India and The World

India, France ink 14 pacts, express resolve to combat terrorism

Taking strategic ties to a new high

India and France took their strategic ties to a new plane on March 10 when they signed as many as 14 key agreements in areas like defence, security, nuclear energy and protection of classified information as French President Emmanuel Macron conveyed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi his country’s firm resolve to join hands with India in combating terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and radicalisation. Without directly naming Pakistan or any other nation, the two leaders, in a joint statement, called upon all countries to work towards rooting out terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupting networks and their financing channels and halting cross-border movement of terrorists belonging to Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al Qaeda, Daesh/ISIS and their affiliates who threaten peace and security in South Asia and the Sahel region, a joint statement issued after Modi-Macron talks said.

The two countries also inked pacts in fields like education, environment, urban development and railways after wide-ranging talks between the two leaders on bilateral issues as well as international developments.

Display of friendship

Prime Minister, Modi while interacting with Macron described France as one of the most trusted defence partners of India. He also spoke about Paris’s commitment to his ‘Make in India’ initiative in the defence sector. Responding the French leader said, “France is the entry point to Europe. We want to be India’s best partner in Europe. ”

Joint Strategic Vision

The two leaders also welcomed the ‘Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region’ as a guiding beacon for partnership between their two countries. Apparently taking a dig at China for its growing ambition in the South China Sea, the two leaders reiterated that cooperation between India and France would be crucial in order to maintain the safety of international sea lanes for unimpeded commerce and communications in accordance with the international law, for countering maritime terrorism and piracy. ‘’Indian Ocean cannot be a place for hegemony,’’ the French President said.

Significance is being attached to the agreement for logistics support between the armed forces of the two countries. Under the accord, India is expected to be permitted to use French bases in the Indian Ocean and, in return, allow French naval vessels access to Indian ports for repair and resupply. The pact also has provisions for joint exercises, joint training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

Information sharing

The agreement regarding the exchange and reciprocal protection of classified or protected information will enable the two countries not to divulge information classified ‘secret’ by either side. It would apparently also cover cost details of the Rafale jet deal on which the Modi government has been facing intense heat from the Congress party.  The two leaders noted with satisfaction the on-schedule progress in the implementation of acquisition related agreements, including the Rafale pact signed in 2016.

Nuclear cooperation

The agreement on nuclear cooperation prescribes a way forward for the implementation of the Jaitapur nuclear power project which has been hanging fire for almost a decade now. The two leaders reiterated the goal of commencing work at the Jaitapur site by the end of this year.

Despite the age difference between them, Modi and Macron have established a personal chemistry between them which was very much in evidence as the two leaders hugged each other at the ceremonial welcome accorded to the French leader at the Rashtrapati Bhavanon Saturday morning. The two leaders will co-chair the International Solar Alliance (ISA) Summit on Sunday.

14 MoUs signed by the two sides:

  1. Home Minister Rajnath Singh and French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian signed an agreement on the “prevention of illicit consumption and reduction of illicit traffic in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and chemical precursors and related offences”. The pact would facilitate the two countries in combating illicit traffic and consumption of drugs and also impact on financing of terrorism, according to a PIB statement.
  2. Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian inked the India-France Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement, which aims to facilitate temporary circular migration based on mobility and the encouragement for a return of skills to the home country.
  3. Minister of Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar and French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation Frederique Vidal signed an agreement to facilitate “mutual recognition of academic qualifications”.
  4. French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian singed an agreement on behalf of SNCF Motilities with Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal on technical cooperation in the field of railways. “The purpose of this MoU is to build upon and deepen the mutual cooperation and focus on priority areas of high speed and semi-high speed rail; station renovation modernisation of current operations and infrastructure; and suburban trains,” said the release.
  5. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian also signed a Letter of Intent between for creation of a permanent Indo-French Railways Forum to enhance the already existing cooperation.
  6. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and French Minister for the Armed Forces Florence Parly signed a pact “to facilitate the reciprocal provision of logistic support, supplies and services between the Armed Forces of the two countries during authorised port visits, joint exercises, joint training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts etc”.
  7. Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Dr Mahesh Sharma and Brune Poirson, French Minister of State, attached to the Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, signed an MoU to establish a basis for exchange of information between the governments and technical experts of the two countries in the field of environment and climate change.
  8. MoS (Independent Charge), Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri and Minister of State, attached to the Minister for Ecological and Inclusive Transition, Brune Poirson singed an agreement between India and France on cooperation in the field of sustainable urban development to allow exchange of information on smart city development, development of urban mass transportation systems, urban settlements and utilities etc.
  9. National Security advisor Ajit Doval and Philippe Etienne, Diplomatic Adviser to the French President, inked a pact regarding the exchange and reciprocal protection of classified or protected information. According to the press statement, the agreement defines the common security regulations applicable to any exchange of classified and protected information.
  10. K. Sivan, Secretary, Department of Space & Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation, and Jean-Yves Le Gall, President, Central National D’EtudesSpatiales, signed an agreement to implement an arrangement between the two organizations for pre-formulation studies of a maritime awareness mission. The agreement would provide end-to-end solution for detection, identification and monitoring of vessels in the regions of interest for France and India, said the release.
  11. An ‘Industrial Way Forward Agreement’ between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd, and EDF, France, was signed by Sekhar Basu, Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, andJean Bernard Levy, CEO, EDF. The agreement prescribes a way forward for the implementation of the Jaitapur nuclear power project.
  12. Vinay Kwatra, Ambassador of India to France, and Alexander Ziegler, Ambassador of France to India, signed a bilateral arrangement to encourage cooperation in the field of hydrography, nautical documentation and maritime safety information.
  13. A ‘credit facility agreement’ of Euros 100 million was signed between India and France for funding of the Smart City projects through a “challenge process”. Ambassador of India to France Vinay Kwatra and Ambassador of France to India Alexander Ziegler were the signatories. The agreement aims to “help fill the funding gap under the Smart City Mission and the funds provided by the Central and State Governments for the purpose”.
  14. An MoU was signed between the National Institute of Solar Energy, the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy and the National Solar Energy Institute, France, under which both countries will work on projects in ISA member countries in the areas of solar energy (solar photovoltaic, storage technologies, etc.) through transfer of technology and collaborative activities. Ambassador of India to France Vinay Kwatra and Administrator, Commission for Atomic and Alternate Energy, Daniel Verwaerde, were the signatories.


India and The World

WhatsApp security risk alert!

Indian Army issued advisory to people about Chinese hackers. India ranks higher than its global peers in being a victim of malware and ransomware attacks. (Reuters) WhatsApp security risk: The Additional Directorate General of Public Information of the Indian Army has released a video on Twitter alerting people of Chinese hackers. The tweet advised people to be alert and said that hacking was on the horizon, for those who are inattentive. They also instructed people to always check social media and be cautious about personal and group accounts. The video accused the Chinese of penetrating Indian digital world. As per the video, Whatsapp groups were the new ways of hacking into one’s system.

It also said that Chinese phone numbers that begin with the digits +86 pop up on your WhatsApp groups and begins to extract all the data on the phone. The video by the ADGP Indian Army also advised users to be vigilant about the things happening in their social groups. People were advised to conduct regular audits of their WhatsApp groups and be careful with the phone numbers that started with +86. The Indian Army also advised people about updating WhatsApp once they have changed their numbers. It also said, “Destroy the SIM card if you change your number and delete your WhatsApp on that number”, to ensure that Chinese do not mine personal data through hacking.

