India’s Pivot to America – The Way Ahead

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India’s strategic partnership with the US in the Asia-Pacific will be a defining one in the 21st century. This pivot has all the makes of an all-weather partnership between two countries whose defence cooperations have grown multifold in last few decades and are economically deeply integrated. In the light of the successful visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US, let us examine where India and the US stand strategically in the Asia-Pacific and world at large.

Indian PM Modi embarked on a historic fourth visit to the US this June for his seventh meeting with President Obama in just two years of being in power. However, this visit was geopolitically critical viz-a-viz Pakistan and China. The drone strike on Afghan Taliban Chief Mansour and the stalling of the F-16 deal to Pakistan by the US Congress has brought US-Pak relations to a new low with China seeking to plug the trust deficit between them. With the critical question of India's MTCR and NSG memberships, this visit was historic in the true sense of deliverables.

PM Modi began his visit 5-nation tour with the inauguration of Salma Dam in Herat, Afghanistan that was built with India 's help and proceeded to Qatar, Switzerland, the US and finally Mexico. He was successful in obtaining endorsements from Switzerland and Mexico for India's NSG membership. The 48 member NSG regulates the supply of nuclear commerce and fissile material across the world. India has already received backing from the US and Japan and is being opposed unsurprisingly by China and Pakistan. China is blocking India’s  admission into the NSG  stating that India is not a signatory non-proliferation regime (NPT), and hence it does not qualify to be accorded membership of the elite group. China is also using the reason of Pakistan (who has sought similar status before NSG) to block India.  China’s arguments do not hold weight as India has an impeccable record on nuclear proliferation and in accordance with the IAEA protocol, has already classified its nuclear reactors for the civilian and military purpose. Laughably, Pakistan, a rank proliferator (as admitted by its former scientist AQ Khan) of smuggling nuclear technology to states like Libya and has written to Russia, South Korea, and New Zealand for opposing India’s NSG bid. 

An Extraordinary meeting of the NSG was held on the 09th-10th June 2016 in Vienna where countries were positive of India’s NSG bid though China (vocally) and others like South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand, Austria and Turkey are still holding out. Hectic diplomacy is underway by India and the US to bring other holdouts to yield and for China to soften its stand by the time of Annual Plenary in Seoul from the 20th-21st June 2016. Since the decision in NSG has to be by consensus, even a whiff of opposition by China has the potential to delay India’s NSG membership. The consequences of such a de-facto veto by China are significant for India as it has sought to expand the role of Nuclear Power as part of its push on renewable energy by 2030 per the Paris Climate Change agreement signed in December 2015.  Moreover, China’s prospective opposition to India’s bid will fasten the geopolitical alignments between India and the US and the allies like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, etc. that could trip China's dream of foisting its order. China’s opposition is derived from the fact that it cannot accept a nuclear legitimized India in a region it is seeking to dominate. Hence, how China votes on India’s NSG bid and whether the US will be able to yield China on the same (like it did for the 2008 waiver) will determine the geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific in the times to come.

Along with India's NSG membership,  Prime Minister Modi’s US visit also marked successful the culmination of India’s membership in MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) a group of countries that regulate the export of missile technology, armed drones, and long-range missiles to countries across the world. In a silent procedure adopted, India’s application for MTCR automatically went ahead when none of the member states objected, with the deadline for the same expiring on the 06th June 2016. Italy, previously opposing the same was mollified after the UN Tribunal's Order for the releasing of Italian marines on bail and India's compliance. India can now export its hi-tech missiles like Brahmos Cruise Missile (jointly developed with Russia) to countries like Vietnam, UAE, Chile, Brazil, and the Philippines. Entry into MTCR will also enable India acquire armed drones like Predator from the United States and develop long-range cruise missiles which countries like Russia currently possess. India’s entry into MTCR is thus a big foreign policy achievement of the Modi Govt.

