There’s a New Great Game in Afghanistan. It’s Called Cricket.

— By Retd Lt Gen Namaloom Afraad

There’s a new Great Game in Afghanistan and it is hurting Pakistan badly. This week saw Afghanistan’s entry into test cricket. While we welcome the move, we strongly protest the way in which this was done. India, after surreptitiously granting a ‘home ground’ for the Afghanistan cricket team in Dehradun, is trying to pose itself as a state genuinely interested in Afghanistan’s well-being. What is being forgotten is that the team would have not taken shape at all but for Pakistan graciously allowing Afghan youngsters to play cricket in refugee camps.

The world is well aware of Pakistan’s commitment to peace and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan has sacrificed many lives to ensure that a true Afghan-led solution can be brought about. That’s the only reason why we are supporting the Afghan Taliban even though it incurs a huge cost to the Pakistani state and society. But while we were busy doing that, India is sabotaging Pakistan’s national interests by providing cricket training to the people of Afghanistan.

We are always asked for proofs of Indian interference in Afghanistan. We don’t need to provide them any longer because India’s role is out in the open. But let me provide a few pieces of evidence in any case.

One, the Afghanistan cricket team couldn’t have been trained without the extensive support provided by R&AW. Grounds and stadia in Afghanistan have been constructed by India. This bolsters the case we have argued for long — India’s four consulates in Afghanistan are actively undermining Pakistani interests in the region.

Two, India is spreading false propaganda in American newspapers on the rise of Afghanistan’s cricket team while whitewashing the role played by Pakistan in the team’s rise.

Three, reliable sources have informed us that Afghanistan T-20 jerseys were being freely sold in India during the match. India even got many Afghanistan supporters into the spectator stands and made them carry flags and banners symbolising India-Afghanistan friendship. The BCCI (not our BCCI, that’s long dead) twitter handle also posted provocative videos like the one below where they got Afghan players to pose with the trophy. All these instances are deliberate acts of provocation on India’s part to destabilise Pakistan’s own efforts in bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Pakistan has always shown active interest in finding a settlement of the Afghan issue. In the recent past, we proposed a string of formations including the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG). In the QCG, Pakistan even took the initiative of inviting the cricketing teams of US and China so that Afghanistan and Pakistan could be in the finals. But the plan failed because India scuttled it and offered cricketing facilities to Afghanistan in India.

We must launch a strong protest against Indian role in Afghanistan cricket and raise the issue in the next UN General Assembly meeting. After all, what are we waiting for? Will we now have to put up with the ignominy of playing a test match against Afghanistan in India? It’s time that Pakistan stood up for its interests and exposed India’s commencement of the new Great Game in Afghanistan.

I watched the Afghanistan cricket team’s test match live from the spectator stands in Bengaluru’s Chinnaswamy Stadium. As Ratan Malli mentioned on Twitter, someone from Pakistan will soon write about how this new engagement is reflective of “India’s meddling in Afghanistan” and “how India is using Afghanistan to foment unrest against Pakistan”. This article has been written to help elements from the Pakistani military-jihadi complex in their endeavours. They can freely copy-paste from here. No citation needed. Only use #satire.

 

Advantage China after Trump-Kim summit

For all the talk about China being insecure with regard to potential Donald Trump-Kim Jong Un bonhomie, Beijing is likely to be rather pleased with the events that transpired in Singapore today.

First, soon after the early reports of the agreement came from Singapore, China called for easing sanctions and “establishing a peace mechanism.” The US-DPRK statement also envisions something similar, i.e., the “building of a lasting and robust peace regime.”

Such a framework places Beijing directly at the negotiating table. Foreign Minister Wang Yi underscored this today, saying China had and continues to play a “unique and important role” in the Korean Peninsula issue. The fact that Kim flew on an Air China jet shows Beijing’s continuing influence over Pyongyang.

Second, the formulation of the DPRK committing to work towards complete denuclearisation, while Trump describes US-South Korea drills as “provocative” and talks about ending US force presence in South Korea also works for Beijing in more ways than one. This is essentially what Beijing had been seeking for months, via its double freeze proposal. Moreover, Trump’s characterisation of US force presence in the region isn’t likely to have gone unnoticed in other regional capitals.