The warning by the Indian Army comes months after India and China had a 73-day long stand-off at Doklam. Though the Government of India intends to hold extensive talks in the coming month with the Chinese, threats continue to loom over not just India’s border, but also over India’s information systems.

India’s gearing cyber security system

As in most countries in the world, India’s use of the internet is immense. As per a report by Statista, an online statistics portal, India stands second behind China in the world to have the most number of internet users. There has been no paradigm shift at any legal or executive level that marks to resolve the issues of cyber security in India. Though Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) is the only national agency in charge of cybersecurity mandated under IT Amendment Act 2008, it is actually the collective efforts of Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Defence, and the office of NSA that ensures cybersecurity of the nation.

India ranks higher than its global peers in being a victim of malware and ransomware attacks. Reports suggest that India was the third most affected country during the WannaCry ransomware attack in May 2017. Diwakar Dayal from Cisco had earlier told the media that India seeing a lack of close to 4 lakh cyber security experts. This huge lacunae in India and China’s cybersecurity capacity surely is a threat. India’s nodal agency for cybersecurity CERT-In which brings out monthly bulletins, annual reports, highlights threats, attacks and trends in cybersecurity. However, a report on CERT-In by the Centre for Internet and Society claims that there is lack of an ecosystem that is proactive in addressing these issues. The report also suggests that CERT-In restructure itself to be dynamic and interact more with other government agencies to consistently respond to security threats.

India’s National Security Council report suggests that China has more than a lakh cyber security experts making it one of the most strong combatants in cyber warfare. The Chinese military doctrine of “Active Defence” can be clearly seen in the way Chinese attempt to take charge of information space. The new Information Warfare (IW) faculty of the PLA is working towards combined employment of network warfare tools and electronic warfare weapons against its enemies, says Deepak Sharma in his IDSA focus report on China’s Cyber Warfare Capability and India’s Concerns.

In 2016, India and Russia signed a massive cybersecurity agreement on sidelines of BRICS summit in Goa. Last month, India and Canada also held high-level talks and have agreed to strengthen ties to resolve issues related to security. Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj also met her counterpart Chrystia Freeland to discuss matters related to trade and security. On the other hand, the Indian Army has been working constantly to combat cyber threats as well. Last year, the Indian Army had warned its soldiers along the Chinese border from using a host of mobile applications like WhatsApp, Snapchat etc. It also came out with a comprehensive list of applications that were deemed as vulnerable to the Chinese hackers.

India and The World

39 Indians kidnapped in Iraq in 2014 killed by ISIS

Union foreign minister Sushma Swaraj  said in Rajya Sabha on March 20 that 39 Indians stranded in Mosul (Iraq) were killed by ISIS. The minister also said that the stranded Indians were kidnapped and most of them were from Punjab. The Union minister revealed that the bodies of the deceased were exhumed and DNA samples sent for forensic test. The 39 Indians were kidnapped by ISIS in Mosul in 2014. Until October last year, both India and Iraq had contended that the 39 people were alive. The relatives of the 39 Indians were made to undergo DNA test last year. She also told Parliament that MoS EAM, General VK Singh, will go to Iraq to bring back mortal remains. The plane carrying mortal remains will first go to Amritsar, then to Patna and then to Kolkata. She further said that mortal remains of deceased were kept in Baghdad. The government had sent DNA samples of relatives for the purpose of verification of bodies. Along with the Central, four state governments – Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar – were also involved in the process. Deep penetration radar confirmed that all Indians were dead after all bodies were exhumed.

Although such sad events do not warrant war of words, yet Congress Party MP Shashi Tharoor in his condolence also criticized the government for raising false hope to nation — “Thoughts & prayers are w/their families. But why  did the Govt give false hope to the nation for three and a half years that the people were still alive?”  Deep condolence was also expressed by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who twitted “Shattered at the heart-wrenching news from @SushmaSwaraj that the 39 Indians missing in Iraq, most of whom were Punjabis, are dead. My heart goes out to the families who had been living in hope since their reported abduction by ISIS in 2014. Prayers with all of them.” Defending herself against a raft of criticism, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj  accused the Congress of indulging in ‘cheap politics’ even as she said the government did not keep anyone in the dark over the death of 39 Indians in Iraq’s Mosul. In a press conference, Mrs.Swaraj noted that while everyone listened to her statement patiently in the Rajya Sabha, she expected the same in the Lok Sabha but the Congress led by Jyotiraditya Scindia disrupted her speech. Giving details from the incident, Swaraj said, “Our govt does not believe in “missing, believed to be killed”. Declared about the death of 39 Indians only after getting proof. While maintaining that she did not keep anyone in the dark about the deaths, Sushma Swaraj said, “It would have been a sin had we handed over anybody’s body claiming it to be those of our people, just for the sake of closing files.”


 A group of 40 Indian workers, mostly from Punjab, and some Bangladeshi were taken hostage by ISIS when it overran Iraq’s second largest city Mosul in 2014. Of the 40 Indians, one Harjit Masih from Gurdaspur had managed to escape. The  Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a Salafi jihadist terrorist organisation and former unrecognised proto-state that follows fundamentalist, Wahhabi, and heterodox doctrine of Sunni Islam. ISIL gained global prominence in early 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in its Western Iraq offensive, followed by its capture of Mosul and the Sinjar massacre. This group has been designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations and many individual countries. ISIL is widely known for its videos of beheadings and other types of executions of both soldiers and civilians, including journalists and aid workers, and its destruction of cultural heritage sites. The United Nations holds ISIL responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes. ISIL also committed ethnic cleansing on a historic scale in northern Iraq. ISIL originated as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and participated in the Iraqi insurgency following the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western forces.  In July 2017, the group lost control of its largest city, Mosul, to the Iraqi army. Following this major defeat, ISIL continued to lose territory to the various states and other military forces allied against it, until it controlled no meaningful territory by November 2017. U.S. military officials reported in December 2017 that the group retained a mere 2 percent of the territory they had previously held. On 10 December 2017, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that Iraqi forces had driven the last remnants of Islamic State from the country, three years after the militant group captured about a third of Iraq’s territory. Simultaneous military analyses in December 2017 reported that the group had lost more than 98% of the territory it controlled a year prior.

India and The World

Maldives Crisis: Politics of vendetta and violation of rule of law

The Maldives has been witnessing a heightening political crisis since February 1 when the Supreme Court delivered a major ruling ordering the release of nine Opposition leaders, including exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed. On February 5, Mr. Yameen declared a state of emergency, citing “security concerns.”

 President Abdulla Yameen refused to comply with the decision and instead imposed a state of emergency for a period of 15 days. The government’s refusal to implement the ruling, prompted a wave of protests in the capital, Male, with angry clashes between police and demonstrators. Yameen declared a state of emergency in the island. Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and another judge, Ali Hameed, were arrested hours after the government declared a state of emergency.

Exiled former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed had requested India to send “envoy, backed by its military” to release judges and political detainees. Reacting to the crisis in Maldives, India on Tuesday had issued a statement saying that the government’s refusal to abide by the Supreme Court and the imposition of emergency is disturbing. Alongside India, the U.S. and the U.K. have both urged Yameen to honor the rule of law and free the detainees.

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen on February 07, 2017  reached out to friendly countries and announced envoys to China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. According to media reports, Yameen’s office announced that the envoys will visit “friendly nations of the Maldives” and “provide updates on the current situation”.Earlier in the same day, China supposedly warned India against military intervention in island, cautioning that it could complicate the situation.