Prime Minister Modi acknowledged President Obama's role in supporting India's MTCR and NSG membership at the White House indicating how far Indo-US relations have progressed in the last two years. The four visits to the United States by PM Modi and the path-breaking visit of President Obama in January 2015 have cemented the Indo-US partnership and will define the geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific. The Address by PM Modi to US Congress on 08th June 2016 was applauded all around and well received. PM Modi commended the bi-partisan support of Indo-US strategic partnership and called for the further deepening of ties from trade to defence and military. He stated that India is more with aligned with the US today in interests than ever before and that India and US could partner each other in Asia Pacific region from Africa to the West Pacific. He also commended the US Congress for cutting military aid to the sponsors of terror across India’s borders and hinted at China by expressing India’s commitment to freedom of navigation as per International law. 

PM Modi’s visit to the US this time around was even more significant in the backdrop of a rising Sino-Pak axis in Afghanistan-Pakistan and for the US, it was time to walk the talk. We can see proof of the same in the rapid strides in the Indo-US Defence Partnership. India signed the defence partnership with the US in January 2015 during President Obama’s visit along with the DTTI agreement that allowed technology sharing between the two countries especially dual-use technologies which the US shares only with its NATO Allies and Israel. The US House of Representatives in the NDAA Bill of 2017 ( as passed) contains a bi-partisan amendment of codifying defence partnerships with India and the DTTI Agreement for Transfer of Technology. The Amendment also contains the authority to the US President to transfer conventional technology to India in compliance with US Laws, set up a rapid reaction cell in Pentagon for India, Logistical and security cooperation with India in Asia-Pacific region between the countries including maritime security and was unanimously approved by the US Senate. 

On the 07th June 2016, a new bill was introduced in the US Senate titled ‘Special Global Partnership with India Act of 2016’. The said bill not only codified the defence partnership between two countries but also discussed economic and trade as a component of Indo-US strategic partnership. The bill calls for extensive cooperation with India in the fields of defence, intelligence, logistics sharing, space, climate change, agriculture, innovation infrastructure, renewable energy, etc. The bill further talks about technical and security cooperation between two countries on terrorism, cyber security and allied domains in the region. The bill authorizes the president to transfer conventional technologies to India and for this purpose,  the President is sought to be empowered to grant exemptions to India for such military transfers under US Arms Controls Exports Act for five years subject to the extension of another five years after notification of the same to the US Congress. This Bill seeks to institutionalize the Indo-US defence partnership and will give India a status equal to that of a NATO ally or Israel. The exemptions will be subject to renewal by US Congress after ten years, which is part of the usual procedure.

The Indo-US Joint Declaration issued on 07th June 2016 further cemented the partnership with India and the US sorting out the Nuclear deal roadblocks and paving the way for 6 Westinghouse-Toshiba Nuclear reactors in India to be signed between NCPIL and Westinghouse by June 2017.  The US EXIM Bank will work at financing the project, building the site plan and engineering designs for the reactors. The US also backed India lead International Solar Alliance for renewable energy committing an investment of $20 billion. Also, the declaration also stated that India and the US have finalized the text of LEMOA foundational military agreement for the sharing of logistics between armed forces of the two countries. Thus, as per reports LEMOA has been finalized and does not require any formal signatures for its implementation, heralding a new era in Indo-US military ties.  Similarly, India and the US also began negotiations on the cybersecurity agreement draft with the parameters agreed on both sides. Apart from defence and military, they also signed an agreement on a global entry program for Indians in the US and the backing of India’s entry into the APEC trade and economic bloc and agreed to continue deliberations on contentious issues like IPR, BIT's and terror cooperation in the region.

From being a pariah to a US’s strategic partner equal to a NATO ally, Indo-US ties have a come a long way. However, it remains to be seen how they manage the divergence of views on Iran or Russia, which are traditional Indian allies. Indian PM Modi, while heralding the new Indo-US Defence Partnership has called for the mutual respect of each other's strategic autonomy in world affairs. In sum and substance, the pivot to the US which New Delhi has embarked upon is a cautious embrace. This pivot is an indication of India's shedding the baggage of the past to a more confident and assertive player in The New Global Order. PM Modi is continuing the Vajpayee legacy of the US and India being natural allies and with this pivot, he has now truly laid the Nehruvian era relic of NAM to rest.

