Pushing Africa aside in Mali

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

India and the autumn of the African Patriarch

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.

India’s UNGA vote and initial thoughts

The draft that Saudi Arabia introduced on the floor of the UN General Assembly today is here. The voting record - 133 Y, 12 N, 31 A. India abstained.

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

The Hindu

Pax IndicaFor 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.

I review Shashi Tharoor’s latest offering here

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.

Almost a month in Rwanda, my dietary intake can be neatly classified thus:

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The Hindu debate and some quick responses to Amb. Gharekhan

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, the PM’s former MidEast Envoy, and I debated the Indian response to the Syrian crisis in the op-ed pages of The Hindu today. I thank Amb. Gharekhan for taking the time and effort to respond to my assertions. Here are my thoughts on his rejoinder and queries posed therein. 

Both Arun Mohan Sukumar and I agree that India’s vote was correct, but we seem to disagree on the rationale for the vote.

True. More importantly, our differing interpretations lead us to vastly divergent policy prescriptions. Amb. Gharekhan espoused a policy of non/dual alignment with Iran and Saudi Arabia, which at the end of the day, is no different from India’s traditional posture. I suggested India take a more active role to steer the crisis back to where it should be resolved, the UN. 

He believes that in voting for the resolution, India set aside its geopolitical interests; I believe it is precisely these interests which dictated India’s vote, though it feels good to justify a vote as support for some principles.

Amb. Gharekhan is correct. Perhaps I should’ve rephrased to say “India set aside its established position”. That said, negotiating with BRICS to get a mandate for Syria at the UN is only going to strengthen India’s claim to a permanent seat. It reflects India’s commitment towards making the UN work, on which aspersions have been cast lately. Voting with the West may satisfy the sponsors of this Resolution, but other nations should be convinced as well that India has the temerity (if you will) to engage a crisis of this magnitude. I think Amb. Gharekhan is too quick to dismiss my argument as based solely on a moral or principled standpoint. It is not true to say that acting on the basis of moral conviction, as in the case of Syria, will yield little in terms of India’s national interest. 

He talks of a Syrian-led transition. Is there such a thing? Is the negotiating process with the Taliban an Afghan-led process? Was the Libyan transition?

Both examples cited by Amb. Gharekhan are ones where military intervention was the first choice. Naturally, Afghanistan and Libya neither have the capability nor political will to broker a solution among internal stakeholders. This is exactly where Syria is headed. Supply of arms spills over to military intervention and there will be little scope for an organic transition.

The UN resolution - endorsing the Arab League proposal - tried to prevent this. As I’ve written, the backdoor for regime change was left open, and while that is no panacea to Syria’s crisis, it would’ve set the stage for what Nasr has called “Assadism without Assad”.

Sukumar does not seem to approve of the “Friends of Syria” forum. Does this mean that if India decides to join it, he would disapprove? 

Yes, of course. In fact, reports from the Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis seem to suggest India has a representative in attendance. This is disappointing news. Having many nations in its corner may make Friends of Syria multilateral in letter, but not in spirit. The concept is no different from Bush’s invocation of a “coalition of the willing.” India’s acquiescence sends out the signal that it is willing to let other nations undercut the UN for crisis resolution when there is no consensus at the Security Council. If New Delhi had the muscle to pull it off, sure, this could be attractive. But not for a nation that aspires to permanence in the same entity it is sidestepping now.

I am not at all persuaded that if the Security Council resolution had been allowed to pass with abstentions by Russia and China, it would have acted like a magic wand and prevented sectarian violence.

Suppose that the Resolution had been passed. Given that Russia and China - two of Syria’s primary arms exporters - were on board (or atleast not standing in the way) Assad would have had to eschew violence or step down. The violence in Syria is reactionary - the Free Syrian Army is not on the offensive, but trying to consolidate its strength. Sectarian discontent would likely be prevalent even if Assad steps down, but it is difficult to foresee the present scale of violence had the Resolution come through.

Minimum Nuclear Deterrence and a Roadmap for Regulation

This week, at the Boston Universty Research Conference on “Shifting World Order: The Reallocation of Power in the International System” I will moot a proposal to regulate nuclear deterrence postures of the N5+3, given that disarmament is a distant goal. My starting point is India’s CMD doctrine and her wholehearted acceptance of the ICJ’s advisory opinion on the use or threat of use of nukes. Can a synthesis of the ICJ’s opinion set the roadmap for regulatory frameworks in this field? I say yes - but strategic concerns cannot be wished away. Comments/criticism welcome.