Amid growing calls internationally for the Maldivian government to abide by the rule of law, human rights organisations working in the region have strongly condemned the recent developments in the Indian ocean island. South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) said it was “deeply concerned” at the political crisis engulfing the Maldives, following President Abdulla Yameen’s increasingly “authoritarian and undemocratic actions”. It said, “Mr. Yameen stands accused of multiple charges of corruption and human rights violations” — allegations that he has denied in the past — the human rights organisation noted that the strongman President has been “politically isolated.” SAHR chairperson Sultana Kamal said in a statement that Mr. Yameen’s actions attacked two key pillars of liberal democracy — Parliament and the judiciary. “These acts show blatant disregard for rule of law and have justly drawn both international criticism and local protests in Male.”

Earlier this week, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) called on the Maldivian government to immediately lift the state of emergency and restore fundamental freedoms and rights of its people. “This is clearly an attempt to thwart any dissent against the government, and criminalise popular protests calling for compliance with the Supreme Court ruling,” said John Samuel, executive director of FORUM-ASIA, in a statement. The government should “fully comply” with the rulings of the Supreme Court and release the Supreme Court Justices in detention, the statement said, adding that the administration must ensure the independence and proper functioning of the judiciary and Parliament.


The Republic of Maldives   is a South Asian island country, located in the Indian Ocean, situated in the Arabian Sea. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India. The chain of 26 atolls stretches from Ihavandhippolhu Atoll in the north to the Addu City in the south. Comprising a territory spanning roughly 298 square kilometres (115 sq mi), the Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries, as well as the smallest Asian country by both land area and population, with around 427,756 inhabitants. Malé is the capital and most populated city, traditionally called the “King’s Island” for its central location. The Maldivian archipelago took to Islam in the 12th century and consolidated as a sultanate, developing strong commercial and cultural ties with Asia and Africa. From the mid 16th-century, the region came under the increasing influence of European colonial powers, with the Maldives becoming a British protectorate in 1887. Independence from the United Kingdom was achieved in 1965 and a presidential republic was established in 1968 with an elected People’s Majlis. The ensuing decades have been characterised by political instability, efforts at democratic reform, and environmental challenges posed by climate change. The Maldives is a founding member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It is also a member of the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Non Aligned Movement. The World Bank classifies the Maldives as having an upper middle income economy. Fishing has historically been the dominant economic activity, and remains the largest sector by far, followed by the rapidly growing tourism industry. Along with Sri Lanka, it is one of only two South Asian countries rated “high” on the Human Development Index, with its per capita income one of the highest among SAARC nations. The Maldives was a Commonwealth republic from July 1982 until its withdrawal from the Commonwealth in October 2016 in protest of international criticism of its records in relation to corruption and human rights.

Mohamed Nasheed

Mohamed Nasheed  is a Maldivian politician, human rights and environmental activist, who served as the fourth President of the Maldives from 2008 to 2012. He was the first democratically elected president of the Maldives and one of the founders of the Maldivian Democratic Party. In the 2008 presidential election, Nasheed was elected as the candidate of the first opposition coalition defeating President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled the Maldives as President for 30 continuous years. Nasheed assumed office on 11 November 2008.

On 7 February 2012, Nasheed resigned as president under disputed circumstances, following weeks of protests by the opposition, which had then been joined by a majority of military and police forces. The next day Nasheed stated that he had been forced to resign “at gunpoint” by police and army officers, and that the protesters had joined with “powerful networks” of Gayoom loyalists to force his resignation in a coup d’état. Nasheed’s successor, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, who had been a 2003 political appointee of President Maumoon Gayoom, denied these claims and stated that the transfer of power was voluntary and constitutional. The Maldives’ Commission of National Inquiry reported that it had found no evidence to support Nasheed’s version of events.

On 30 August 2014, Nasheed was elected as the President of the Maldivian Democratic Party. In March 2015, Nasheed was convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Act of Maldives for arresting Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed while president and sentenced to 13 years at Maafushi Prison. Amnesty International has described the conviction as “politically motivated”, and the United States Department of State expressed concern at “apparent lack of appropriate criminal procedures during the trial”. In 2016, Nasheed was given asylum in the United Kingdom, where he had gone for medical treatment.

Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom 

Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom   is the President of the Maldives, in office since 2013. He is the half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.  As the presidential candidate for the Progressive Party (PPM), Yameen was elected as President in 2013, defeating Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed in the 2013 presidential elections.

After a few years in People’s Alliance (PA), a political party he helped form, Yameen joined the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in 2010. PPM is the party of former president and Yameen’s half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had governed Maldives for 30 years. The presidential election was held under controversial circumstances following the resignation of president Mohamed Nasheed in 2012. In the first round of voting, Nasheed received 45.45% of the votes and Yameen received 25.35% of the votes and finished in second place, forcing a second round which Yameen won by 51.39% of votes to Nasheed’s 48.61%. The results were disputed by opposition members due to the planned original second round being annulled by the Supreme Court due to a high number of ineligible voters being registered.

India and The World

Regional geopolitics

Significance of celebration of several jubilees ~ 25 years of ASEAN-India dialogue partnership

The unprecedented participation of 10 heads of ASEAN states/governments as guests of honour at the Republic Day parade was a landmark development in the expanding role of India in international affairs. Celebration of several jubilees ~ 25 years of dialogue partnership, 10 years of summit-level dialogue and five years of strategic partnership ~ in such a grandiose manner signifies India being invested in ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and the recognition by the leaders of this region of the country’s major role in its future.

This development needs to frame any perspective for an analysis of the growing relationship between India and ASEAN. This organisation has been in existence since 1967 when, at the height of the Vietnam war, five countries, namely the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, decided upon a modicum of cooperation amongst themselves in the face of an expanding threat of Communism, domestic as well as regional, spurred by Mao’s China. Its first summit took place in 1976 following Communist victories in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia following the US withdrawal from Vietnam.

Geopolitical dynamics underwent a sea-change at the end of the Cold War in 1991 when diminished presence of the US in the region provided the space to this organisation to fashion a regional security order, to admit the former Communist adversary nations as members and to create a wide network of dialogue relationships with extra-regional powers.

For a then ‘modernising’ but isolated ~ post-Tienanmen massacre ~ China, the organisation provided the ‘comfort’ to engage in multilateral diplomacy, and for India an opportunity to ‘Look East’ with its own peculiar circumstances of the loss of a friend in the Soviet Union and the near economic bankruptcy driving the new foreign policy and domestic reform agendas. Even then, India was seen by some ASEAN leaders as a kind of ‘balancer’ to China.

Since then, regional geopolitics has taken yet another churn although ASEAN considerations towards India remain the same. In a survey of regional geopolitics in the course of his talk on Singapore’s priorities as the current ASEAN chair, on 5 December last year, the Singapore Foreign Minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, described the US in a state of “introspection” about its future role as China and India rise; there were expressions of anxiety, in his speech, about the Korean tensions and about the South China Sea, and exhortations about the unity of ASEAN as it faces its internal and external challenges.

Clearly, China’s assertiveness in the region, militarily and economically, compound these challenges as ASEAN as an organisation endeavours to maintain its cohesion and ‘centrality’ ~ and steering capacity ~ in the South-East Asian security architecture.

Even as a wide range of issues were discussed in the summit meetings in New Delhi befitting this long-lasting relationship, both sides had a convergent focus on the broader strategic picture. The New Delhi Summit ‘Retreat’, an informal, off-the-record sharing of ideas, had ‘Maritime Security and Cooperation’ as the sole agenda. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) briefing on the ‘Retreat’ mentioned an agreement to establish a mechanism to address “both traditional and non-traditional challenges”.