Demographic Warfare - Where Guns are Replaced by People

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The current population of the world is over 7 billion. Of this, China and India’s share is 19 and 17.9 percent respectively; while the US, the global superpower is at 4.4 percent. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country holds 3.5 percent while Russia, the world’s largest country by landmass houses a mere 1.9 percent. Japan, Europe, and Russia suffer from an aging population while the Muslim nations along with India and China are seeing a growth in their populations. A country’s population can be both an asset and a liability and which way this would work for a country depends entirely on how its demographics are harnessed and its population is mobilized. We have already stated that as the possibilities of conventional warfare in the world will reduce, hybrid warfare is already becoming the norm. An important component of this is demographic warfare. Demographic warfare can be conducted in many ways such as religious conversions, illegal and legal migration (to change voting patterns) and economic suppression. Hence for countries with huge populations, demographic warfare can be used to mobilize their citizens for their strategic gains. 

The US with a friendly immigration policy in the past was one of the first countries to harness the immigrant dividend. The US, in the recent times, has also been seeing a growing Hispanic population and this trend is also visible in the 2016 Presidential Elections. Illegal immigration from Mexico and Latin America is common on the US’s west coast. Many prominent drug cartels in Mexico are also involved in the same. This has prompted Donald Trump to raise his voice against them. He has further stated that if elected as President, he would build a wall between the US and Mexico. Last week Trump’s San Jose rally saw the burning of the US flag and the waving of the Mexican flag. In the recent times, the EU, fully aware of its aging population and slowing growth, opened its doors to immigrants; though this was targeted more at the blue collar class that would carry out chores the EU found undesirable. Then came the refugee influx from Syria, Yemen and Iraq and Europe today is reeling with huge changes in their society culturally and religiously. We are already witnessing how Europe is being forced to tweak its dress codes and behaviour to accommodate the refugees. In a few decades, most of this refugee population (holding voting rights) will outnumber the native Europeans and create an Europistan. Moreover, as this will happen other Muslim nations may gain a strategic entry and influence in the policy-making of the EU.

Though the US and the EU appear as victims above, they are complicit with the church in facilitating aggressive conversions in Africa and Asia. The Catholic and Protestant Church do not have a stronghold in Asia and entry in this highly populous region is crucial for its survival. The Catholic Church has always used its stature to act as a power broker between countries and influence policy formulation. We have discussed the Greater Nagaland Project in one of our previous articles. In Asia, China does not permit conversions, and this makes India very attractive to the missionaries. The decade from 2004-14 under India’s UPA Government saw very aggressive Christian conversions despite it being against India’s secular constitution. In the recent times, as India is cracking down on illegal and forced conversions, the US via its USCIRF is accusing India of intolerance for its religious minorities. Pakistan's ISI has been encouraging illegal immigration in India's Northeast to create a Hindu-Muslim divide changing demographic scenario of several Indian states like Assam, West Bengal, Bihar etc. since last four decades. The aim of all this is to drive a wedge between India’s vast skilled population on religious and sectarian lines, so India is unable to harness its demographic dividend so that other countries can become influencers via their proxy organizations. It is indeed ironical that India, the second largest populous nation in the world has been the victim of demographic warfare and has done absolutely nothing to mobilize its population for its strategic interests. Moreover, India’s policies have always been more about pandering to the religious minorities rather than effectively mobilizing its majority Hindu population who are sidelined for most benefits.

