India’s explanation of vote delivered by Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Permanent Representative of India to UN at the General Assembly Resolution on Syria
India remains deeply connected at the unabated violence in Syria and the suffering it continue to cause to the Syrian people. The military approach pursued by various sides to the conflict has undermined the efforts for a political solution to the crisis. Violence has assumed a serious sectarian nature, and terrorist groups, including al Qaida, have entrenched themselves. All these developments will have long-term repercussions for national, regional and international peace and security. Reports on the alleged use of chemical weapons are also deeply worrying.
2. We strongly condemn all violence in Syria as well as all violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, irrespective of who their perpetrators are. We condemn all attacks directed at women and children, civilians, UN peacekeepers and public institutions and infrastructure. We also condemn in the strongest terms possible all terrorist acts that have been and continue to be committed in Syria.
3. We are particularly concerned that UN peacekeepers have been repeatedly targeted by rebel groups and taken hostage, including on two occasions in the recent past. This is completely unacceptable. It is imperative that the sanctity of United Nations peacekeepers be respected by all sides. A clear signal must sent by the United Nations that such acts will not be tolerated and will attract the full weight of the international community against the perpetrators.
4. Since the beginning of he crisis in Syria, India has consistently called on all parties to abjure violence, dissociate themselves from terrorist groups, and pursue a peaceful and inclusive political process to address the grievances of all sections of Syrian society. We have also contributed to mitigate the humanitarian impact of the crisis by providing assistance worth US$ 2.5 million.
5. We believe that the Joint Communique of the Geneva Group adopted in June 2012 provides a good basis for resolution of the Syrian crisis through a Syrian-led political process that respects Syria’s independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty, involves all sections of Syrian society and meets their legitimate aspirations. The task of the international community, anchored in the United Nations, is to assist the Syrian parties in this process, without pre-judging its outcome. Also, it is important that further militarization of the conflict, including support for terrorist and armed groups, ceases forthwith.
6. These are the principles that have guided our consideration of the draft that the Assembly has just voted upon. Whether a group, any group, is the legitimate representative of the Syrian people or not can only be determined by the Syrian people, not this Assembly. Therefore certain provisions of this resolution can be interpreted as effecting regime change by sleight of hand. This is a dangerous precedent which we cannot acquiesce in. We would once again reiterate our position that the leadership of Syria is a matter for Syrians to decide themselves.
7. As we have said earlier, unilateral action of any kind will not resolve the crisis. It will only exacerbate the problem and cause greater instability and violence even beyond Syria’s borders. We think that following the settlement of the conflict, Syrians themselves should establish accountability for crimes committed by Syria. This cannot be done by outsiders. We also believe that promotion of political dialogue requires engagement with all parties concerned, and calls for boycott of the government and support of the opposition will not help. Due to these shortcomings, Mr. President, we have abstained on the resolution.
8. India remains committed to support the efforts of the United Nations, including Joint Special Representative Lakdhar Brahimi, to resolve the Syrian crisis expeditiously through inclusive political dialogue among Syrian parties. We also welcome the recent decision by the Russian Federation and the United States to convene a meeting of the Action Group with the Syrian parties, and hope that all sides will engage seriously, realistically and unconditionally to resolve the crisis in the interests of the Syrian people, the region and the larger international community.
Samudra Manthan superimposes a paradigm that articulates developments from a Western perspective
In 2004, the Office of Net Assessment — a think-tank affiliated to the U.S. Department of Defence that specialises in “unlikely scenarios” — commissioned a consulting firm to study energy security in Asia. Analysts on the job, mostly 20-somethings just out of college, realised China was building several ports along the Indian Ocean coastline. They literally connected these dots on the map, suggesting them to be a “string of pearls” with which China would encircle and expand its presence in the region. Within months, the phrase became a buzzword. Never mind some of these “pearls” were cargo ship docks and civilian facilities: here was a term the ‘strategic community’ could put its finger on, while talking up China’s belligerent schemes on the world.
More dignified in its lineage but equally fanciful in scope is another phrase currently doing the rounds — the ‘Indo-Pacific.’ In one fell swoop, it brings together the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, and with it the maritime strategies of India, China, the United States, Australia and the ASEAN littoral states among others — countries which have vastly different blue-water orientations, objectives and not least, naval capabilities. C. Raja Mohan’s Samudra Manthan fashions the Indo-Pacific into an important “geopolitical theater” which will soon witness fierce maritime rivalry between India and China. Why so? Because, well, you know, both are rising powers and also, you see, globalisation is bringing countries in the region closer, and what’s more — here it comes — the seas are connected! Throw in the United States’ announced Asia “pivot”, a term that the Obama administration is yet to flesh out clearly and the stage is set for a grand tale about Great Power oceanic tussle, replete with nuclear deterrents in the high seas and the possibility of space warfare between India and China.