In his opening remarks at the plenary session, Prime Minister Modi, laying stress on a “rules-based order for the oceans and the seas”, elaborated on the scope of the maritime cooperation to include “humanitarian and disaster relief efforts, security cooperation and freedom of navigation.” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his opening remarks, stated that “India makes a major contribution to regional affairs, helping to keep the regional architecture open, balanced and inclusive”.

What shape this maritime cooperation will take in a strategic sense will unfold in the near future. Asean has not embraced the expression ‘Indo-Pacific’, which the Chinese do not like, and the Singapore Foreign Minister in his speech did not go into the terminological hairsplitting between ‘Indo-Pacific’ and ‘Asia Pacific’, adding that it “really translates into the question of what prospect do you see for India in the next couple of decades”.

At the same time, the Delhi Declaration, issued after the conclusion of the summit, expresses support for “full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct (DOC) of Parties in the South China Sea” and for “an early conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC)” in that body of water; although such references are made in bilateral documents with ASEAN’s interlocutors, it is important to note that DOC is a bilateral document between it and China and COC refers to a recent commitment between them, after considerable pressure on China, to initiate negotiations for a legally binding agreement between them for the South China Sea.

Despite a nuanced position on India’s strategic role in South-east Asia, ASEAN recognises that this is essential for its strengthening and its centrality in the regional security architecture under threat substantially due to the Chinese assertiveness. It also embraces the dimensions which were identified, for the purposes of the summit, as the 3C’s ~ Commerce, Connectivity and Culture.

An entire agenda has been fleshed out in the Delhi Declaration, including, inter-alia, the effective implementation of India-Asean Free Trade Area (FTA), swift conclusion of “mutually beneficial” Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), better digital, air and maritime connectivity, other forms of economic cooperation, promotion of civilizational ties, health cooperation, tourism, education, women empowerment, environment, and connectivity etc. These are, of course, in addition to an elaborate agenda of political and security cooperation to “ensure an open, transparent, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture” through various ASEAN-led mechanisms.

Over these decades, a bilateral cooperative relationship, reflecting ASEAN’s own institutional spectrum, has evolved. There are 30 dialogue mechanisms across all sectors, including seven at the ministerial level. Yet, there is criticism, largely motivated by comparison with China, about this relationship still being insufficiently developed due to inadequate effort on India’s part. There is recognition in bilateral documents that more needs to be done. Connectivity projects in Myanmar and Thailand through India’s North-Eastern states are behind schedule as China’s ‘Belt-and-Ruled-Initiative’ (BRI) projects proceed at a rapid pace. The current trade at $ 71 billion pales in contrast to China’s at $514.8 billion, with some observers commenting that India is not yet part of ASEAN’s production value chain.

Some of the criticism is fair although the entire blame need not be placed at India’s door. Whilst ASEAN-China FTA encompasses trade in goods, services and investment, in the Indian case FTA in services and investment has not come into effect due to lack of ratification on the part of Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines. Also, in the RCEP negotiations, according to news reports, Indian concerns about cheap Chinese goods and adequate provision to support its strengths in services and investment are yet to be addressed by the other participating countries.

Although the ASEAN countries are sensitive about regional tensions, especially in the South China Sea, anxiety about the necessity for a certain balancing against China’s increasing assertiveness provides the motivation for this new high in the India-ASEAN relationship. The salience of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct, the revival of the ‘Quad’ dialogue process between India, the US, Japan and Australia and the trilateral Malabar naval exercises, involving India, the US and Japan, alternating between the Bay of Bengal and the western Pacific region are indication of India’s desire to play that role.

Post-Doklam, India’s standing as a credible regional player has risen in the eyes of the South-east Asian leaders as, indeed, in regions farther afield. In sum, a new chapter in the recalibration of the balance of power relationship in the region has begun where each stakeholder seeks to pursue its own geopolitical interests.

The writer is former Indian Ambassador to the Philippines and writes on maritime affairs. He can be reached at

India and The World

The 15th ASEAN- India Summit, Manila, November 2017

The 15th ASEAN- India Summit was held on 14 November 2017 in Manila, Philippines. This marked 25th anniversary of ASEAN- India dialogue relations. The Summit was chaired by H.E. Rodrigo Roa Duterte, President of the Republic of the Philippines. The Summit was attended by all Heads of State/Government of ASEAN Member States and H.E. Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of the Republic of India.   The Secretary-General of ASEAN was also in attendance. The Chairman said that this milestone in dialogue relations presents an opportunity to further advance cooperation under the Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity (2016-20) through various projects across all three ASEAN community pillars. According to the Chairman the member countries agreed to continue enhancing the strategic partnership between ASEAN and India in order to bring about tangible benefits to the peoples as well as contribute to the promotion of peace, stability, and prosperity in the region. They highlighted the importance of frequent high-level meetings and exchanges in building cooperative efforts to address regional and global issues of common concern. The summit also acknowledged India’s role in the region and its deep civilizational and cultural links with the ASEAN countries. The Chairman welcomed various commemorative activities between ASEAN countries and India to deepen people to people contacts. He appreciated India’s continued support for ASEAN’s centrality in the evolving regional architecture active participation and positive contribution to ASEAN-led mechanisms, including the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus), Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF) and other Senior Officials Meetings and engagements. Through these mechanisms, ASEAN-India cooperation continues to gain strength in effectively responding to traditional as well as non-traditional security challenges, especially terrorism, violent extremism, radicalisation, maritime security, and cyber security.

Major outcomes of the 15th ASEAN-India Summit

ASEAN  agreed to further strengthen regular interactions between ASEAN and India particularly through the ASEAN-India Summit, the Post-Ministerial Conference Plus One (PMC+1) Session with India, the ASEAN-India Senior Officials’ Meeting, and the ASEAN-India Joint Cooperation Committee Meeting, among other regular meetings, to develop and deepen areas of cooperation.

The ASEAN leaders noted the adoption of the framework of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea (COC), and urged the Parties to conclude a substantive and effective COC consistent with universally recognised principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) at the earliest opportunity. In this regard, we welcomed the announcement of the start of substantive negotiations on the COC at the 20th ASEAN-China Summit.

The leaders also reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, stability, maritime safety and security, rules-based order and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea. In this regard, we further reaffirmed the need to enhance mutual trust and confidence, emphasized the importance of nonmilitarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities by claimants and all other states, including those mentioned in the DOC that could further complicate the situation and escalate tensions in the South China Sea, and stressed the need to adhere to the peaceful resolution of disputes, in accordance with universally recognised principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

They also discussed ways to enhance ASEAN-India cooperation in cyber security including by holding the ASEAN India Cyber Dialogue early next year which would discuss, among other topics, India’s support for a potential ASEAN Cyber Centre and networks of national Computer Emergency Response Teams (CERTS). ASEAN –India leaders noted that these topics are currently being considered through feasibility studies and have tasked their officials to explore this area further, taking into account the outcomes of the studies.

ASEAN leaders recognized that India remains one of ASEAN’s top ten trading partners in 2016 with total trade volume amounting to $58.45 billion and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows from India to ASEAN recorded at nearly $1.05 billion in the same year. We stressed the need to fully tap the potentials offered by the effective implementation of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area, operationalisation of the ASEAN-India Trade and Investment Centre (AITIC) and the finalisation of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement. The leaders welcomed the progress in the ratification of the ASEAN-India Trade in Services and Investment Agreements and encouraged the Parties which have not ratified the agreements yet to do so at the earliest possible time. We reiterated the importance of implementing these Agreements by all Parties to further contribute towards elevating ASEAN-India economic relations to a higher level. In view of the large potential of the RCEP to promote global trade and growth, they reaffirmed their strong commitment to bring the RCEP negotiations to a conclusion.