China, on the other hand, is playing the game of demographic warfare quite well. China has consistently built up the narrative of the glory of its imperial past under the Han Dynasty to mobilize its majority Han population. It is encouraging a mass migration of the Han in its crucial Xinjiang province and Tibet to control the Uighurs and Tibetans respectively who are seeking independence from China. China is also ensuring that all the economic growth in Xinjiang (that connects it to Central Asia) is harnessed by the Han and not the Uighurs. The Chinese strategy seems to revolve on the lines of- take care of the majority, and the majority will take care of the minority themselves. Simultaneously, China is also preventing religious practices in Xinjiang to prevent Uighur mobilizations which also appeals to its majority Han atheist population. It is also encouraging settlement of its people in various other countries where it has strategic interests, fully aware that it has time and population on its side which most countries do not. Russia, once an equally powerful country as the US, is also suffering from an aging population. Russia’s significant population in Crimea makes it the largest ethnic group. In the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, even if Ukraine completely makes a westward tilt, this population will ensure that strategically important Crimea always remains under the Russian influence. 17.3% of Ukraine’s population identified themselves as ethnic Russians during the 2001 Ukrainian census, a majority of them are in East Ukraine, which is seeking greater autonomy with covert Russian backing. Reports suggest that East Ukraine will soon be adopting the Russian Rubel, and its 3 million residents are likely to be acquiring Russian passports. While Russia may be able to secure its interests in Crimea and East Ukraine, the China’s growing economic influence in Central Asian countries will soon bring a security situation on the Russian borders.

We are gradually witnessing that with globalization, the concept of a borderless world is gaining new definitions. Geographical distances and lack of homogeneity of cultures and religions are no longer impediments for countries who wish to increase their global influence. For India and China, their population is an excellent tool to export their India First and One China policy respectively. For the US and the EU, domination of these two Asian powers would mean a dilution of their powers. Moreover, the clout of the church is decreasing which impacts the western powers. This was also evident when the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church Pope came together after over a 1000 years to fight for their fellow Christian brothers. Moreover, the Vatican recently also called communist China a wise country, completely in contravention to World War 2 when the Church facilitated the safe passage of the Third Reich through their Ratlines in their fight against the “Godless Communists”. The growing population in Islamic countries also proves a threat to the dominance of the Church.

Thus, in the times to come, we are going to see dirtier games of demographic warfare from religious institutions, and countries through their intelligence agencies and other (read terror, NGO, and missionary) proxies as they attempt to stay relevant. Despite, Chinese crackdowns on religious conversions, more than 6 percent of China is now Protestant while China’s Confucius Institutes are growing in Christian dominated Latin America. Migration trends in the world are only going to increase. This is a different type of warfare, where guns are replaced by people, but a strategic battle all the same.The question that comes to mind is- when a country starts having a mixed bag of nationalities, ethnicities, and religions in its demographics; what will really determine its sovereignty?

SWIFT - Possible Victim of a Global Re-Alignment

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As we have stated earlier, the nature of warfare is constantly evolving. Conventional warfare is not only too expensive, but it brings with it possibilities of economic and diplomatic isolation and damage. We will see more instances of cyber warfare, propaganda, disinformation, false flag operations, etc. in the future. These are effective ways to create damage. However, when it comes to truly bringing a nation to its knees, nothing can be more effective than economic warfare. The US discovered this decade back when the Gulf countries imposed an embargo in the wake of the Arab-Israeli War leading to the birth of the Petrodollar under the stewardship of Dr. Henry Kissinger. The Petrodollar has ensured that the GCC countries are unable to weaponize Oil. The mounting US deficits and Saudi Arabia’s vast US Security holdings have made it possible for the Kingdom to threaten a dump of $750 billion US Securities if the US Congress declassify 9/11 documents linking Saudi involvement.  

The US’s saviour during the Oil Embargo of 1973-74 was Iran, who ironically has been the victim of severe US Sanctions for a long time until the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. The US Sanctions and freezing of Iranian accounts and its inability to transact in the US dollar was made possible by SWIFT, a front of the Washington Consensus. SWIFT stands for the “Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications”. It is a messaging network that financial institutions use to transmit information and instructions securely through a standardised system of codes. SWIFT system came into existence in 1973. Seven major international banks formed a cooperative society to operate a global network that would transfer financial messages in a secure and timely manner. Iran re-entered SWIFT system in February 2016. As things stand currently, Iran has yet to reap the windfalls of its arrivals on the international scene and several countries are still circumspect about the possibility of future sanctions and of course Iran’s history of “irresponsible” nuclear behaviour does not help. 