For one, the South Korean administration appeared to have been caught off guard with Trump offering the drills as a bargaining chip. The presidency and military both issued statements saying that clarity was needed on “the meaning and intention” of Trump’s remarks.

But more broadly, if US-South Korea military ties and exercises are “provocative,” would Washington under Trump be a reliable partner for states involved in the South China Sea dispute or even Taiwan, irrespective of the Indo-Pacific strategy and Defence Secretary James Mattis’ tough words at the Shangri-La Dialogue.

Also, Trump’s remarks about the cost of military exercises are very damaging. It’s one thing to want allies to carry their weight. But the repeated counting of costs is incredibly short-sighted and likely to raise questions about the costs that the US will be willing to incur to challenge an assertive China in the region.

After today, it appears that for all the rhetoric, Trump is uninterested in incurring those costs. Trump might have sought history in Singapore. But today’s developments mean it’s advantage Beijing.

US should get more tough on China!

The United States struck a deal with ZTE with a penalty of $1 billion and $400 million in an escrow account to end the sanctions imposed against them. The deal also includes a putting in a new compliance department in the company which will report directly to the new chairman.

The consensus is that United States is letting ZTE, go away without getting too much in return. At least they could have imposed a larger penalty to send signals to companies looking to do business with North Korea, Iran, and Russia about the costs of doing so.

Moreover, this will not only harm long-term US interests in the technological space but also give a signal to the Chinese that the United States is willing to compromise on any future conflicts including trade if token solutions are provided directly to President Trump.

Not only that, the US government has mixed in different fields of trade, domestic law enforcement, and national security, without giving clear details on what are the national security risks of letting in ZTE back into the US.

The larger picture is of China challenging the United States in each and every sphere for global dominance and will lie, cheat and steal its way to essential technology, Intellectual Property to further strengthen itself. It’s upon the United States to take more proactive measures to curb this while it still has time, otherwise, it will be too little too less.

 

US Congress should bring in legislation on Taiwan Issue!

The naming issue of Taiwan is heating up between the US and Chinese governments as the deadline approaches in China for airline companies to comply. The Chinese government has asked airlines to remove any reference to Taiwan as an independent country and address it as Taiwan, China. Many international airline companies have already made the change, and US-based airline carriers are the only major holdouts, as they seek clarity from the US government. The US government has already called it ‘Orwellian nonsense’ and is in consultation with its allies such as Australia and UK on the issue.

The solution for this is for the US Congress to bring in legislation on the issue, and debar the US-based airlines from changing the name by law. This issue has blown up way beyond China’s regular diktats against private companies, and should be challenged by the United States and its allies.

Not only that, the US Congress should force by law, the Chinese airline carriers to list Taiwan as a separate country on their international websites in a tit for tat measure.

Obviously, there will be economic consequences for US airlines for not toeing the Chinese diktats, but by bringing in US laws on the naming issue, Chinese airlines will also suffer. Furthermore, if Chinese airlines do cave into the naming of Taiwan as a separate country on their US and international websites, it will be tacit acceptance of the status quo by the Chinese government since most of them are state-owned enterprises!

This kind of retaliatory measure will hopefully put some sense into China to steer clear of the naming issue in future.

 

Another Shot at Negotiations with the Taliban

Afghanistan’s President, Ashraf Ghani, has announced an unconditional ceasefire with the Taliban until June 20. At the outset, this looks like a last throw of the dice by Ashraf Ghani at peace before the elections. His tenure as President has seen a worsening security situation and a strengthened Taliban. The latest SIGAR Quarterly report (April 2018) noted that:

The winter months saw an unusual surge of violence in Kabul, reflecting the insurgency’s shift to launching successive attacks on civilians in the capital in response to increased ANDSF pressure in the provinces.

Neither has this ceasefire announcement come out of the blue. Earlier in February, Ghani offered to negotiate with the Taliban without preconditions if they would halt their ties with terrorism and respect the Afghanistan constitution. President Ghani had also raised the idea of the Taliban becoming a political party. That didn’t bear any fruit. The Taliban has only increased attacks in Kabul and has spurned all talks about talks with the Afghan government.

