India Insight

An “emerged” India still hasn’t come out of diplomatic closet

India may be “emerged” in the sound bite used by U.S. President Barack Obama during his landmark visit last year. But if the U.N. vote on a no-fly zone is anything to go by, New Delhi’s rise to wield global economic clout has so far not been replicated as easily on the geopolitical stage.

Despite vocal opposition to a no-fly zone in Libya , India decided as a non-permanent security council member to abstain at the United Nations, along with fellow BRIC, Brazil, on the issue.

Realpolitik, the government may say. Who would want to be seen as the only opponent of the no-fly zone (the only other “opposition” came from abstained German, Russia, China). And there is a danger India would be seen as supporting Gaddafi.

But unlike China – which as one of five permanent security council members could destroy any plans for the no-fly zone with its single veto – India’s opposition would have been seen as purely symbolic, and would have signalled widespread worries among many countries that the West will quickly get involved in a military quagmire.

Brazil, which was vocal in its opposition to getting involved militarily in Libya, also abstained.

Should Britain continue its controversial £1bln India aid package?

The UK will continue to send more than £1 billion to India over the next four years, despite huge cuts to government spending under London’s Conservative-led coalition government and soaring economic growth in the Asian giant.
Britain's Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell speaks during a plenary meeting of the 64th General Assembly of the United Nations  August 19, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s international development secretary, told the Financial Times on Monday that Britain’s annual £280 million aid payments to India would not be reduced, in spite of the country’s space ambitions, nuclear energy development, soaring numbers of billionaires and its own aid program to many African nations.

Mitchell’s comments, a day before an official announcement, are likely to infuriate some UK MPs who have seen spending slashed in their constituencies, and those who have called for a reduction in overseas payments as British taxpayers brace for a period of tough austerity measures.

In September, suggestions from Westminster that aid may be reduced sparked a terse response from New Delhi, as Indian officials reportedly mulled rejecting UK support rather than waiting for London to decide whether its slice of the pie would shrink.

Where has India’s hawkish stance on China gone?

India’s complex diplomacy with China became further muddled on Friday as the chief of the Indian army categorically denied any troop build-up on either side of the Asian giants’ shared border in response to recent reports of Chinese military incursions into Indian territory.

India’s civil government and army officials strike a delicate balancing act in their position on the country’s powerful neighbour, with a hawkish military stance traditionally tempered by more reserved – but domestically unpopular – rhetoric from New Delhi.

A soldier of the Indian army stands guard in Medo village, an insurgency affected area, on the road to India-China border in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh September 6, 2007. Picture taken September 6, 2007. REUTERS/Parth Sanyal

However that appeared to be out of date on Friday as General V.K. Singh, Chief of Army staff said neither side was bolstering its border troops, four days after trashing media reports of potential acts of Chinese aggression on Indian soil last September.

India’s indignation over (un)diplomatic conventions

Forget WikiLeaks, according to India’s Foreign Minister the greatest threat to Indo-U.S. relations are the hands of airport security guards on New Delhi’s diplomatic elite.
A Transportation Security Agency (TSA) worker runs her hands over the head of a traveler during a patdown search at Denver International Airport, November 24, 2010.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking
On Dec 4, Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Meera Shankar was pulled from the interminable airport security queue at Jackson-Evers International Airport in Mississippi and subjected to a full body pat-down by security officials, despite reportedly stressing her diplomatic credentials.

India’s three biggest English newspapers gave the story front-page treatment on Friday, jostling for column inches alongside the continued investigations into a $39 billion telecoms scam and India’s crucial role in the ongoing climate change talks in Cancun.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s view, that the incident was “appropriate under the circumstances“, fuelled a sense of injustice in New Delhi.

from Afghan Journal:

India, U.S. build ties, with an eye on China

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In the end, Pakistan wasn't the unspoken elephant in the room when U.S. President Barack Obama sat down for talks with Indian leaders. Far from tip-toeing around India's Pakistan problem which complicates America's own troubled war there and in Afghanistan, Obama spoke clearly and squarely.

