US bombing of Afghanistan: Policy shift or just political grandstanding?
Dr. Deepa Ollapally, director of the Rising Powers Initiative and a research professor of international affairs at GWU, argued in an article on Scroll.in that “it could be a way of sending the message that the Trump administration is taking a ‘tough’ line on terrorism as promised, without making tough policy changes.” Find out more here.Continue Reading →
Indo-Afghan relations grew stronger as India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, traveled to Afghanistan on June 3rd to inaugurate the Afghan-Indian Friendship Dam. The 42 megawatt hydroelectric dam is the result of a $273 million investment by the Indian Government to promote agriculture in Afghanistan’s Herat province. It is estimated that the dam will be able to soon irrigate 75,000 hectares of farmland.
Construction of the dam, originally named Salma Dam, had actually begun in 1976, but was halted when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in 1979. The rebellion against Soviet occupation and the subsequent civil war greatly damaged the dam’s infrastructure. However, after the overthrow of the Taliban, India renewed its commitment to building the dam. Thus, although forty years after initially starting, construction of the dam is now complete.
The inauguration of the dam is only one of many recent steps towards stronger Indo-Afghan economic and political relations. Recently, the two powers – along with Iran – signed a regional corridor trade agreement. The key feature of the agreement is India’s pledge to finance the development of the Chabahar port, Iran’s only port with direct access to the ocean. In return, Iran agrees to a sea-land trade route to India via Afghanistan’s road networks. (more…)Continue Reading →
Rajesh Rajagopalan, a participant in RPI’s Nuclear Debates in Asia and Worldviews of Aspiring Powers projects and professor in International Politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, wrote an op-ed for The Economic Times where he discussed challenges that will be waiting in the inbox of Sushma Swaraj, the recently named External Affairs Minister for India’s new government. After the overwhelming election of Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, Rajagopalan suggests two key priorities for the new foreign policy team: 1) restoring good relations with the United States, East Asian powers, and India’s immediate neighbors; and 2) improving Indian foreign service infrastructure.
He expects Swaraj will be able to take advantage of the BJP’s commanding mandate to “undertake both important policy and institutional changes” since “such opportunities come but rarely and it would be a shame if this one is wasted.” (more…)Continue Reading →
Deepa Ollapally, Research Professor of International Affairs and the Associate Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, wrote an op-ed for the Indian Express on April 15 discussing the presidential election in Afghanistan. She argues that Afghanistan’s unpredictable neighbor, Pakistan, remains a “wild card” for the new Afghan president, as Pakistani terror attacks continue to pose a threat to the country’s stability:
New Afghan president must deal with an unpredictable neighbour.
By all accounts, the much-awaited presidential election in Afghanistan was a success, at least in terms of the turnout and voting process. As we wait for official results to see whether a run-off is necessary, in the event that no single candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the votes, it is worth considering the looming question — Afghanistan’s post-election prospects. A pivotal actor in Afghanistan’s fortunes is not the Afghan voter, Taliban fighter, former warlord or even the new president. It is Afghanistan’s next-door neighbour Pakistan, which can only be characterised as a “wild card”.
It is hard to describe Pakistan as anything else when, even after 13 years of waging war together in Afghanistan, US officials and analysts on South Asia are not able to assess the Pakistan government’s “real” intentions towards Kabul after American withdrawal. Instead, they tend to offer two very divergent interpretations, an optimistic scenario and a pessimistic one, thus leaving this critical question unanswered.
Although the takers for an optimistic scenario are decreasing, it is perhaps understandable from a diplomatic viewpoint that a dire prediction is not a desirable policy option for the US: it would highlight just how little has been achieved even as it departs, and just how little can be done even if it wanted to change the equation with Pakistan. (more…)Continue Reading →
At the Third U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue held last Wednesday (June 13) in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Indian Minister of External Affairs Shri S.M. Krishna announced in a joint statement several agreements on strategic cooperation, security, energy, trade, and education. This post examines the key issues that garnered the most attention in the Indian media.
Overall assessments of the high-level bilateral talks took note of India’s usual strategic restraint and desire for autonomy.
- The Times of India contrasted America’s sense of urgency and impatience with India’s much more cautious attitude and slow-moving pace. “New Delhi’s views…are tempered by years of experiencing what is said to be Washington’s whimsical and near-sighted policies.”
- The left-leaning Hindu observed that this Strategic Dialogue ” lacked the energy” of the previous round, with Washington pre-occupied with the upcoming election. On the other hand, The Indian Express faulted Delhi’s coalition government for its weak domestic support and hence inability to deliver on international expectations.
Media coverage focused on two main developments: Washington’s announcement prior to the Strategic Dialogue that it will exempt India from sanctions related to importing oil from Iran, and the U.S.-India decision to begin holding formal trilateral consultations with Afghanistan.
- The Times of India reported that New Delhi “welcomed warmly” the sanctions exemption, whereas the The Indian Express characterized India’s reaction as “cautious.” The Express also published an op-ed by Harsh V. Pant, a U.K.-based academic, who explained that “Iran has now only a marginal role in India-U.S. relations.”