So here we are. The unconditional ceasefire is unlikely to nudge the Taliban into talks. They are negotiating from a position of strength with respect to the Afghan government now. Moreover, the current Taliban leadership is under the direct control of Pakistan and has no autonomy whatsoever. This is what we wrote last year:

The current leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhunzada, is little known and has been foisted by Pakistan to deny autonomy to the group. Together, the Taliban and the Haqqani network – both beholden to Pakistan – have made it clear that their endgame is not talks but conquest. Even though the National Unity Government (NUG) has tried several processes from Istanbul to Murree to Kabul, and has opened up the terms of the dialogue to include a number of wide-ranging issues, Pakistan has made it clear that this military lever will not be transitioned into a political one.

Perhaps the best outcome that the Afghan government can hope to achieve from this unconditional ceasefire is to break the Taliban into credible factions that can become negotiators in the next round of talks.

PS: All this churn favours Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose return to Afghanistan in 2017 was engineered by Pakistan and is being repositioned by the Pakistan as a mainstream political leader.

What is China’s perspective on the rules-based order?

The concept of a rules-based order has become part of common diplomatic parlance of late. This framework roughly refers to a common set of rules or norms of engagement in the international arena that have been mutually agreed upon among states.

The recent debate around a rules-based order, in large part, is a product of changes taking place in the world order, owing to America’s relative decline and China’s rise. For instance, the idea of the importance of preserving the rules-based order is repeatedly invoked in connection with China’s island-building in the South China Sea and its rejection of the 2016 Hague tribunal’s verdict following a case by the Philippines. In this perspective, Beijing is seen as undermining the rules-based order.

At the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi both referred to the importance of a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. A South China Morning Post round-up of the event quotes Yao Yunzhu, a retired PLA major general and a delegate at the SLD, as saying: “The US has created a grand narrative consisting of keywords including ‘rule-based order’, ‘freedom of navigation and overflight’, and ‘militarisation’ – once you hear these words, you know it’s a criticism targeting China.”

So what exactly is Beijing’s position on such a framework? Do Chinese policies disregard the rules of the road internationally or is there is a specific Chinese conceptualisation of a rules-based order?

The answer to these questions lies in the Chinese elite’s perception of their country’s international role based on an assessment of power. For instance, Xi Jinping’s articulation of “major power” or “big country” diplomacy implies that China does believe in different rules for different players. Intuitively, such a framework undermines the idea of a common framework for all states irrespective of size or power. It implies a difference in the rights and responsibilities of big and small countries.

That, nevertheless, does not imply an outright rejection of international institutions or norms. For instance, building a multilateral and multipolar world order remains a key Chinese objective. In such a framework, Beijing views institutions such as the UN and WTO as critical players. Its actions, for now, do not indicate a desire to upend the system. Rather, they reflect a wish to expand China’s authority within the system. Beijing, in fact, views the US, particularly under Donald Trump, as undermining this order with its America First policy.

Also, Chinese diplomacy has historically and ideologically been wedded to the primacy of the institution of sovereignty and thereby non-interference as the defining principle of the international order. Beijing’s repeated criticism of the West, particularly America, in terms of the doctrines of humanitarian intervention (Libya) and pre-emptive strike (Iraq) are rooted in this framework. This was also one of Beijing’s arguments against the Hague tribunal.

Sovereignty also forms the fundamental premise for Xi’s vision for building a community with shared future with mankind. For instance, on issues of economic development, human rights, political systems and so on, Beijing rejects the applicability of universal notions. Instead, it argues in favour of taking into consideration national conditions.

So, China is clearly articulating a vision for a rules-based order, albeit one premised on realpolitik and sovereignty.

India Needs an Aggressive China Insurance Policy

What should India’s conduct with China look like? This question is on the minds of a lot of people in India’s foreign policy circles. I currently have a two-part answer to this question:

Part 1: Assuming that yogakshema for all Indians is defined as the national interest, India’s asks from China would be: peace on the borders and investments in the Indian economy. From a Chinese perspective, these asks are extremely beneficial too. Peace on the Indian border allows them to concentrate their efforts towards challenging the US in the South China Sea. And India is perhaps the only market with the scale and the stability to promise returns on Chinese capital currently flowing to weaker economies.

