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The Hindu Notes 12-06-2018

1. The story of two ceasefires

It is important to invest in negotiations, political concessions and soft power within Jammu and Kashmir

•The Narendra Modi government in New Delhi has decided to make a host of political concessions — in the form of conciliatory moves, positive responses and toned-down rhetoric — vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and Pakistan. More notably, we are also perhaps witnessing a cautious, and sensible, adoption of diplomacy and soft power in the final lap of the Modi government’s term in office. While that is indeed welcome, has its willingness to play down its aggressive rhetoric and dismount from the moral high horse come a bit too late in the day to make a difference?

•Over the past month or so, New Delhi has offered to reach out to the separatists in Kashmir (junking its earlier resolve not to engage them), reportedly carried out backchannel parleys with the separatist leadership in Srinagar, declared a ceasefire during the month of Ramzan, and agreed to maintain the 2003 ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) with Pakistan. The India-Pakistan ceasefire was declared on May 29, which has so far continued with a few exceptions. The tone and tenor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership’s statements towards the Kashmiris has suddenly demonstrated some much-needed warmth and ‘love’.

Context of the ceasefires

•These conciliatory moves have come against the backdrop of several worrying developments within J&K and on the border. For one, the intensity of ceasefire violations had been steadily rising, with damage to civilian habitats and civilian and military casualty rates going up. India reported 19 military casualties and 12 civilian casualties due to ceasefire violations last year, and Pakistan reported 50 civilian casualties (Pakistan does not report military casualties on the LoC/IB but unofficial data show higher military casualties than India). Past experience suggests that fire assaults and cross-border raids on the LoC are fraught with potential for bilateral escalation.

•Within Kashmir, an increasing number of local boys are joining the ranks of militancy, and terrorist attacks on civilian and military targets have been on the rise. In 2013, the number of Kashmiri youngsters joining militancy was 16, which rose to 126 in 2017, and 27 in the first three months of 2018. In 2013 there were 170 terror-related incidents in J&K, which went up to 342 in 2017.

•It is in this broad political and security context that we should assess the significance and desirability of the bilateral India-Pakistan ceasefire and the internal Ramzan ceasefire.

Why now?

•There is little doubt that the two ceasefires and the associated peace moves make perfect sense in helping normalise the situation both internally and bilaterally. However, the crucial question is this: why has the Modi government, which has derived domestic political mileage from a hawkish and aggressive posture, suddenly decided to change track and experiment with conciliatory moves?

•First, there seems to be a counterintuitive rationale behind it. While the BJP has traditionally benefitted from a hardline policy in Kashmir, and towards Pakistan, the diminishing returns of such a policy have started kicking in. Not only has government not delivered on its hardline promises (such as the abolition of Article 370, or keeping infiltration and terror attacks under check), but the use of force has failed to achieve its objectives. Hence, the potential to use the Kashmir or Pakistan bogey for electoral gains is limited for now.

•In fact, the reverse logic has gained salience: it would be risky for the government to have a violent border and a troubled Kashmir going into the 2019 campaign. For the BJP, it’s time to focus internally, and a semblance of peace on the border and in Kashmir would help. More so, with the ‘Modi wave’ on the wane, it needs to keep its allies close: the BJP’s coalition partner in J&K, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has been insisting on both the internal and India-Pakistan ceasefires.

•Second, while the BJP’s hardline policy on the border initially received popular support in the Jammu region, such support is drastically fading now, given the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians from the border villages and the attendant misery for the local population.

•Third, India’s policy of disproportionate bombardment against Pakistani forces, especially last year, has also not helped. For instance, India violated the ceasefire more than twice as Pakistan did in 2017 (i.e. India fired twice as much), but tables have already turned in 2018: Pakistan violated the ceasefire 1,252 times till May this year whereas India violated the ceasefire on 1,050 occasions. In other words, India’s policy of disproportionate bombardment on the border has not only not helped matters but it has now become a major problem for the locals. (It is equally true that Pakistani civilians also suffer but that may not create problems for the civilian government in Islamabad).

•Similarly, both infiltration into J&K and militant attacks in the State have been on the rise. In 2014, 65 terrorists infiltrated into J&K, with the number steadily rising since then. In 2016 it was 119, and last year it went up to 123. In other words, New Delhi’s hardline policy has not only not worked, it has actually had the reverse effect.