The leaders reiterated the importance of ASEAN- India connective cooperation and initiatives which would significantly contribute to the implementation of the five strategic areas of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity (MPAC) 2025. In this regard, ASEAN leaders noted India’s commitment to support ASEAN’s connectivity goals, including the establishment of a $ 1 billion line of credit for digital and infrastructure connectivity. They encouraged its full utilization towards strengthening the strategic area of digital innovation in particular and welcomed the convening of the ASEAN-India Connectivity Summit (11-12 December 2017 in New Delhi). They appreciated India’s constructive role in expediting the completion of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway Project and looked forward to developing an India-Myanmar-Laos-Vietnam Cambodia highway as committed in the Plan of Action to implement the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity (2016-2020). They invited India to support initiatives to strengthen MSMEs platforms including in the Brunei-Indonesia-Philippines East Asian Growth Area (BIMP- EAGA) with a view to spurring economic progress.

The ASEAN leaders encouraged stronger aviation and maritime connectivity by working towards the expeditious conclusion of an ASEAN-India Air Transport Agreement and an ASEAN-India Maritime Transport Agreement. They welcomed the convening of the First Meeting of ASEAN-India Joint Working Group in Civil Aviation in December 2017.

They noted the implementation of the Plan of Action on ASEAN-India Cooperation in Food, Agriculture and Forestry (2016-2020) to further enhance cooperation in food, agriculture and forestry, with the aim of enhancing productivity of agricultural products and meet the challenges of food security in the region.

The ASAN leaders looked forward to the early signing of the ASEAN-India Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on establishing the ASEAN-India Centre (AIC). The Centre’s early operationalisation would help promote cooperation in various areas such as trade, investment, tourism and people-to-people exchanges between ASEAN and India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi represented India at the ASEAN-India Summit, the East Asia Summit and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Summit in November 2017 in Manila, and this put India at the centrestage of the Asian region, called the Indo-Pacific. India-ASEAN bonhomie nurtured over the years also needs to be seen against the background of China’s increasing presence and muscle-flexing on certain regional issues, which violates international norms and goes against established order. India, Japan, Australia, and the US are working together to cope with this new situation. This development is not sudden; it dates back to 2006 when Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first proposed the India-US-Japan-Australia quadrilateral in order to work for peace and order in the Indo-Pacific region. It abruptly ended after Abe resigned. After 10 years in wilderness, the same idea is now being revived.

The Manila statement ended on cooperation for a “free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region” in a direct signal to China that the initiative by the four countries will counter its actions in the South China Sea if necessary. Modi is seeking similar cooperation with the US separately as well, as his one-to-one talks with Trump indicated. The ‘Quad’ is not a maritime alliance but aims at enhancing connectivity in accordance with “the rule of law” and “prudent financing” in the Indo-Pacific together. The second part of the description pertains to the US plans to build an “alternative financing model” to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. However, despite that the Quad is called a “coalition of democracies” of the Indo-Pacific, there is no denying the fact that the initiative is aimed at countering China’s growing influence in the region. As the only member of the proposed coalition that is also part of another security arrangement involving China and Russia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, India’s ability to balance its interests remains to be tested.

While India navigates on the political front by its engagement strategy, what transpired from Modi’s speech in Manila showed India’s resolve to bring its economic and business ties with the region up to the level of their “exceptionally good political and people-to-people relations”, As India is pushing its economy to integrate with the economies of the world vigorously by more forward-looking policies, the Modi Government’s engagement with the ASEAN region is further reinforced by changes in global power equations, which beg readjustment of strategy by India. The ASEAN is at the centre as India balances diverse alliances in strengthening its East Asia pivot.

Background of ASEAN- India ties

The dialogue partnership between ASEAN and India was established in 1992 and was upgraded to a full dialogue relationship in December 1995. At the ASEAN – India Summit in the Indian capital of New Delhi in 2012, the two sides’ leaders decided to lift their ties to a strategic partnership.

2017 was a year that witnessed many milestones in the ASEAN – India relationship, with the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the dialogue partnership, the 15th anniversary of the summit partnership and five years of the strategic partnership.

Over the past year, ASEAN – India relations have been constantly strengthened in three pillars including politics-security, economy, and culture-society. In terms of politics-security, India reaffirmed that ASEAN is central to its ‘Act East Policy’ as well as sharing its views with ASEAN on building a regional structure based on open, comprehensive and balanced rules, while considering its comprehensive connectivity with ASEAN as a focus point.

Regarding economic cooperation, the two-way trade turnover between ASEAN and India reached nearly US$76 billion in 2017, increasing nearly 2.5 times over the past few years. ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner, while India is ASEAN’s sixth largest trading partner (If EU as a group is excluded). India is currently implementing a US$75 million Project Development Fund to support Indian enterprises investing in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The ASEAN – India Summit on digital links was held in December 2017, highlighting the proposal of the Task Force on the interconnection to accelerate the India – Myanmar – Thailand Trilateral Highway which plans to be expanded into Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Culture-society is also an effective field of cooperation between ASEAN and India. Many cultural and people-to-people exchanges have been organised periodically by the two sides, such as ASEAN – India Student Exchange Programme, training courses for ASEAN diplomats, and an international seminar on civilisation connectivity between ASEAN and India. In 2016, India launched an India-ASEAN Goodwill Scholarship, aiming to promote the understanding of culture among the younger generations of both sides.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted the leaders of ASEAN countries on 25 January, 2018 for a summit on ‘Shared Values, Common Destiny’ to commemorate 25 years of dialogue partnership — to be followed by the unprecedented attendance of all 10 ASEAN Heads of State or Government at India’s 69th Republic Day celebrations.

ASEAN was founded in 1967 by Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines with the aim of containing communism in their region. India, a leader of the Non-Alignment Movement, which also leaned towards the Soviet Union, wasn’t enthusiastic about what it saw as a pro-US bloc in Asia.

The first time a dialogue was proposed between India and ASEAN was in 1976, when Y B Chavan was External Affairs Minister. That initiative did not progress, but in response to an outreach by the Janata government, ASEAN secretary general Datuk Ali bin Abdullah of Malaysia visited New Delhi in November 1978 and met with External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The Indian envoy to Indonesia then approached the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta for “observer” or dialogue partner status, but that effort failed in the light of New Delhi’s hands-off approach to the Kampuchean crisis. (In 1979, Vietnamese forces overthrew the Chinese-backed Pol Pot regime, following which China invaded Vietnam. ASEAN called for “immediate and total withdrawal of foreign forces from Kampuchean territory”, and described the neutral position that India took as a “blow to ASEAN”.)

After Indira Gandhi returned to power, India moved increasingly closer to the Soviet Union. In June 1980, External Affairs Minister P V Narasimha Rao cancelled a visit to an ASEAN dialogue at the last minute citing his mother’s illness, which was perceived by many in ASEAN to be a kind of “diplomatic illness”. Through the Eighties, contact between India and ASEAN were minimal.

The collapse of the USSR, India’s search for global partners in the region, and the plugging of India’s economy into the global economic system pushed Rao, now Prime Minister, to formulate a “Look East policy” in 1992. India became an ASEAN sectoral partner that year, and a dialogue partner and member of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1996. In 2002, India and ASEAN entered into a summit partnership.