Part 2: Part 1 is insufficient because China’s recent movements – in Maldives, Nepal, and Doklam – are indicative of its tendency to eschew a mutually beneficial path and pick an openly hostile front instead. To prevent this switch, India needs to invest in I call an Aggressive China Insurance Policy. The motive of this policy is simple: should Xi Jinping’s China get aggressive with India, India should have readily available capacity to inflict significant pain to China in return. The insurance “premium” for this policy includes a variety of measures:

  1. Establish contacts with the key members of World Uyghur Congress and other such organisations.
  2. Shift the focus of “Act East/Look East” to one country — Vietnam.
  3. Offer Trump deals that can deepen the US-India engagement.
  4. Sponsor studies that puncture the “Chinese Leaders Do No Wrong” narrative.

This two-part policy can help India modulate its relationship with China.

How did China fare at the Shangri-La Dialogue?

In many ways, the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) in Singapore over the weekend played pretty much as per the script. Going into the event, the Chinese side was acutely aware that it would come in for criticism, with US Defence Secretary James Mattis likely to lead the charge. Before arriving in Singapore, Mattis had already warned of increased US action in the South China Sea.

Beijing, therefore, sought to define the event an “academic exchange” as opposed to a policy-level dialogue. That didn’t, however, dampen the combative tone of the Chinese side. So while Mattis lashed out at Chinese “coercion” in the South China Sea, Lieutenant General He Lei, vice-president of the Academy of Military Science, charged the US with militarising the region, adding that stationing of Chinese soldiers and weaponry was a symbol of sovereignty.

The question that remains is whether the US is willing to do more that Freedom of Navigation operations to counter China’s growing power in the disputed waters? Perhaps sanctions against Chinese companies involved in island building or expanding military to military cooperation?

Despite that and much to Beijing’s chagrin, the Indo-Pacific narrative appears to be gathering steam. French Defence Minister Florence Parly has indicated that Paris and London will be coordinating their vision on Asian affairs, sailing together across “certain seas.” Japan, Australia and the US also reportedly agreed to work together to deal with any attempt to change the status quo in the South China Sea unilaterally.

Chinese state media, however, has churned out a rather glowing appraisal of the Chinese delegation’s efforts in Singapore, stating that “China has played a crucial role by upholding its concept of a comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.” One of the highlights for state media was Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s comments about the need for “strong and stable” Sino-India ties. Chinese analysts have also welcomed Modi’s remarks. Unsurprisingly, there has been no mention of Modi’s language on the Indo-Pacific, rules-based order and ties with the US.

The Xinhua report after SLD also lashed out at “participants from some Western countries” who “tried to create tensions in the South China Sea, issuing false statements.” That’s becoming a bit of a theme in state media. Take this Global Times piece, which essentially cautions India from falling into a competition trap defined by the West.

Why Did the FATA-KP Merger Happen Now?

Yesterday, the Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain signed a legislation that merged FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. At least notionally, the people of FATA now have the same rights as all other Pakistanis do. In a sense, the decolonisation of FATA began yesterday.

This is a landmark moment for Pakistan and the wider region. But the aspect of this decision that interests me most is: why now? What caused the Overton Window to shift now, making this policy change became feasible?

The FATA region has been critical to the Pakistani military-jihadi complex’s Afghanistan policy. The Haqqani Network and other assorted groups have used this region as a launchpad for their operations inside Afghanistan. And given that the military-jihadi complex (MJC) is at the helm of affairs in Pakistan, the FATA-KP merger indicates a change — tactical or strategic — in the MJC’s policy.