•Finally, India and Pakistan have been signalling to each other for some time about the possibility of a rapprochement. Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has on several occasions spoken of the need to build peace with India. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in responding to his suggestion for the peaceful resolution of India-Pakistan disputes, recently said that “any comment on wanting peace will definitely be taken seriously”. This desire for rapprochement is also a continuation of positive bilateral engagement since the resolution of the diplomatic row arising over the harassment of each other’s diplomats.

What next?

•Clearly, both India and Pakistan, and in particular the people of J&K, will immensely benefit for these two ceasefires. But how long will they last? As for the internal ceasefire, I am skeptical about New Delhi’s ability to engage Kashmiri dissidents in a durable dialogue process. New Delhi may have reached out, but does it have a clearly-articulated blueprint for bringing peace to Kashmir? In particular, the BJP may find it exceptionally difficult to be seen as making ‘concessions’ in Kashmir, and Kashmiri dissidents may not be able to come on board without major political concessions from New Delhi.

•The bilateral ceasefire is also not without problems. First, experience suggests that without political dialogue between India and Pakistan, especially on Kashmir, ceasefire agreements tend to break down. More so, there are fundamental structural flaws in the India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement which make it prone to breaking down even when the decision-makers in India or Pakistan do not intend to break it. If indeed such ‘local/tactical’ factors do trigger ceasefire violations, a number of measures — such as formalising the ceasefire agreement through a written down document and regular scheduled meetings of Directors-General of Military Operations, among others — would need to be taken by the two countries to sustain the ceasefire.

•Finally, and perhaps most important, there is an undeniable direct link between the Kashmir insurgency on the one hand, and India-Pakistan dialogue, maintenance of the ceasefire agreement, terrorist infiltration into J&K and terrorist violence in Kashmir on the other. Put differently, unless New Delhi takes effective measures to reassure Kashmiris, there is no guarantee that the two ceasefires will survive. With hawkishness and aggression having evidently failed, it’s time to invest in negotiations, political concessions and soft power. And Pakistan must make efforts to control terrorist infiltration into Kashmir for these to be successful.

2. India to host first BIMSTEC war games in September

Conclave of Army chiefs of member-states will be part of it

•India will host the first military exercise of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) group focussing on counter-terrorism in September. As part of this, a conclave of the Army chiefs of all seven member-states is being planned.

•The exercise is scheduled to be held in Pune in the second week of September.

•“The aim of the exercise is to promote strategic alignment among the member-states and to share best practices in the area of counter-terrorism,” a defence source said.

•The initial planning conference to work out the modalities is scheduled to be held next week and the final planning conference is scheduled in August.

•BIMSTEC was set up in 1997 and includes India, Bangladesh, Bhutan Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

•The theme includes counter-terrorism in semi-urban terrain and cordon and search, and each side will bring in some 30 soldiers.

Counter-terror ops

•The conclave of Army chiefs is scheduled on the last two days of the exercise. The chiefs will debate the challenge of terrorism and transnational crime, which is a major concern among all the states and on how they can promote collective cooperation, the source said.

•BIMSTEC countries held a disaster management exercise in 2017, but this is the first military exercise of the grouping which brings together important neighbours of India in South and Southeast Asia.

3. To the brink and back

After being close to military action last year, how the U.S. and North Korea agreed to talks

•Less than a year ago, North Korea scored a ‘nuclear double’. In July 2017, it launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles, the first capable of reaching Alaska, and the second, the Hwasong-14, capable of reaching California. In November, it detonated its most powerful nuclear weapon — a 120 kiloton-boosted fission device.

•For long, North Korea had been seen as an impoverished state, run by a megalomaniac dictator, trying to punch way above its weight by defying the United Nations and the U.S. Yet, last year, it was very close to establishing a viable nuclear deterrent against the world’s biggest superpower. True, it was still perfecting the weapon’s miniaturisation and ensuring the missile’s accuracy and safe re-entry. That might take a little more time but the U.S. has already felt deterred from taking pre-emptive military action.

•By late 2017, these developments had brought the world closer to a potential nuclear exchange than perhaps at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It was not clear at that juncture whether the U.S. would attempt a strike on North Korea and how the latter would respond. Nor was it clear whether North Korea would up the ante further by firing its missiles closer to Guam or the U.S. mainland, albeit without a nuclear payload. Meanwhile, both North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump kept exchanging threats and barbs.

•Fortunately, matters have greatly improved since, aided by some statesman-like initiatives by South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Today, Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump will sit across the table and start negotiations.

