price too high for normalized relations with a country that continues to encircle India and challenge it in its own neighborhood. Others argue India cannot afford a conflict with China. See the above story on the woeful state of India’s army to underscore just how bad conflict with China could become if a standoff like Doklam were to take place again and become violent.

Regardless of this most recent development, I still argue that India and China need a new and broad framework for engagement despite disagreements, or a new modus vivendi, rather than a simple reset in ties. I’m currently writing an article for The Diplomat putting forth this argument, so please look out for that in the coming weeks.

Stories you might enjoy:

Abhijnan Rej undertakes a detailed study of the prospect of a two-front war (where China and Pakistan would join forces to fight India), and finds that the “force ratio – never in India's favour to begin with – is currently rapidly shifting in favour of the adversary, even after considering smaller fractions of the Chinese military involved in a two-front conflict.”

Pallavi Aiyer argues “the India-Japan economic relationship remains underwhelming both in relation to its potential, and to the ties that each nation shares with China.”

Jeff M. Smith writes “the Free and Open Indo-Pacific represents a specific vision for a rules-based order governing one of the world’s most dynamic regions — an order the United States and the Quad view as increasingly under duress from a more assertive and ambitious China.”

Beena Sarwar says that a recent agreement between India and Pakistan “on prisoner exchanges gives hope that the space thus gained can be opened further with more focus on low-hanging fruits. A major step towards re-gaining normalcy in relations would be to ease the visa process and allow people to meet.”

Sushant Singh writes “The government is unable to find an estimated Rs 2.1 lakh crore that is needed to construct four ‘priority’ strategic railway lines on the China border...These four ‘priority’ lines are part of the 14 strategic lines which were identified for development in November 2010, among the 28 railway lines in border areas approved ‘in principle’ by the Defence Minister in January 2010.”

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