My review of C. Raja Mohan’s Samudra Manthan, for The Hindu is here.
A hundred years ago, anthropologists,led by the French ethnographer Arnold van Gennep, began documenting ceremonies that marked transitions in the social status of people or groups. These ceremonies, which van Gennep called “rites of passage”, usually represented the transformation of individuals from one status to another—from adolescent to adult, maiden to mother, or living to dead. In van Gennep’s classification, these rituals had three distinct phases: separation, transition and incorporation. First, the individual would break away from her group, by shedding its collective psychosocial characteristics. Then, a series of elaborate rituals would test her “worthiness” to join the destination-group. The final cycle of rites would completely assimilate her identity with that of a new and distinct collective.
Van Gennep’s rites of passage offer a useful analogy to understand the significance of India’s two-year term on the United Nations Security Council, which comes to an end this month. Between 1992, when India last served as a non-permanent member of the Council, and the beginning of the present term in 2011, the country’s rise as an influential voice in international politics presented an opportunity to break with the past.
My essay for Caravan Magazine, evaluating India’s tenure in the UNSC, is here.
French jets are zipping past northern Mali, bombing the region and with it, a participatory framework that had thus far allowed African states to troubleshoot what is first and foremost a regional political crisis. France’s aerial assault and imminent deployment of ground troops is a volte face from its original plan to offer “logistical aid” to African peacekeepers in Mali. For all of French President François Hollande’s promises to treat Africa as a partner and friend, his government’s military intervention in the Sahel is proof that Françafrique is alive and well. Its monopoly over the rapid deployment of military force allows France to sustain a relationship of dependency with the continent, at a time when governments in North, West and Central Africa are struggling to control armed rebels.
The oped, written for The Hindu, is here
I have an essay in the current edition of the EPW
What may follow the exit of the African patriarch may seem like a dystopic narrative but it is a plausible scenario within a decade or two, for most ‘stable’ sub-Saharan economies. It is verily a contingency that India’s business and foreign policy establishments must prepare for. I outline here a few steps that India-based MNCs and the government could adopt to buffer unpredictable developments in the political economy of Africa.
The UN’s Webcast of GA proceedings is here. India’s EoV, offered by Hardeep Puri begins at 1:00:41. The resolution adopted by the Arab League on 22 July 2012 - the UNGA draft’s reference to which is cited by India as the primary reason for abstaining - is here.
This is essentially a throwback to India’s position circa February 2012, when the first draft on Syria this year was presented at the UN Security Council. Props to our Mission for negotiating a watered down draft - going by reports, the initial text explicitly endorsed regime change and sanctions, which invariably would have led to Ch. VII measures under Art. 42 at the Council.
That said, the Indian position now has become quite fuzzy, to put it mildly. I’m not sure what we were gunning for when endorsing the last UNSC draft; that resolution backed Article 41 measures which may include the severance of diplomatic relations. Yet, in the GA India claimed today that “unilateral” actions which call for cutting off such ties are not warranted.
Rather than restating its known position at the GA, India should have invested its time in explaining this abstention specifically.
I’m on the fly now, more on this in detail later.
EoV of the Day goes to Guyana (A) - ”primary responsibility falls on Syrian authorities for cessation of violence and attacks against civilians […] but the international community cannot turn a blind eye to armed attacks by opposition groups and terrorist elements […]” this resolution raises the concern of “undue partiality to an amorphous and unknown opposition.”
When interests and principles collide (July 16, 2012)
For the student based abroad, independent research on India’s foreign policy involves a seasonal pilgrimage to New Delhi’s temples of intelligentsia. The pursuit of reticent bureaucrats, both serving and retired, to the far-corners of the city in sub-Saharan weather can be a near-religious experience. Few emerge from this ritual unaffected — the cost of “field” research is usually sunstroke, dehydration, and if you are lucky, weight-loss. In need of inspiration, therefore, I reached out to a venerable alumnus who had not only survived this ordeal, but in the process also churned out a magisterial dissertation that still tops the list of required readings on post-Nehruvian foreign policy.