The impact of sanctions

•When North Korea pulled out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and intensified its nuclear programme, the UN imposed sanctions. But the North Korean regime continued to conduct missile and nuclear weapon tests, provoking the UN and the U.S. to impose more severe sanctions in the hope that North Korea would abandon its nuclear programme. But that did not happen.

•The prolonged sanctions have had a very serious impact on the North Korean economy. Monthly exports from the country plunged from about $240 million in 2016 to less than $50 million by the end of 2017. Exports even to China, its main trading partner, slumped last year by 81.6% year-on-year to $54.34 million. Oil supply is seriously endangered.

•But the resulting hardship has not caused any internal protests or revolt in North Korea, threatening Mr. Kim’s rule. The North Korean people have lived thorough much worse deprivation, particularly during the famine years from 1994 to 1998. The regime survived those years through a combination of a brutal internal security apparatus, political indoctrination, and tight media control.

•The situation is much better today. The per capita income of about $1,300 is not much lower than that of some South Asian nations. Russian, Chinese and South Korean colleagues who have visited Pyongyang in recent times tell me that the atmosphere there is not one of gloom and doom. Movie theatres are open, taxis can be seen plying the streets, and shelves in shops are reasonably well stocked. The price of rice has remained nearly constant over the past five years at around 5,000-6,000 Won (about 60 U.S. cents in the open currency market). Corn, a cheaper staple, is sold under just 24 cents per kg. The regime has also tacitly loosened its control on the marketplace, letting private production and sale of essential consumables to go on.

•But although North Korea has found the sanctions manageable and continued with its nuclear programme, it would certainly like to have the sanctions eased. Mr. Kim had offered to negotiate this with the U.S. directly. But Mr. Trump had dismissed such offers, both during his campaign and during his Presidency, categorically insisting that he would not even consider negotiating with the “little rocket man” unless the latter first got rid of his nuclear assets.

•Such a precondition for talks was clearly not acceptable to North Korea. Its nuclear assets had been built to address its long-standing fear of regime change attempts by the U.S. There has been a deep-rooted conviction in the successive Kim regimes that only a nuclear deterrent can keep the U.S. at bay — a view that has only been reinforced by the downfall and eventual assassination of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi after he gave up his nuclear programme.

South Korea’s role

•Fortunately, 2018 saw some ‘Olympics diplomacy’ coming to the rescue. President Moon, who originally hails from North Korea and had always shown a conciliatory approach towards the North Koreans, invited the country to participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. The North Koreans responded positively. This provided the diplomatic opportunity for the two Koreas to address more serious bilateral issues as well as the stand-off with the U.S. A North-South summit was scheduled for April and, more importantly, a message was conveyed to the U.S. that Mr. Kim had expressed his “eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible”, that he is “committed to denuclearisation”, and that North Korea would “refrain” from any further nuclear or missile tests. In turn, Mr. Trump climbed down from his demand that Mr. Kim first dismantle his nuclear arsenal, and immediately accepted the invitation for a summit. These moves were rightly hailed the world over as acts of statesmanship on both sides. Mr. Moon also deserved a large part of the credit.

•The Kim-Trump talks were announced without the usual groundwork and lower-level discussions. Lack of coordination also led to some wrong signalling, with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Adviser John Bolton referring to the ‘Libyan model’ for the talks. Mentioning Libya was akin to waving a red flag to the North Koreans, who angrily denounced Mr. Pence and Mr. Bolton, causing Mr. Trump to cancel the summit in retaliation. Once again Mr. Moon stepped into the breach as an intermediary and the meeting has now been restored.

•To Mr. Trump’s credit, he has further softened his earlier demand for “the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” before any lifting of sanctions and has instead settled for “credible steps” by North Korea towards that goal. The North is extremely unlikely to give up its entire nuclear deterrent, no matter what the inducement. Instead, it might, in stages, offer to suspend further weapon and missile tests, desist from producing more fissile materials and from non-deployment of shorter range missiles that could threaten Japan or South Korea, and perhaps work towards partial disarmament. This will enable both sides to claim success by invoking the convenient ambiguities of the word “denuclearisation”, even as the negotiations drag on till the U.S. congressional elections in November.

4. India re-defines its regional role

It is recasting its approach to the Indo-Pacific and building deeper links with continental Eurasia

•Recent foreign policy moves by New Delhi indicate an inflexion point. Combining orthodox ideas from the Cold War era along with 21st century pragmatism, it appears that India has decided that the emerging multipolar world is becoming far too complicated for the binary choices and easy solutions that some had envisioned for the country’s foreign policy. Not only has it recast its approach to the maritime Indo-Pacific but as the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit exemplifies, it is also building deeper and more constructive links with continental Eurasia.

