Saturday, October 22, 2011

Peace dividend vs. Democratic dividend vs. Oligarchic dividend

There have been quite a few moves by the South Block in the last few weeks/months: Nepal, Burma, Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, ..., that one opinionator found the deafening silence so perplexing (LInky)

All of this is good news both for India and for the region as a whole. So why does the story not get better play in the media, in the region and globally? Perhaps because no one is making the point.

So let me try undoing this silence on a not-so-grand-scale.

1) First, some opinions on BIPPA's aftermath in Nepal:

Maoist Spokesperson Dina Nath Sharma went on to claim that the BIPPA was approved by the Standing Committee meeting of the party prior to Bhattarai’s India visit and the deal has been reached abiding by the international norms and values. On October 18, the Standing Committee meeting of the Maoists had directed PM Bhattarai not to sign any controversial deals during his India trip.

By this one move, BIPPA will ensure guaranteed security for Indian investments in Nepal which the Indian embassy can invoke as and when needed. It will allow encircled companies such as Dabur, Tata, etc., to breathe free from bashing by different factions of maoists. The fact that this deal was signed with the maoists speaks more on why it could nt have passed muster under the JHK regime or worse, with MKN. That does nt mean that we are home now.

Meanwhile, the faction led by Maoist Vice Chairman Mohan Baidya has strongly objected to the deal reached between India and Nepal. Maoist Secretary CP Gajurel, who is considered close to Baidya, tagged the BIPPA as “anti-national.”

Sooner than later, even the NC and CPN(ML) will find a need to oppose BIPPA as an "imposed" treaty which should be re-bargained to maintain the honor and dignity of Nepal.
2) In Burma, an opinionator describes the happenings as follows: Linky

The Tatmadaw, i.e. the military, has agreed to try out a different method of governance (in which a ‘ civilian' government bears day-to-day responsibility for the country's affairs), but red markers are in place. Political forces are expected to behave responsibly, ensuring that public order and territorial integrity are not jeopardised and no one asks for a full-fledged democracy in a hurry.

So it may not be the Burmans' hedging of the bets against the chinese for all one knows. It could be that, and it could in part be a realization that democratic credentials surely are important in a long-term context of the internal health of Burma itself. Which is precisely where India fits in far better than the chinese will, given that our democratic dividend (in contrast to the classical demographic dividend, I know this word will become popular very soon, so you know who to attribute it to :)) is far better. Is India mediating on behalf of Burma to let the west go slow and see reason? You bet it.
3) India's biggest problem with Burma is not its pro-chinese moves, but

Delving deeper, two key gains of the visit should be highlighted. The first relates to border security management. A whole mix of negative activities is a constant on the India-Myanmar border. Although Myanmar extends cooperation to India, it is episodic, not sustained, in nature and it is given to a suboptimal degree. This explains the two governments' agreement on “enhancing effective cooperation and coordination” between their security forces in tackling “the deadly menace of insurgency and terrorism.” It is hoped that President Thein Sein carried home a clear message and that he would deliver on this score satisfactorily.
For the first time, a figure was put out, showing the monetary value of the assistance extended by India through various projects in recent years; it is $300 million. What is of the greatest importance — and what also constitutes evidence that South Block is listening to Track II deliberations — is the decision to offer a generous Line of Credit (LoC) amounting to $500 million for new projects.

There you go in terms of comparison: Bangladesh (1 billion US$) > Burma (500 million US$) > Nepal (250 million US$). All these are still peanuts w.r.t. 2 billion US$ to Afghanistan projects.
4) Soft loan of 250 million US$ for Nepal while 1 billion US$ reserved for Bangladesh. Much of foreign policy happens via the classical "carrots and sticks" paradigm and India is no exception to this game. Bangladesh delivered on some of the NE terrorist outfits and received a giant carrot. The Nepalese delivered on regime change and brought a moderate faction of the maoists to power. The Indians worked backroom to cool down the NC and the desperate Jhalnath Khanal faction of the CPN(ML), brokered some power for the Madhesi parties, and stitched an alliance that is as much as chalk is to cheese. Ok, curd rice to jam if you are as much sdre as you usually are. India did deliver some goodies, but it has held back quite a bit because we want results before goodies get unloaded.
5) So that sets the tongues wagging on why why Indo-BD relations are a model for the rest of the Indian subcontinent.
6) As someone wisely pointed out that real life is a zero-sum game. Rajiv Bhatia says this:

Myanmar's decision to suspend the Myitsone dam project with China as the main beneficiary, has introduced new tensions, but the two governments are likely to craft a modus vivendi soon. The India-related factor is that South Block, facing criticism, has begun to strive hard to expedite implementation of previous projects and to choose new projects that are susceptible to execution within a shorter time frame.