The case of secret cooperation between the US government and SWIFT came into limelight in 2006 after a Belgian commission accused SWIFT of secretly supplying US authorities with massive amounts of personal data for use in anti-terror investigations, violating EU privacy rules. The US could play the role of big brother/international bully as long as there was no challenger. The rise of China and its increasing global clout is systemically shaking things up. China, another communist country like the US’s other bĂȘte noire Russia does not have an obedient gene in its DNA and is unwilling to accept the status quo set up by the US via its Washington Consensus. In a sign of things to come, China has already launched it's Yuan linked gold rate and is working towards setting up a completely parallel geopolitical and geo-economic system via AIIB, OBOR, etc. 

China has been calling for de-dollarization for a while now. In 2015, China launched its alternative to the SWIFT called the China International Payment System (CIPS) to facilitate cross-border transactions in the Yuan at a much cheaper cost. Needless to say, Russia, reeling under UN Sanctions has already stated it could join the CIPS. Other nations that are US/NATO/EU enemies will also find this system very appealing. The Yuan’s entry in SDR will force central banks to increase their Yuan holdings, and the CIPS is very conveniently placed to take advantage of it. 

Iran’s Chabahar Project with India has the potential to become a game-changer for Iran and India. However, Iran’s gain is bound to be the loss of GCC countries. It should come as no surprise that post India and Iran’s signing of Chabahar; voices can be heard asking if this deal is flouting any international norms as Iran’s sanctions are being gradually phased out. The Chabahar Port is crucial for trade with Central Asia, Afghanistan, Russia and eventually Europe. If the US continues to play spoilsport, the day may not be far when Iran joins the CIPS and rejects SWIFT. China is also expected to launch its Yuan-denominated Crude Oil futures contract in 2016 to compete with the London Brent and US WTI. With Iran controlling such a huge amount of trade and countries like Iran, Russia and perhaps even CIS nations (in the future) adopting CIPS, what would the impact of any UN Sanctions really be?  More importantly, where will this leave SWIFT?

In an interesting turn of events, Goldman Sachs, the “official” US Govt banker filed a SETLcoin Patent in December 2015 for cryptographic currency for securities settlement. Goldman has reasoned this with the time loss due to SWIFT’s minimum three working days settlement of international transactions and expensive norms. It has further stated that SETLcoin will facilitate the exchange of assets much quicker, efficiently and securely and also work for transactions between virtual and non-virtual wallets. JP Morgan, Barclays, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, State Street, RBS, BBVA, UBS and Credit Suisse are also backing the bitcoin and blockchain network advocated by Goldman Sachs. For SWIFT, this is the beginning of the end. Though it is arguing that it is best placed to facilitate blockchain technology on its vast existing networks, recent hacks of central banks are showing SWIFT as a defunct system that must go. In the recent past, cyber criminals have breached SWIFT security systems multiple times and have stolen more than $150 million from various banks across the globe. The biggest theft took place in February 2016 when these cyber criminals once again breached into SWIFT security systems this time in the Bangladesh Bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York stealing $101 million. Interestingly, most of these attacks took place during 2015-16. 

In what could be the final nail in the coffin, Goldman Sachs, and China-based IDG Capital Partners led a $50 million investment into Circle Internet Financial Limited, a bitcoin start up on using technology to improve consumer payments in 2015. As global realignments take place, prominent players in the current ecosystem fight to stay relevant. Some of these players will be able to fight for their place in the sun, and some will fade away into the sunset. Will SWIFT become a victim of the fight for supremacy between the Beijing consensus vs Washington consensus? It will be interesting to see how things pan out for SWIFT?