Setting a new tone

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 1 laid out a framework that might outlast the present government. The speech was dominated by four themes that collectively tell us about the evolving foreign policy. First, the central theme was that at a time when the world is facing power shifts, uncertainty and competition over geopolitical ideas and political models, India would project itself as an independent power and actor across Asia. One of the most important parts of the speech was when Mr. Modi described India’s ties with the three great powers. Russia and the United States were called as partners with whom India has relationships based on overlapping interests in international and Asian geopolitics. And, India-China relations were portrayed in complex terms as having “many layers” but with a positive undertone that stability in that relationship is important for India and the world.

•The intended signal to all major capitals was that India will not be part of a closed group of nations or aggregate Indian power in a bloc, but will chart out its own course based on its own capacity and ideas. Notice, for example, the following phrases: “our friendships are not alliances of containment” or “when nations stand on the side of principles, not behind one power or the other, they earn the respect of the world and a voice in international affairs”. For some this portends a renewed emphasis on non-alignment. The Prime Minister himself used the more agreeable term “strategic autonomy”. In essence, what it really means is that India has become too big to be part of any political-military camp whose design and role in Asian affairs is being conceived elsewhere, upon ideas that India might not fully share, and where India has a marginal role in strategy and policy implementation.

The China factor

•Second, even as China’s rise has undoubtedly increased the demand and space for India to increase its region-wide engagement, India’s role in the vast Indo-Pacific is no longer envisaged as a China-centric one. Mr. Modi removed any lingering impression of an impeding crusade or an ideological sub-text to India’s Act East policy in the coming years when he remarked, “India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members. Nor as a grouping that seeks to dominate.” If anybody imagined that India’s identity as a democracy would position it naturally towards one side in the emerging world order, Mr. Modi clarified that misperception quite emphatically: “India’s own engagement in the Indo-Pacific Region — from the shores of Africa to that of the Americas — will be inclusive… That is the foundation of our civilisational ethos — of pluralism, co-existence, open-ness and dialogue. The ideals of democracy that define us as a nation also shape the way we engage the world.”

•India’s Ambassador to Beijing expressed a similar message on the eve of the SCO summit: Big countries “can peacefully coexist despite differences in their systems and that they can work together”. In other words, India’s democracy is far more comfortable with a world of diversity than the spectre of a clash of civilisations or great powers locked in ideological contests.

•Third, despite this policy adjustment, India’s approach to the region is not going to be a hands-off policy or one devoid of norms. We continued to hear an emphasis on a “free, open, inclusive region” and a “common rules-based” Indo-Pacific order. Some believe this is aimed squarely at China but it is more accurate to interpret such rhetoric as directed at the type of order India would like to see and actively support. Significantly, Mr. Modi asserted that such “rules and norms should be based on the consent of all, not on the power of the few”. Again, this underscored Delhi’s belief that the normative basis of the region’s future political-security architecture would only find legitimacy if it were based on a consensus among all stakeholders.

•Finally, without mentioning either, Mr. Modi urged both the U.S. and China to manage their rivalry and prevent their “normal” competition from descending into conflict. “Asia of rivalry will hold us all back. Asia of cooperation will shape this century. So, each nation must ask itself: Are its choices building a more united world, or forcing new divisions? It is a responsibility that both existing and rising powers have.” He made it clear that while India would pursue many partnerships “in the region and beyond”, it was not going to choose “one side of a divide or the other” but would remain wedded to its principles and values that emphasise inclusiveness, diversity and of course its own interests.

•Did Mr. Modi’s speech constitute a turning point in India’s foreign policy? As analysts debate this question, the messaging was unmistakable. After drifting towards the U.S. for the past decade, Delhi is rediscovering a posture and policy for a multipolar world as well as taking greater responsibility for its own future and destiny. Reflecting its unique geographical position at the rimland of Eurasia and at the mouth of the Indo-Pacific, India’s foreign policy is likely to be driven by a dual attention to the balance of power and order building in the continental and maritime environment around the subcontinent.