So the chinese will try to fix the mess on their side, and things will settle back in. But that does not take away from the South Block's gains over the last month or so.
7) As Paul Keating says in a different context (Linky),

On America, Keating is dismayed by the pivotal change in its outlook after the end of the Cold War. "When the Berlin Wall came down the Americans cried victory and walked off the field," he says. "Yet the end of the Cold War offered the chance for America to develop a new world order. It didn't know what to do with its victory. ... "
"Well, frankly, the US didn't have the wisdom. It just wanted to celebrate its peace dividend. The two Clinton terms and the two George W. Bush terms, that's four presidential terms, have cost US mightily."

fear is that the South Block will rest on its much hard-earned laurels. There is no time for that kinda sitting back and self-kudo-ing.
8) However, with the IDSA pointing out the direction, which I interpret hopefully, as a one-way street (Linky),

India needs to increase its footprints in Afghanistan. Towards this end the recent agreements signed during the visit of President Karzai are insufficient to leave lasting imprints post 2014. India needs to increase its stakes in Afghanistan in the energy, minerals and power sectors, which have a longer presence and resultantly require construction of ancillaries like transportation, railways and housing besides the need to guard assets. Further, India must build on the training of the Afghan National Army and Police by enlarging the scope to include the provision and supply of arms and munitions, vehicles and stores as also training the Afghan Air Force. All these must be guaranteed by the US through trilateral agreements before its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

I am not losing much sleep on my worries.
9) Elsewhere, as Edward Luttwak writes in the Infinity Journal on "Why China will not become the next global power ... But it could," a detente calls for a deconstruction of the aggressive military posturing and stances on perceived territorial disputes. As another wiseman Billy Joel said, we did nt unfortunately start the fire and hence, we cannot be party to a transformation from oligarchic dividend to democratic dividend. Therefore, I am loving this battle already. Bring it on! Peace!

0) As an aside, one commentator had this deep question with my comments in parantheses (Linky):

Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Dahagram-Angarpota had been on the cards for several weeks. Until three days before her visit, the Bangladeshis were told that India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram would be there to receive her. Sore and humiliated by the PM’s refusal to call Mamata Banerjee’s bluff over the Teesta (as if West Bengal's share of waters flowing through its state are to be bestowed by the Union Government to a foreign entity for their benefit), they agreed that Chidambaram’s presence would be a big gesture from Delhi.

Then it was said that Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh – said to be close to the Gandhi family, and even Rahul – would be going, along with the junior minister for home affairs, Jitendra Singh. In the end, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, along with Singh, ended up doing the honours. No offence meant to Mr Azad, but how relevant is his presence to a meeting with a Bangladeshi leader? Where was Foreign Minister S M Krishna? What was Mr Chidambaram doing that he couldn’t drop everything and go?

Well, if Jyoti Malhotra had googled up, she would have noted that Linky

Union home minister P. Chidambaram, who was to receive her and hold a 20-minute discussion literally by the roadside when Hasina crosses the corridor, had to call off the visit because of his mother Lakshmi Ammal’s ill health. Chidambaram is in Tamil Nadu. (So Chidambaram had something urgent to attend to unless if the order of priority is Bangladesh >> Mother, not to mention that that happens too at times.)

“I will be going but I do not know if there would be discussions. I have been told only a short while back,” Ramesh told The Telegraph. (So a Minister asked to stand in for someone else may not have anything else on his plate given that he is a Cabinet Minister?!)

In Chidambaram’s absence, Hasina was received by Indian Health Minister Golam Nabi Azad and Minister of State for Home Affairs Jitendra Prasad. Indian officials worked overnight to build a helipad in the Teen Bigha corridor near the BSF outpost for the Prime Minister’s helicopter’s landing and take-off. She was given a guard of honour by the BSF.
Can Congress President Sonia Gandhi urgently please set aside a few hours, even on a weekly basis, and ask for the files dealing with the most important foreign policy issues? In Dhaka last month, when the Teesta agreement was falling apart, everyone talked about the amazing trip Sonia Gandhi had had to Dhaka just days before. If only Sonia Gandhi were here, they said, this wouldn’t have happened; she would have phoned Mamata Banerjee and persuaded her to see reason.
The point of this column is that there is such a terrible absence of political leadership in South Block that “chalta hai” (anything goes) has begun to take the place of creative imagination.
Imagine if Hasina had been greeted by a galaxy of leaders from Delhi and Bengal, all lined up on the Teen Bigha. Imagine if the Indian government – the president, the prime minister, whoever – gave the young and newly married King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Wangchuk, who comes to India in a few days to spend his honeymoon in Rajasthan, a public reception at the Red Fort or the Mughal Gardens at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Yes, we can imagine all these things, but then the government officeholders have to run a government instead of being the chaperones to the newly married King of Bhutan and being around when Sh. Hasina makes a point to visit the enclaves in India. Jyoti Malhotra's penchant for symbolism devoid of cool and rational logic which should ideally be what foreign policy moves are, of acts that matter more to building image than to acts that build credentials, focus on propaganda and a deep worry on what others might think of us instead of worrying about what they do think of us, etc., is what makes commentariat in India so irritating, painful and yet a big pleasure to endure. A crying call for Sonia Gandhi and pleas for "creative imagination" when full-time Foreign Service personnel work double hard to square circles without displeasing the manifold internal stakeholders is what makes this episode even sadder than it is. But then these commentators are the news-makers of India, they literally make the news, not like their job ends with reporting on events that make the news.

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