Hybrid Warfare - The Killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour

The nature of warfare is constantly evolving. The rise of ISIS with its sophisticated use of technology for propaganda has revolutionized the War on Terror. Today, disinformation and the use of cyber warfare is gaining momentum and showing how wars are likely to be fought in the future. On 21st May 2016, the world witnessed the death of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike by the United States in Pakistan. The strike was the last resort due to Mansour’s refusal to come to the negotiating table in the Afghanistan peace talks. Pakistan, the US’s ally in the War on Terror called the drone strike a violation of its sovereignty and “against international law”; completely bypassing its complicity in sheltering him on Pakistani soil. 

Afghanistan’s peace talks though advocated as the larger good are completely about its $1 trillion mineral wealth. Afghanistan’s vast lithium, gold and copper reserves have sealed its fate forever. The stakeholders in this bounty are the US, China, Russia, and Iran. The US has been trying to bring the Afghan Taliban under Mansour for peace talks and was hoping for him to be more reasonable than his predecessor Mullah Omar. Qatar, another US ally is facilitating these talks; China has been in touch with Afghan Taliban since the 1990’s while Russia and Iran have been arming the Taliban to counter the influence of ISIS. The Afghan government was able to strike a peace deal with former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar while the Afghan Taliban crucial for security in Afghanistan was not cooperating. In the wake of the US Congress denying Pakistan military aid for the F-16 jets and Pakistan’s increasing pivot to China, the Pakistani military and ISI were playing hardball with the US. After all, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network are some of the most powerful assets of the ISI. The US knew it was time to teach Pakistan a lesson and show it who the boss is. Thus, mere hours post Pakistani Foreign Affairs advisor Sartaj Aziz’s statement that the Afghan Taliban was unwilling to come on board, a US drone strike took out Mullah Mansour.

The above is a brief summary of events as they were reported. However, there is an even more interesting story in the background that played an important role in maximising the impact of the drone strike ensuring that the Pakistani military, ISI and any other errant countries would think twice before crossing swords with the US again. Moreover, the US and other stakeholders in the peace process would gain a more pliable Afghan Taliban leader. The US administration in early 2016 had decided that the Afghan Taliban and Mullah Mansour would have to pay the price for disobedience. The US intelligence and other agencies started monitoring Mansour’s communication devices, tracking his locations and detecting his preparations for returning to Pakistan. They thus knew when he was likely to be in Pakistan next and also the route he took to reach Quetta from Iran and decided to strike. Simultaneously, days before the drone strike, on the 17th May 2016, a Twitter handle Paladin@virussec tweeted;
Paladin is a member of GhostSec, an activist hacker group and an offshoot group of Anonymous that has been launching cyber-attacks and taking down websites of ISIS, Taliban, etc. Moreover, GhostSec’s members are a global security group constantly gathering Intel on all extremist terror organizations globally to prevent the spread of their propaganda. Paladin claimed to be responsible for taking down both the official English language Taliban websites; Shahamat-english.com and shahamat-movie.com. The timing of this tweet a few days before the drone strike was interesting, to say the least, and a clear example of future hybrid warfare. This is not a one-off example. In January 2016, hacktivists began OpISIS to avenge the Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo. These new vigilantes take control of the Jihadi websites, expose the identity of the supporters, kill communication tools, and share their wins on the internet creating a unique identity for themselves and though they do not claim to have any official allegiance to any country/intelligence agencies, their actions work beautifully in sync with covert intelligence ops. 

Let us suppose the Taliban website was not taken down before the drone strike; it could have then been used to propagate that Mansour was alive, and the counter operation could have been launched through a doctored video. This would have lead to violence, social unrest and a total breakdown in peace talks. In case of another scenario, where a successor would have already been declared, the website could have been used to call for a counter strike to avenge the death of their leader again putting a break in the peace talks and causing much impediment to the Afghan Army and the NATO forces. With the use of social media and the internet gaining such importance for recruitment and propaganda; a timely launched cyber-attack in tandem with a conventional attack can almost paralyse the enemy. The US used hybrid warfare effectively by creating confusion about the whereabouts of Mansour’s status due to the official Taliban website being down and simultaneously sent a message through Russia that Siraj Haqqani would not be an acceptable choice for the leadership of Afghan Taliban. The new leader Haibatullah Akhunzada has stated that there will be no peace talks and terror on enemy will continue voicing the sentiments of his master, the ISI. Pakistan clearly seems to be in no mood to behave itself. 