Over the last two decades, India’s engagement with the group has been guided also by the ambitions and aspirations of an emerging power, and by its response to Chinese assertiveness in the region. This was one of the principal reasons for the summit-level partnership during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era. In 2012, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh celebrated 20 years of dialogue partnership by hosting all 10 ASEAN leaders for the first time. In 2014, Modi changed the description of the Indian policy from “Look East” to “Act East”, conveying India’s willingness to engage with Southeast Asia more proactively.

Among ASEAN’s trade partners, India is number 7 now, behind China, Japan, the US, Australia, South Korea and the EU. Despite being in ASEAN’s immediate neighbourhood, it is seventh in investments in the region.Bilateral trade went from $ 2 billion in 1992 to $ 12 billion in 2002, growing 12% annually, and then jumped to $ 72 billion in 2012. A two-way trade target of $ 100 billion by the 25th anniversary of the bilateral partnership was set in 2012 — but that target could not be achieved; two-way trade is currently around $ 76 billion.

However, India’s intent to engage with ASEAN is clear and unambiguous. There are 30 dialogue mechanisms between India and ASEAN countries, including an annual Summit and seven ministerial meetings. “Common concerns and aspirations, as well as similar threats and challenges, confront the ASEAN countries and India at a time when not only Asia but the whole world is in the throes of an uncertain and unpredictable phase. Developments over the next few months and years could determine the final contours of relations in Asia and the world,” former diplomat Ashok Sajjanhar recently wrote for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, on the ‘India-ASEAN Partnership at 25’.

India and ASEAN account for 1.85 billion people — about 30% of the global population — and have a combined GDP of approximately $ 5.1 trillion. Together, they would form the third largest economy in the world. While economic and commercial interests have driven the engagement, geostrategic imperatives flowing from Chinese assertiveness are probably more important now. New Delhi has been vocal on developments in the Indo-Pacific region, and its quadrilateral meeting with the US, Japan and Australia on the margins of the East Asia and ASEAN Summits last November did not go unnoticed by either China or the ASEAN countries.

From shared concerns over terrorism to the enormous opportunities in trade and tourism, the India-ASEAN engagement has enormous relevance and potential. In 1994, Prime Minister Rao invited Singapore’s Prime Minister Goh to be the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day. Twenty-four years on, all 10 ASEAN leaders attended a historic India-ASEAN Summit and another Republic Day, in New Delhi to reassure them of a bold, actionable, time-bound strategic vision of their partnership for the next 25 years.It needs to be noted that ever since India launched its Look East policy in the 1990s following liberalisation of economic policies, its engagement strategy has been complemented by its civilisational links with the region. The present Government of India has injected a new element of dynamism by rechristening it as Act East policy.

India and The World

MoUs/Agreements signed during the visit of Prime Minister of Israel to India

Prime Minister Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India from 14 to 19 January 2018 closed a momentous twenty fifth anniversary year of India-Israel relationship and its growing partnership. The summit level meetings between the Republic of India and the State of Israel that commenced with Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel from 4 to 6 July 2017, have further strengthened the bonds between the two governments and peoples and have consolidated the foundation for their Strategic Partnership.

The two Prime Ministers share a common vision for the relationship. They believe that in the next twenty-five years the two respective countries should strive to raise bilateral cooperation in diverse sectors to a qualitatively new level in consonance with our Strategic Partnership.

Both sides are working together on a Five Year Joint Work Plan for strategic cooperation in Agriculture and Water. Both sides also agreed to deepen cooperation in innovation, business and trade, space, homeland security and cyber, higher education and research, science and technology, tourism and culture. The two prime ministers noted with satisfaction the commencement and implementation of India-Israel development cooperation – three-year work programme in Agriculture (2018-2020) under the stewardship of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MASHAV) and the Ministry of Agriculture of India aimed at increasing farmers’ productivity and optimization of water use efficiency.

The two Prime Ministers were apprised of state of progress on the twenty-eight Centres of Excellence that are being jointly established in different States of India, and noted with satisfaction that seven more Centres of Excellence have become operational in the last six months since the visit of the Prime Minister of India to Israel. The two Prime Ministers will be visiting Centre of Excellence in Vadrad, Gujarat and will inaugurate the Centre of Excellence in Bhuj, Gujarat, during this visit.

The two Prime Ministers commended the decision of the respective Ministries of Science and Technology to commence nine joint R&D projects in the areas of big data analytics in health care and security in cyber space, in pursuance of their decision in July 2017 to upgrade scientific and technological collaboration.

 List of MoUs/Agreements signed during the visit of Prime Minister of Israel to India

S. No. MoU / Agreement / LoI Exchanged by
Indian side Israeli side
1 MoU on Cyber Security Cooperation between India and Israel Shri Vijay Gokhale, Secretary (ER) Mr. Yuval Rotem, Director General, MoFA, Government of Israel
2 MoU between the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas and the Ministry of Energy on Cooperation in Oil and Gas Sector Shri Vijay Gokhale, Secretary (ER) Mr. Daniel Carmon, Ambassador of Israel to India
3 Protocol between India and Israel on Amendments to theAir Transport Agreement Shri Rajiv Nayan Choubey, Secretary, Civil Aviation Mr. Daniel Carmon, Ambassador of Israel to India
4 Agreement on Film-co-production between India and Israel Shri N. K. Sinha, Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting Mr. Daniel Carmon, Ambassador of Israel to India
5 MoU between the Central Council for Research in Homeopathy, Ministry of AYUSH and the Centre for Integrative Complementary Medicine, Shaare Zedek Medical Center on Cooperation in the field of Research inHomeopathic Medicine Vaidya Rajesh Kotecha, Secretary, Ministry of AYUSH Mr. Daniel Carmon, Ambassador of Israel to India
6 MoU between Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) and the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology for cooperation in the field ofspace Dr. V. K. Dadhwal, Director of IIST Mr. Daniel Carmon, Ambassador of Israel to India
7 Memorandum of Intent between Invest India and Invest in Israel Shri Deepak Bagla, Managing Director & CEO, Invest India Mr. Daniel Carmon, Ambassador of Israel to India
8 Letter of Intent between IOCL and Phinergy Ltd. For cooperation in the area of metal-air batteries Shri Sanjiv Singh, Chairman, IOCL Mr. Daniel Carmon, Ambassador of Israel to India
9 Letter of Intent between IOCL and Yeda Research and Development Co Ltd for cooperation in the area of concentrated solar thermal technologies Shri Sanjiv Singh, Chairman, IOCL Mr. Daniel Carmon, Ambassador of Israel to India

India and The World

SC bars deportation of Rohingya Muslims till hearing on November 21

The Supreme Court on Friday decided to give a detailed and holistic hearing from November 21 on the contentious issue of government’s decision to deport Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar. The apex court also made it clear that in case any contingency arises in the intervening period, the petitioners have the liberty to approach it for redress. A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud said the issue was of great magnitude and therefore, the state has a big role.

 The top court made it clear that there was a need for holistic hearing and it is neither going to be swayed by the arguments of senior lawyer Fali S Nariman, who is representing the petitioners, nor by any other senior counsel and the submissions have to go by the letter of the law. “We will not permit any emotional arguments,” the bench observed. During the brief hearing, the bench suggested to the Centre not to deport the Rohingya Muslim refugees, but Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta requested that it should not be written in the order as anything coming on record will have an international ramification. “We know our responsibility,” the ASG said. The bench said the whole issue of Rohingya Muslims has to be looked at from various angles like national security, economic interest, labour interest and also the protection of children, women, sick and innocent persons.