Safe havens for militants in Pakistan wouldn't be tolerated, he said, in what was music to Indian ears. But he also left nobody in doubt Washington wanted India to improve ties with Pakistan, saying New Delhi had the greatest stake in the troubled neighbour's stability.

But the one elephant that the leaders of India and the United States didn't name but which was written all over the flurry of announcements made during the three-day trip was China. Beginning with the headline-grabbing endorsement of India's bid for a permanent place on the U.N. Security Council to maritime cooperation and a surprise partnership to promote food security in Africa, the United States seems to have gone the extra mile to bolster New Delhi's credentials as a global player.

Pune blast: What next for India-Pakistan dialogue?

INDIA-BLAST/Less then two weeks before India and Pakistan are to restart a semblance of dialogue suspended in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, comes another blast in neighbouring Pune.

It is being called a terror attack but no group has so far claimed responsibility or been identified.

It could be a homegrown group or one supported from outside.

Either way it turns out, it is going to affect the talks.

Pakistan wants the Kashmir issue to be on the dialogue agenda while India wants to focus on “terrorism“.

Will India’s Kashmir talks offer break fresh ground?

New Delhi said this week it will adopt “quiet diplomacy” with every section of political opinion to find a solution to the problems in India-ruled Kashmir about four years after it opened a dialogue with separatist groups there.

The response to the announcement is on expected lines — the moderates welcoming it and pro-Pakistan hardliners reminding any effort at peace without involving Islamabad would be futile.

New Delhi has not yet made a formal offer for talks. But the timing of the development appears to be significant.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

After Indian election, relationship with Pakistan back in focus

After a diplomatic pause enforced by India's lengthy election campaign, the country will soon have a new government after the ruling Congress party won an unexpectedly decisive victory.  But analysts doubt the change of government will bring a significant change of heart in India towards Pakistan.

Despite Pakistan's offensive against the Taliban in the Swat valley, they say India has yet to be convinced the Pakistan Army is ready to crack down more widely on Islamist militants, fearing instead that it will selectively go after some groups, while leaving others like the Afghan Taliban and Kashmir-oriented groups alone.  While Pakistan wants to resume talks broken off by New Delhi after last November's attack on Mumbai, India has said it wants Islamabad to take more action first against those behind the assault, which it blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is expected to remain in office after the Congress election victory, is now likely to come under pressure from the United States to soften India's stance towards Pakistan.  The current stand-off leaves both countries vulnerable to a fresh flare-up of tensions which could torpedo Washington's plans for Pakistan and Afghanistan. It also complicates U.S. efforts to persuade the Pakistan Army to move troops from the Indian border to fight Taliban militants on its western border with Afghanistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama and his South Asian envoy

There's much talk about President-elect Barack Obama possibly appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. The New York Times says it's likely; while the Washington Independent says it may be a bit premature to expect final decisions, even before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

But more interesting perhaps than the name itself will be the brief given to any special envoy for South Asia. Would the focus be on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or on Pakistan and India? Or all three? The Times of India said India might be removed from the envoy's beat to assuage Indian sensitivities about Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral issue to be resolved with Pakistan, and which has long resisted any outside mediation. This, the paper said, was an evolution in thinking compared to statements made by Obama during his election campaign about Kashmir.

Before last year's Mumbai attacks, Obama had suggested that the United States should help India and Pakistan to make peace over Kashmir as part of a regional strategy to stabilise Afghanistan. In this he was supported by a raft of U.S. analysts who argued that Pakistan would never fully turn against Islamist militants threatening the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan as long as it felt it might need them to counter burgeoning Indian influence in the region. Obama's suggestion raised hackles in India, and broke with a tradition established by the Bush administration which had tended to be -- publicly at least -- hands-off about the Kashmir dispute. 

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