Shashi Tharoor responded graciously (and promptly, it must be said) to my request for an interview, but upon one condition: that I read the relevant chapter of Pax Indica first, for it “might answer most of my questions.” I am evaluating India’s current tenure in the United Nations Security Council, and in particular, how some decisions made by New Delhi in this period reflect upon its status as a superpower-in-waiting. Pax Indica, from a veteran commentator, seemed a timely publication that could outline contemporary India’s rules of engagement as a model for the world at large. The book itself was so accessible that I read it cover-to-cover in the course of a train journey. Yet, sadly, it seems I may have to schedule that interview with Mr. Tharoor after all.
Pax Indica can be divided, physically and ideationally, into two halves — the first written by Shashi Tharoor the politician, and the latter by Shashi Tharoor the analyst. The initial half is an uncritical view of India’s foreign policy to date and offers a rosy picture of most decisions made during the UPA I and II regimes. (To be sure, Pax Indica does not go any length to justify UPA actions. It comes down heavily on India’s visa regime post-26/11 and even ventures ever so slightly to reprimand UPA-II’s unstated policy of online censorship.) This is no gripe, as the author himself suggests Pax to be a work of “reflection, not scholarship.” But it does lead him to romanticise Nehruvian policy, and write, rather incredulously, that non-alignment positioned India favourably when its economy merged with that of the world in the 1990s. By Mr. Tharoor’s own admission, foreign policy has never gained traction in India’s popular discourse, but he insists non-alignment “reflected a broad national consensus.” In the same breath, he refers to non-alignment as a matter of compulsion, but extols Jawaharlal Nehru’s decision to march to the “tune of our own drummer.”
Pax Indica’s valuable contribution to the debate on India’s foreign policy is that it charts the growth of the country as a regional hegemon. Princeton’s G. John Ikenberry has identified the “hub-and-spoke” multilateral network that the United States created after World War II, which allowed it to guide the liberal, international order and reap its benefits simultaneously. Mr. Tharoor advocates a similar approach to India’s neighbourhood — India’s prosperity is intrinsically linked to the well-being of those nations with whom we share borders. But there is hardly a mention of the massive blunders that India’s foreign policy establishment walked into in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Afghanistan. In Mr. Tharoor’s relentless forward march, there is no room to acknowledge India’s intrusive manipulations in Nepal, partisan realpolitik in Afghanistan and the covert and overt support provided to the LTTE during Indira Gandhi’s tenure. Sans admission, the first step to recovery, Mr. Tharoor’s strong policy prescriptions on India’s reinvigorating the sub-continent become less potent.
Pax Indica’s defence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s determination to continue talks with Pakistan is eloquent and correct, but needlessly couched in a populist narrative. Take aside a few gratuitous cheers for Pakistan’s liberals, and the tone is largely patronising. As a nation “full of desperate young men without hope or prospects, led by a malicious […] military”, Mr. Tharoor writes elsewhere, “insisting on parity with Pakistan is to bring ourselves down to their level.” In the guise of pragmatism, therefore, his emphasis is on talks not on principle, but since there are few other alternatives.
Just as dedicated to the gallery is his treatment of India’s equations with China and the United States. To counter Chinese needling on Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet, Mr. Tharoor ponders aloud the possibility of holding up Taiwan as a similar trump card. While fully aware of the strategic implications of greater engagement with Taiwan as a separate (but not sovereign) entity, he justifies the same as being driven out of “self-interest.” As for Washington, it must reconcile with some ‘autonomous’ decisions made by India and strive instead for a concrete strategic partnership — one that would “give ammunition to the United States’ friends in New Delhi” against “reflexive” claims of imperialism. On India’s part, Mr. Tharoor suggests, strategic autonomy must not give way to “complacency.”
This faux-realism would be well-received if they did not clash so fundamentally with Mr. Tharoor’s desire to project an ethically grounded foreign policy for India, based on cooperation and coexistence. The second half of the book, which is just as pithy and lucidly narrated as the first, concerns itself with the most important themes surrounding Indian foreign policy today: those of soft power, bureaucratic reform, multilateralism and strategic autonomy. India’s democratic resume is brandished more than once, and there are repeated persuasions for a freer society which can then be exhibited as the Beacon on the Hill. But these ruminations are not free from the clutches of the “principles versus interests” debate.