- On Afghanistan, an editorial in the hard-nationalist Pioneer attributed Washington’s “new-found love for India” to the sharp deterioration in U.S.-Pakistan relations. However, commentator Jyoti Malhotra also wrote in the Business Standard that this is a ” great leap forward for the Americans.”
Another issue that garnered much attention in the Indian press but minimal coverage in the U.S. media was India’s ongoing request to gain access to two suspects in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, currently in U.S. custody. The Hindu asked, is India’s request “falling on deaf ears?”Continue Reading →
Last week, leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization met in Chicago to discuss the future of NATO’s role in Afghanistan. This post highlights commentary on this topic from the Russian, Indian and Chinese press.
Commentary in Russia generally called for greater Russian integration into NATO structures, while encouraging continued dialogue on NATO’s European missile shield plans.
- The state-run Itar-Tass news agency took an optimistic view of Russia-NATO relations in a review of the 15 year partnership, praising the continued growth of “mutual understanding and openness” between Russia and NATO.
On Afghanistan however, Russian views were highly critical. Several commentaries called for an increased role for the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Afghanistan. The CSTO, headquartered in Moscow, is a military alliance made up of seven former Soviet republics: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
- Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that “NATO has so far ignored repeated offers from the CSTO bloc to start real action in fighting the Afghanistan drug trade” and that ” Russia is interested in the CSTO playing a bigger role in the anti-drug fight.”
- “Another NATO Summit, trying to find solutions for a destabilized Afghanistan,” lamented Pravda “Why is Afghanistan destabilized? Because NATO destabilized it…the more NATO rears its demonic head, the greater the need for an enlarged and effective CSTO.”
The main theme in Indian commentary was Pakistan’s role in hindering NATO efforts to stabilize Afghanistan:
- Given Pakistan’s refusal to reopen NATO supply routes and its continued support for terrorists networks that support the Taliban, “NATO must further develop alternative supply routes to Afghanistan through Russia and central Asia,” urged the Times of India in an editorial. “It also needs to slow down current plans to withdraw troops.”
- C. Raja Mohan argued that ” the US should play hardball” with the Pakistani army, and outlined four possible ways the US might “confront [Pakistan’s] double-game in Afghanistan.” Expressing a great-power realist viewpoint, Mohan said that the US, despite its weakening position in Afghanistan, still has enough levers to compel Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban.
Another concern was India’s relationship with NATO. An op-ed in the Indian Express lamented the absence of any structured engagement between India and NATO:
- “Given that the [NATO] alliance was built on principles and values that its members ostensibly share with India, there are no reasons why India’s defense establishment should not be considering similar opportunities for interaction. India is certainly not interested in a formal partnership, but shared interests and realms of activity…lend themselves, at the very least, to an agenda for consultations and dialogue.”
The officially-sanctioned press cast NATO as increasingly marginalized but also overly aggressive in recent military ventures. The People’s Daily argued that NATO “should not maintain its unsustainable life by exaggerating others’ military threats.” A commentary published by Xinhua pointed to various post-Cold War NATO missions and said that “NATO warmongering has triggered many disputes in the international community and even within the alliance itself.”Continue Reading →
How is the Asian region responding to the death of Osama bin Laden? In this blog post, we examine the domestic viewpoints of India, Iran, Russia, China and Japan, especially their reflections on terrorism, U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and the role of Pakistan.
In India, most commentaries focused on India’s relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan, while some reflected on the ongoing democratization processes in the Middle East.
- The Hindu described the revelation of bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan as a “moment of truth…similar to the discovery that the 2008 Mumbai attacks were launched from its territory,” but it nevertheless urged restraint in Indian diplomacy: “While it may be tempting to see bin Laden’s killing at Abbottabad as confirmation of India’s worst fears, New Delhi must resist the temptation to crow, and must push ahead with the peace process with the civilian government of Pakistan.” The Indian Express had a similar view, saying “India has to continue to be innovative and largehearted in engaging with as large a section of the Pakistani establishment as it can.
- The Times of India wondered whether the U.S. would accelerate its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and expressed deep worry that this could “easily lead to chaos with serious security ramifications for the region, including India.” The Indian Express urged more cooperation with the U.S. on Af-Pak peace: “The death in Abbottabad is a reminder of the realism needed to negotiate the new great game being played for Afghanistan after the drawdown of American troop presence….Given its limited leverage within Pakistan, India must also be engaged with the US and the international community on steps towards Af-Pak peace, to prevent the re-emergence of Afghanistan as a hotbed for extremism and also to enable political stability in Pakistan.
- Other commentaries in the Hindustan Times, Economic Times, and Indian Express all noted that al-Qaeda had originally sought to overthrow the regimes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but now the pro-democracy movements of the “Arab spring” are showing the region’s disenfranchised youth an alternative to religious radicalism in pushing for political change.
An analysis by Semira N. Nikou of the United States Institute for Peace notes that the general reaction in Iran “discounted Osama bin Laden’s death while at the same time calling for a faster U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, since the pretext for going to war was eliminated.”
- Ramin Mehmanparast, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson, said the “US and their allies have no more excuse to deploy forces in the Middle East under pretext of fighting terrorism.” In a similar tone, defense minister Ahmad Vahidi emphasized the casualties from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, commenting that Americans had “inflicted much damage to the region to kill only one individual.” (more…)