A strategic policy change implies that the MJC is seriously reconsidering its approach of using terrorism to achieve strategic gains. It further means that reeling under self-inflicted losses, the MJC is now thinking of reversing its policy stance towards Afghanistan and perhaps India. Though this sounds like great news, it is also just too good to be true. An indicator that supports this sceptical assessment is this: the MJC has merely replaced the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) with an Interim Regulation Order — old wine in a new bottle. ANP leader Afrasiab Khattak had this to say regarding the merger:

It is more likely that the merger is a tactical response that the MJC was forced to concede. If so, what were the forces that enabled this concession? The success of the snowballing Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) certainly seems to be the immediate trigger. Abolition of FCR was one of the major planks of this movement and the Pakistani Army has at least temporarily taken the wind out of PTM’s sails by agreeing to the FATA-KP merger. This is what a Pakistani analyst had to say regarding the PTM’s role in the merger:

the pressure created by the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) cannot be ignored. The PTM has criticized the military for its heavy-handed approach in terms of dealing with ethnic Pashtuns living in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The movement has attracted strong support internationally and successfully built a narrative that accuses the military’s heavy presence as a reason for the region’s ill-treatment. While the military may have been planning to ensure FATA’s regulation, the pressure generated by PTM has only expedited the process.

But then again, if you have followed Pakistani politics long enough, you know that backing down is not the MJC’s style. If PTM were the only factor, they would have been managed through disappearances and even assassinations by the garden variety of namaloom afraads at the disposal of the MJC. So clearly, there’s some other factor at play here.

My speculation is that pressure by the US government had some role to play here. In fact, an allegation to this effect was made by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman. There might be some grain of truth in this. A test for this hypothesis could be the economic gains Pakistan receives from the US (and IMF) in return for this ‘historic’ step. In recent months, Pakistan’s external debt situation has only worsened and the MJC seems primed to take a detour in its foreign policy in order to meet urgent economic needs.

What do you think made the MJC change its FATA policy?

 

Bangladesh seeks India’s support on Rohingyas

Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina was in West Bengal yesterday where she sought India’s help over the Rohingya exodus issue. She expressed hope that countries will pressurise Myanmar government so that Rohingyas would be able to return to their country.

What should India be doing to help? We had this to recommend:

New Delhi must focus on ensuring that Bangladesh is successful in hosting, managing and, once the crisis passes, repatriating the refugees back to Myanmar. Bangladesh is an important neighbour and Sheikh Hasina is a pro-India leader — it is in India’s interests to ensure that she emerges politically stronger as a result of her courageous stance on this issue.

The Bangladeshi prime minister has invested tremendous political capital in the ongoing crisis. The ‘Rohingyas-are-a-terror-risk’ narrative that has dominated the Indian discourse finds resonance in a many Bangladeshis as well. And yet, Sheikh Hasina’s government has chosen to respond in a calm, calculated, and generous manner in responding to the immediate humanitarian crisis.

India’s policy response must cover several dimensions. First and most urgent is the matter of providing humanitarian relief in an adequate and timely manner. Operation Insaniyat is a good starting point. Under the first effort of this relief operation, an Indian Air Force (IAF) plane reached Chittagong on 14th September with 50 metric tonnes of relief assistance. It is further reported that India aims to provide 7000 tonnes of relief materials to Bangladesh. In 2008, India’s Ministry of External Affairs created a separate budget line for international disaster relief, allocating US$10-30 million a year on such efforts since then. The time is right to make Bangladesh the focus of India’s disaster relief efforts over the next few months.

Second, India must enlist the support of South East Asian countries in managing this humanitarian crisis in the common neighbourhood. Myanmar is a member of ASEAN and, so far, both the grouping and individual member-countries have yet to make significant contributions to managing the conflict and the fallout. Indian diplomacy must enlist the support of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand to weigh in politically on their ASEAN counterpart in Naypyidaw to stem the crisis, and extend financial support to the relief effort.

Third, Indian government can also help channelise money and technical assistance to Bangladesh from Indian NGOs and corporate donors. The Bangladeshi government has also started biometric identification of all Rohingya refugees. This project is expected to take many years to complete. The Indian government can offer its help in this exercise as well.

Finally, the Indian armed forces must cooperate with their Bangladeshi counterparts to better secure the maritime and littoral areas, and engage in joint rescue and relief operations. Intelligence and security cooperation between the two countries is also necessary. [Pragati, 25 Sep 2017]

 

 

Chanakya is not a synonym for amoral politics

The name “Chanakya” is a favourite with political enthusiasts, who appropriate it as a nickname for themselves, and with political commentators who anoint the latest big fish in the political arena as “Chanakya”. The modern history of the use of the term perhaps dates back to Jawaharlal Nehru who adopted the pseudonym in a 1937 essay criticising himself. Today it is being used to describe the current BJP president, Amit Shah, for his leave-no-prisoners style of politics.