India and The World

The implications of Pakistan and India’s permanent membership of the SCO

(This analytical article on SCO was published in moderndiplomat just before Prime Minster Narendra Modi attended Astana Summit in June 2017. It is reproduced here for the benefit of students.)

The next Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit will be held in Astana, Kazakhstan in June 2017, when India and Pakistan are likely to become full members of the organization. ( India and Pakistan joined SCO as full members on 9 June 2017 in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Courtesy : PTI, dated June 9, 2017

How India became a member of SCO

Capping a two-year-long process, India and Pakistan today became full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a China-dominated security grouping that is increasingly seen as a counterweight to NATO. India’s membership was strongly pushed by Russia while Pakistan’s entry into the grouping was backed by China. With the expansion of the grouping, the SCO will now represent over 40% of humanity and nearly 20% of the global GDP. As an SCO member, India is expected to have a bigger say in pressing for concerted action in dealing with terrorism as well as on issues relating to security and defence in the region. Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is the current chair of the SCO, said, “India and Pakistan are now members of the SCO. It is a very important moment for us”. India, one of the largest energy consuming countries in the world, is also likely to get greater access to major gas and oil exploration projects in Central Asia as many of the SCO countries have huge eserves of oil and natural gas. The SCO had set the ball rolling to make India a member of the bloc during its summit in Ufa, Russia, in July, 2015, when administrative hurdles were cleared to grant membership to India and Pakistan.

The SCO was founded at a Summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the Presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India, Iran and Pakistan were admitted as observers at the 2005 Astana Summit. The Tashkent SCO Summit in June 2010 had lifted the moratorium on new membership, paving the way for the expansion of the grouping that is increasingly seen as a counterweight to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) India feels that as an SCO member, it will be able to play a major role in addressing the threat of terrorism in the region. India is also keen on deepening its security-related cooperation with the SCO and its Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) which specifically deals with issues relating to security and defence. India has been an observer at the SCO since 2005 and has generally participated in the ministerial-level meetings of the grouping which focus mainly on security and economic cooperation in the Eurasian region.


Though the memorandum on the obligations for India and Pakistan to hold membership of the SCO was signed at the SCO Tashkent summit in 2016 but the official declaration was made on 14th March 2017 during the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying’s regular press conference in Beijing. Prior to this, on 13th March, the Secretary-General of the organization Rashid Alimov, also posted on Sina Weibo about the expansion plan of SCO in coming June. Although it is expected that permanent membership of the SCO will help bolster mutual trust and improve relations between Pakistan and India, which in yield would be beneficial for the regional prosperity and development, however, the expansion will also have some serious implications for the existing members and SCO itself which need to be examined.

SCO as a counterbalance to NATO

In the West-dominated world order, the Eurasian bloc has always tried to establish “balance of power” through the expansion of regional organizations and the emergence of SCO was the outcome of one of these attempts. The organization, originally named as Shanghai-Five, is a Eurasian political, economic, and military organization founded in 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. However, after the inclusion of Uzbekistan in 2001, it was renamed to its current name.

The primary objective behind the formation of the Shanghai-Five was to “peacefully resolve the boundary dispute, which existed among China and the five countries and to ensure stability along the borders”. Once the borders were worked out more or less along the agreed upon lines, the member countries started to maneuver along the expansion of the organization in terms of its membership and execution. Currently the goals of the organization are to (i) strengthen relations among member states; (ii) promote cooperation in political affairs, economics, trade, scientific-technical, cultural, and educational spheres as well as in energy, transportation, tourism, and environmental protection; (iv) safeguard regional peace, security, and stability; and (v) create a democratic, equitable international political and economic order.

Implications for Pakistan

For Pakistan, the proclamation of the full membership of the SCO has come at the time when the country is already seeking to forge trade links with Central Asian countries. The permanent membership will foster deeper socio-economic connectivity between Pakistan and Central Asia, inviting the business community of both sides to invest in each other’s agriculture, mining, pharmaceutical, and manufacturing sectors. Furthermore, it could open doors for Pakistan’s moribund energy sector to avail cheap power supply schemes from Kyrgyzstan, a country that has significantly ramped up its energy sector as a consequence of the two-decade development of its large hydroelectric power resources. Moreover, the area is plentiful with the natural gas resources, a readiness that could also be savored by Pakistan in future.

SCO expansion and Pakistan’s inclusion in the organization will prove beneficial for these Central Asian members as well. Most of these central Asian countries are landlocked, but they could convert their perceived disadvantage of being landlocked into an asset by constructing a web and network of roads, railways, highways, oil and gas pipelines crisscrossing from East to West and North to South to connect industrial and production hubs with consumer markets. With Pakistan already having Karachi as its major port can act as a “zipper” for the region, allowing these countries to use its ports and territory for such purpose. Furthermore, under the project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is building Gwadar as the next important port city in the region. The port is located near key oil shipping lanes from the Persian Gulf, thus it will provide closest access to the sea to Central Asian Republics for oil and other imports. The project also targets to construct the network of roads and rail to carry goods from the Persian Gulf to China and Europe through Silk Route. Therefore, there could be a mutual agreement between Pakistan and these Central Asian countries to expand this economic network of rail and road tracks in Central Asia, in order to ensure the smooth transit of goods across these countries and to provide the economic channel for the scientific-technical, educational and cultural exchanges. And what not. With Pakistan’s vast experience in the context, new measures and joint ventures could also be taken for countering violent extremism in the region.

Implications for India

From India’s perspective, SCO membership would open a new opportunity to reconnect with Eurasia after a century of disruption. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the SCO-BRICS Summit 2015 that membership of SCO would be “a natural extension of India’s ties with member countries.”

SCO could offer India with some unique opportunities to get constructively engaged with Eurasia to address shared security concerns, particularly for combating terrorism and containing threats posed by ISIS and the Taliban. India could also benefit from stepping up cooperation, especially by tapping into the existing SCO processes such as the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) that shares key information and intelligence on the movements of terrorists and drug-trafficking. Likewise, participation in the SCO’s counter-terror exercises and annually conducted military drills could benefit Indian armed forces to understand the operational tactics of other militaries which could also instill greater confidence at the regional level.

Importantly, the rapidly growing India is one of the biggest energy-consuming countries in the world. The Central Asian region possesses large resources of oil and natural gas reserves. Therefore, once the SCO membership is under the belt, India would seek the gateway to Central Asia’s humongous energy fields. Moreover, at times when India is seeking for a permanent seat in the United Nations (UN), it is important to strengthen its historical and regional links with the Eurasian countries.

For SCO, roping in India and Pakistan adds fresh vitality, providing greater voice and status to the grouping, which has hitherto remained China-centric previously. After Pakistan and India inclusion, SCO has now become one of the biggest organizations in the world that is a voice of half of the population of the world.

Now let’s consider the other side of the coin as well. Was the accession of membership of both Pakistan and India at the same time coincidental or consequential?

Well, the sources say that Russia traditionally pushed India’s case for full membership. As India’s entry to the SCO in 2017 would lead to even “closer Russian-Indian cooperation”, opening gates for collaboration in civil nuclear energy, partnership in the natural gas, petrochemicals sector and liaison in the space sector. The Russian decision to back India was also supported by Kazakhstan and Tajikistan who have close ties with India. Now China, being the most influential member of the organization, felt being cornered because of the inclusion of India and the growing proximity between India, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Thus, China started supporting Pakistan’s entry into the SCO as a “balancer” against the weight of Russia and its allies-India, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

Does this mean that Pakistan and India permanent membership is going to bifurcate the SCO into groups?