Mr. Tharoor candidly admits that our interests must supersede issues of pure principle. According to him, promoting liberal democracy is in India’s interests, as is ensuring the country’s economic prosperity. Equally important is the protection of our territorial integrity. One wonders then, where Mr. Tharoor would draw the line between supporting armed intervention in a country (ostensibly for democratic purposes) and respecting its sovereignty. Or between condemning human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay prison or due process violations by military tribunals and the price of a strategic partnership. Or for that matter, between respecting international legal obligations to open up sections of the Indian economy, and the well-being of marginalised domestic constituents.
From the soaring heights of grand strategy, these are issues to be settled in the dust and dirt of international politics. Mr. Tharoor’s answer, what he terms ‘multi-alignment’, is basically a fanciful elucidation of the phrase “playing it by the ear.” His conclusions are no different from the course that Indian foreign policy follows today, be it in the area of foreign aid, liberalised trade or nuclear deterrence. One former high-ranking diplomat told this grateful researcher recently that India has sought always to comply with international rules and norms, but would not hesitate to “tweak” the system where its interests suit thus. Mr. Tharoor’s “multi-alignment” attempts to cast away India’s “old obsession” with strategic autonomy and instead operate along an interest-based calculus without any sweeping assumptions. Like some quips and anecdotes in Pax Indica, these are merely old words in a new book jacket.
“The wisdom of these latter times,” Francis Bacon wrote on the idea of empire, “is rather fine deliveries than solid and grounded courses.” Indian diplomacy’s emphasis on principles, which Pax Indica acknowledges, reflects this wisdom. But if India were to emerge as a regional or even global power, it would have to deal, much like Bacon’s royalty, with the ‘petty’ concerns of “neighbours, their wives, their children, their merchants […] and their men of war.” The flourish of rhetoric, offered abundantly in Mr. Tharoor’s discourse, cannot ignore the tension between India’s role hitherto as a silent beneficiary of the international order and its aspirations to share responsibility for the system. Shashi Tharoor, conscious of this reality, offers a cogently argued analysis to bridge this divide — one, however, that does not illustrate a peace system modelled by India for the world, but one that seeks peace for India in the world. Indica’s Pax, in other words, not Pax Indica.
Reality check for Trinamool populism
(The Hindu, June 25, 2012)
The Calcutta High Court’s decision to annul the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act has been billed as a major victory for the Tata group. It is not. For the conglomerate, which had already sought greener pastures in Gujarat to produce its Nano car, this is only a triumph on paper. Relocating its factory back to Singur is neither profitable for Tata Motors nor is it likely to risk taking on West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, favourable court verdict or not.
Instead, the High Court has struck at the heart of the Trinamool Congress’ populist politics. To see how, let’s trace the history of the Singur Act. The principle of “eminent domain” allowed the Left Front government in 2008 to acquire land in Singur. But the acquisition was made under central legislation, since West Bengal’s own law had lapsed back in 1993. The TMC, sitting in opposition then, took upon itself the cause of farmers who had lost their land and led agitations to recover the same. Ms Banerjee promised to return the land if she were voted to power in the next State elections. Once in government, however, the Trinamool Congress realised that returning the land would make the party seem opposed to industrialisation in the State — hardly the vaunted alternative to Marxian policy. So Ms. Banerjee’s government sought to create legislation from scratch for this purpose.
Recourse to legislative action offered three main benefits. For one, legislation could be expected to withstand shifts in political fortunes better than executive acts, which may last only till the next decisive by-election. Second, Trinamool representatives tied their own hands with a Supreme Court order prohibiting the return of land acquired for a public purpose, except by auction. Third, and more importantly, passing a law in the State legislature would be more “democratic” than an executive decision by the government. The TMC could wash its hands off any anti-liberalisation blame by touting the bipartisan character of legislation. And so the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act was born. But the TMC’s populism stood contrary to correct and mandated constitutional procedure. Once the land had been acquired under central legislation, West Bengal’s legislators lost all capacity to make unilateral modifications subsequently. Any law passed to return the land had to receive Presidential assent, since land acquisition belongs to the Concurrent List of the Constitution. As for the Supreme Court ruling in question, its fine print suggests auction to be the correct method of return when the public purpose of acquisition has been “achieved” and there remains no other use — a bhoomi pooja and breaking of ground, as was the case with Singur, cannot meet this qualification.
The Singur Act sought to mask its true character by calling for a “takeover” of the acquired land — essentially, and as the Calcutta High Court has rightly observed, an acquisition of the land already “leased” to the Tatas. The Court’s decision is a welcome reminder that seemingly welfarist measures designed to overcome crises in the short-run cannot evade healthy democratic checks and balances.