5. AI garage? — on kickstarting artificial intelligence

To realise India’s potential in the field, a strong buy-in from policymakers is needed

•The NITI Aayog has published an ambitious discussion paper on kickstarting the artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem in India. AI is the use of computers to mimic human cognitive processes for decision-making. The paper talks of powering five sectors — agriculture, education, health care, smart cities/infrastructure and transport — with AI. It highlights the potential for India to become an AI ‘garage’, or solutions provider, for 40% of the world. To pull this off, India would have to develop AI tools for a range of applications: reading cancer pathology reports, rerouting traffic in smart cities, telling farmers where to store their produce, and picking students at high risk of dropping out from school, among them. It is a tall order, but several countries have similar ambitions. The U.S., Japan and China have published their AI strategy documents and, importantly, put their money where their aspirations are. China, for example, plans to hand out a million dollars in subsidies to AI firms, as well as to run a five-year university programme for 500 teachers and 5,000 students. The NITI Aayog does not talk about how India’s ambitions will be funded, but proposes an institutional structure to get things going. This structure includes a network of basic and applied research institutions, and a CERN-like multinational laboratory that would focus on global AI challenges.

•These are lofty goals, but they beg the question: can India bring it to pass? In answer, the NITI Aayog offers a sombre note of caution. India hardly has any AI expertise today. The paper estimates that it has around 50 top-notch AI researchers, concentrated in elite institutions like the IITs. Further, only around 4% of Indian AI professionals are trained in emerging technologies such as deep learning. And while India does publish a lot, these publications aren’t very impactful; India’s H-index, a measure of how often its papers are cited, is behind 18 other countries. This is not encouraging, considering that returns on AI are not guaranteed. The technology has tripped up as often as it has delivered. Among successes, a recent study found that a Google neural network correctly identified cancerous skin lesions more often than expert dermatologists did. India, with its acute shortage of specialist doctors in rural areas, could benefit greatly from such a tool. On the other hand, studies have found that AI image-recognition technologies do badly at identifying some races, because the data used to train them over-represent other races. This highlights the importance of quality data in building smart AI tools; India lacks this in sectors such as agriculture and health. Where data exist, this is poorly annotated, making it unusable by AI systems. Despite these formidable challenges, the scope of NITI Aayog’s paper must be lauded. The trick will be to follow it up with action, which will demand a strong buy-in from policymakers and substantial funds. The coming years will show if the country can manage this.

6. India to host first BIMSTEC war games

Conclave of Army chiefs of member-states will be part of it

•India will host the first military exercise of the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) group focussing on counter-terrorism in September. As part of this, a conclave of the Army chiefs of all seven member-states is being planned.

•The exercise is scheduled to be held in Pune in the second week of September.

•“The aim of the exercise is to promote strategic alignment among the member-states and to share best practices in the area of counter-terrorism,” a defence source said.

•The initial planning conference to work out the modalities is scheduled to be held next week and the final planning conference is scheduled in August.

•BIMSTEC was set up in 1997 and includes India, Bangladesh, Bhutan Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

•The theme includes counter-terrorism in semi-urban terrain and cordon and search, and each side will bring in some 30 soldiers.

Counter-terror ops

•The conclave of Army chiefs is scheduled on the last two days of the exercise. The chiefs will debate the challenge of terrorism and transnational crime, which is a major concern among all the states and on how they can promote collective cooperation, the source said.

•BIMSTEC countries held a disaster management exercise in 2017, but this is the first military exercise of the grouping which brings together important neighbours of India in South and Southeast Asia.

7. RBI turns net U.S. dollar seller in April

•After remaining net buyer of the U.S. dollar for the past many months, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) became a net seller in April, after it sold $2.483 billion of the U.S. currency in the spot market, according to its data.

•During the reporting month, the apex bank bought $5.536 billion of dollars from the spot market, while it sold $8.019 billion.

•In April 2017, the RBI had been a net buyer of the U.S. currency as the central bank had bought $1.751 billion and sold $1.185 billion in the spot market.

•In March this year, it was a net seller as it had purchased $3.328 billion, and sold $2.332 billion.

8. Scientists seek to find mass of ‘ghost particle’

Device may pinpoint mass of neutrinos

•Researchers in Germany have started collecting data with a 60 million euro ($71 million) machine designed to help determine the mass of the universe’s lightest particle.

•Physicists, engineers and technicians at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology hope the 200-metric tonne device will narrow down or even pinpoint the actual mass of neutrinos.

•Those are sometimes called “ghost particles” because they’re so difficult to detect. Scientists with the Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino experiment, or KATRIN, said on Monday they’ll be taking measurements “well into the next decade” and hope to produce “high-impact results.”

•Researchers say determining the mass of neutrinos is one of the most important open questions in particle physics and will help scientists better understand the history of the universe. Some 200 people from 20 institutions in seven countries are part of the project.


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