Keeping Pakistan and India refractory relations in mind, it does seem like that both the countries will find a new platform to blather banal allegations over each other just like they recently did in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 34th regular session in February 2017. Therefore, the quirky relations between Pakistan and India could shift to the SCO platform. As the hostilities between the two countries have always had a Central Asian dimension. On one hand, India is building its relations with Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan to import petroleum, natural gas, and uranium from the region. On the other hand, Pakistan is working with Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan on the CASA-1000 Project to transmit electricity from Central Asia to South Asia. Moreover, through Quadrilateral Traffic in Transit Agreement (QTTA), Pakistan is setting a deal with Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, China and Kazakhstan to facilitate the transportation of goods and flow of traffic from Central Asia to South Asia and China. Consequently, both countries view Central Asia as a strategic clamp with which to exert pressure on each other from the rear. Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, have also described the entry of India and Pakistan to the organization as “time bomb.”

Alexander Gabuev, head of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Region program of the Carnegie Moscow Center, has also impugned the expansion of SCO by saying: “The SCO is changing quantitatively but not qualitatively. Its population, territory, and share of global GDP are increasing, but the main problem is that this regional organization lacks a specific function to deliver something tangible”. He believes that the “New countries are seeking to join not because of the great prospects, but for fear of falling behind the powers of continental Eurasia already inside. That is the main motivation for India and Pakistan to join the SCO as well”

Furthermore, it could also dilute the organization member’s already meager powers. That is precisely the reason that there was news last year that the existing Central Asian members will block the entry of India and Pakistan in the organization. But their approbation to the expansion of the SCO has scotched all the rumors. However, the risk that the inclusion of India and Pakistan will take the spotlight away from Central Asia and other more urgent matters remains. This may also result in the alteration of the initial structure and concept of the organization, after which Central Asia will find it harder to advance its own positions and to cooperate on regional issues.

So, what is to be done now?

India and Pakistan should take a cooperative position in the organization if they want to genuinely exploit opportunities that SCO membership may offer. Both countries should certainly join SCO with a fresh mind without any ambiguity. Also, China and Russia will now have to accept to run a mature role to make sure both Pakistan and India comply with the norms of SCO and do not demur the organization’s original purpose and role. Furthermore, all the existing and new members should work to recast the organization as a more comprehensive regional forum. There is a need to regulate the organization as a vehicle for any kind of substantive regional integration or cooperative problem solving rather than making it an emblematic club of like-minded members who do nothing except talk about how much population, land and global GDP they control.

What is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)?

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a Eurasian political, economic, and military organisation which was founded in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The SCO’s objectives arecentred around cooperation between member nations on security-related concerns, military cooperation, intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism. It is mainly aimed at military cooperation between the members and involves intelligence-sharing, counter-terrorism operations in Central Asia. The presence of China and India, the world’s most populous countries, would make the SCO the organisation with the largest population coverage.

Who are the permanent members of the SCO?

The SCO was founded by leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan in 2001. Uzbegistan joined the group later. India and Pakistan signed the memoranda for becoming a permanent member of the SCO in 2016. The inclusion of India and Pakistan into the SCO would mean the addition of another 1.45 billion people which would make the grouping cover around 40 per cent of the global population.

India and The World

What is Rohingya crisis and why India needs to have a concrete refugee policy and a law

India is home to the largest number of refugees in South Asia yet it does not have a specific legal framework to deal with the problem. Rohingya crisis presents an opportunity to put in place a law relating to status of refugees.

According to United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 3 lakh Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar since August 25 when the latest phase of violence broke out in the Rakhine province of the country.

Earlier in May this year, the UNHCR stated that about 1,68,000 Rohingyas had fled Myanmar since 2012, when clashes with Buddhists erupted in the trouble-torn Arakan region. Over 40,000 of those Rohingyas, who fled Myanmar, have entered India illegally, according to government’s estimate.

The Narendra Modi government is concerned over Rohingyas’ stay in India for security regions. In its affidavit to the Supreme Court, the government said that some of the Rohingyas with militant background were found to be very active in Jammu, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mewat. They have been identified as having a very serious and potential threat to the internal and national security of India, the Centre told the Supreme Court.

What government wants to do with Rohingyas?

Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju has stated it categorically that the government is looking for ways to deport over 40,000 Rohingyas living in the country illegally. The government is worried about the suspected infiltration of terror outfits among the displaced people living in various camps.

The UNHCR and the Amnesty International, however, asked India to reconsider its decision saying that the Rohingyas are the most persecuted ethnic group in the world. India should adopt humanitarian approach in dealing with Rohingya problem, they said.

Refusing to bow under international pressure over Rohingya crisis, India made it clear that it would not compromise with the security concerns of the country. However, the government decided to extend help to Bangladesh in providing all amenities to the fleeing Rohingyas, who are being relocated in camps there. India also asked Myanmar to end persecution of Rohingyas.

Rohingyas as refugees in India

Though India has the biggest number of refugees in the country in the entire South Asia and dealt with one of the biggest refugee crises in the world during partition of the country seven decades back, New Delhi does not have a refugee specific law.

The Constitution of India only defines who is a citizen of India. The subsequent laws also do not deal with refugees. In legal terms, a person living in India can be either a citizen or a foreigner defined under the Foreigners Act, 1946.

India has also not been a signatory of the 1951 UN Convention or the 1967 Protocol – both relating to the Status of Refugees and included in the UNHCR statute. According to the UNHCR, a refugee is a person living in another country following persecution in his own on the grounds of “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

Before the present Rohingya crisis broke out, there were “2,07,861 persons of concern in India, of whom 2,01,281 were refugees and 6,480 asylum seekers” by the end of 2015, according to UNHCR.

There are about 16,000 UNHCR-certified Rohingya refugees in India. The government estimate puts the figure of Rohingya refugees living in India beyond 40,000 with maximum concentration in and around Jammu.

Issues with Rohingyas as living in India

Before the Rohingya crisis acquired international proportion, their population in Myanmar was estimated at around 10 lakh. Under the 1982 citizenship law, Myanmar government recognised only about 40,000 Rohingyas as its citizens. The rest were dubbed as “illegal Bengalis” – immigrants from Bangladesh.

As the Myanmar government does not recognise the Rohingyas as its citizens, in general, it will be difficult for India to deport them. And, in the absence of a well defined refugee policy backed by a law passed by Parliament, India won’t be able to accommodate Rohingyas as their stay in the country will give a spin to political narrative.

The Centre has told the Supreme Court that many Rohingyas have acquired documents meant for Indian citizens only like Aadhaar, PAN and Voter-ID. This raises the concern of naturalisation of illegal migrants by fraudulent means. Given the socio-economic complexities of Indian society and politics, soon there may be a debate around the minority rights of the Rohingyas.

In the absence of a law to deal with refugees, their identification and surveillance will become difficult especially when the intelligence agencies have warned the jihadi terror outfits are looking to exploit the vulnerability of Rohingyas.

Refugee Policy and a bill

Till now the successive governments have dealt with refugee question on case by case basis. The Tibetan refugees were given the Registration Certificates and the Identity Certificates.

The Sri Lankan Tamils, who fled their country to escape persecution by the government forces when the island nation was battling with the LTTE insurgency, were classified as “camp refugees” and “non-camp refugees”.

The minority refugees – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan were allowed to stay in India on Long Term Visas.

In 2015, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor introduced a Private Member’s Bill titled the Asylum Bill, 2015 in the Lok Sabha. The Bill seeks to provide for the establishment of a legal framework to deal with refugee problem. But, the Bill has not yet been taken up for consideration.