It is wrong to confuse Chanakya with amoral domestic politics. Not because ancient Indian political philosophy is irrelevant to contemporary politics — it is not — but because there is a difference between international and domestic politics. To read Chanakya out of context would be to arrive at erroneous conclusions. All politics may be about power but there are important moral differences between its use in international relations and domestic politics.

Chanakya’s proposals for amoral politics properly applies to international relations: to relations among sovereigns in his time, and among sovereign states today. Because there is no overarching world government, it is consistent with raja dharma to take the amoral route to power. Maximising one’s own power with respect to other (sovereigns) is the ultimate goal, because that is the surest way to protect one’s own independence, values and way of life. This is similar to what modern-day realists believe and practice.

However, when it comes to politics within a country, use of power is circumscribed by morality. Even in Chanakya’s days, a king could not violate raja dharma, nor could his subjects violate their common and specific dharmas. The Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata — where Bhishma does an AMA with the Pandavas while lying on his deathbed of arrows— goes into great detail on raja dharma, and how a king must rule. There was no written constitution then, but constitutional morality existed and bound the king (and his government) in the form of raja dharma and the dharma shastras.

We should not expect twenty-first century moral values in ancient moral codes, but the point is that moral codes existed and placed normative bounds on the actions of the king and government. In other words, in the domestic context, Chanakya’s prescriptions were and must be read within the constraints of a constitutional morality. Furthermore, to apply Chanakya’s strategies in business management and interpersonal relations would be wrong except where the law of the jungle prevails.

Raja dharma today is to be found in the written Constitution of India and the legal framework it has created.

People who breach this dharma cannot be called Chanakya. To do so would be to profoundly misunderstand a very sophisticated political philosophy.

Aftertaste. Both Voldemort and Vijay Dinanath Chauhan make the same mistake, as I wrote in my Pax Indica column some years ago. My Reading the Arthashastra archive has a few posts on how to relate Chanakya’s philosophy to modern times.

A Case of the Pot and the Kettle

In an article about Angela Merkel’s upcoming visit to China, The Global Times, published an article that called for more cooperation between the EU and China:

Although Europe is grappling with a multitude of problems like terrorism, the refugee crisis, Brexit and its declining clout, it still carries weight in the international community. To fulfill its responsibilities as a major country, China needs Europe’s cooperation on regional and global affairs such as climate change, counter-terrorism and global governance. This gets more important given the political upheaval triggered by Washington.

As China grows stronger economically and has a bigger say in the international community, more countries seek cooperation with China. In today’s world where countries are entwined in each other’s interests, more cooperation is a natural outcome and on an equal basis. In this process, mutual respect is essential while a condescending view must be abandoned.

While cooperation is worth lauding, the EU may be looking at China for investment and trade. However, it is also taking note of problems with Chinese sharp power as elsewhere in the world. The European Parliament released a two-page note on the debate on ‘China’s foreign influence operations in Western liberal democracies: An emerging debate’. Here, it takes stock of the events in Australia, New Zealand and the US. It also looks at the concerns about Chinese influencing politics within the EU:

As China successfully steers the debate on China in the EU to issues such as the country’s Silk Road initiatives, there is little room for discussion of the impact of alleged CCP-led foreign influence operations on EU norms and values. A case in point is the front-page articles by China’s Ambassador to the UK, published in a UK media outlet in January 2018 before Prime Minister Theresa May’s state visit to China and again in March 2018. Neither a German intelligence report uncovering Chinese operatives using fake LinkedIn profiles in more than 10 000 emails to German citizens allegedly to recruit informants, nor Chinese pressure on Western publishers to self-censor products for the Chinese market have triggered a debate.

While more countries in Europe may be keen to engage with China, they remain mindful of any attempts to influence the state of their democracies. So, China will have to consider this when they call for ‘mutual respect’ and abandoning a ‘condescending worldview’