In Foreign Policy, there are no permanent friends or enemies just pure national interest. Hence, it should not come as a surprise that with the changing nature of warfare, the US is now using hybrid warfare to bring Pakistan to heel while Pakistan is gradually losing its leverage. The new Indo-US partnership and India’s Chabahar Port is likely to reduce Pakistan’s clout even further. The US will now have another gateway to Central Asia. As the Great Game of Central Asia heats up, the question that now comes to mind is how long will it be before the US starts using the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and other NGOs to advocate human rights and political reforms in Balochistan?

Xinjiang – China’s Uighur Problem

Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) or East Turkestan is the western autonomous province of China. It accounts for one-sixth of China’s landmass with a population of 20 million from thirteen major ethnicities with the majority being the Uighur Muslims of Central Asian descent. Xinjiang shares its borders with eight countries, namely Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India; and works as a strategic gateway to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. Large sections of Central Asia-aligned Uighurs in Xinjiang consider its Chinese occupation an imperial domination by the majority Han. The history of Xinjiang has been far more turbulent than reported independently to the outside world. The repression of the Uighur ethnic minority and the exploitation of the rich natural resources is bound to cause a substantial problem to China given the geographic importance of Xinjiang. We have discussed West Turkestan earlier detailing its potential to cause unrest within China by fueling the East Turkestan Independence Movement. 

The Chinese conquest of Xinjiang, which it considers as a part of its empire, is based on strategic interests in addition to historical claims on the region. The Chinese control of Xinjiang gives it a unique advantage of access to vast natural resources like Coal, Crude Oil and Gas; which it has heavily exploited after its modernization drive. Xinjiang holds 40 percent of coal, 22 percent of petroleum and 28 percent of the Gas reserves of China. The quality of coal available is high given the low sulfur deposits while oil deposits exist in shallow basins that are easily accessible. There are nearly 17 major Oil & Gas fields in Xinjiang with the prominent ones concentrated in Karamay, Tarim Basin, and Turfan Basin. The oil fields at Karamay are among the largest in China along with extensive deposits of coal, silver, copper, lead, nitrates, gold, and zinc. In 2003, the Chinese discovered a large gold mine with 53 tons of gold approximately valued at $3.2 billion in the Ili Valley, close to the Kazakh border in the western area of the Tianshan Mountains. The gold mine discovered in the Xinyuan county of Xinjiang also holds 31,200 tons of copper. These discoveries only underscore that a vast amount of mineral wealth lies beneath in Xinjiang and the neighboring Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, etc.; that China is attempting to bring under its sphere of influence.

Xinjiang not only provides critical energy resources but also acts as a transport corridor from Central Asia through the Chinese mainland to its industrial centers on the East Pacific coast. China has thus laid a network of pipelines connecting Central Asia to the Chinese coast through Xinjiang. It has laid out the ambitious East-West pipeline starting from the Lunanan Oilfields in Xinjiang’s Tarim Basin; spanning across the mainland and ending in Shanghai. The East-West pipeline is the longest natural gas pipeline in the world covering nearly 8,704 Km through fifteen provinces before reaching the Chinese coast. The other peripheral pipelines from Xinjiang interconnecting with the East-West pipeline are the Zohongwu pipeline (that pipes gas to the Sichuan province); and the Shaanxi-Beijing pipeline. The western section of the pipeline links Xinjiang to Shaanxi while the eastern one connects Shaanxi to Shanghai. In addition to extending the network of East-West pipelines to Hong Kong, (which began in 2013), China has also launched an ambitious project of constructing the SNG (coal based Synthetic Natural Gas) pipeline from Xinjiang to Zhejiang and the Guandong province running nearly 8,400 Kms and transporting approximately 30 billion cubic meters of SNG. 

China has also been engaged in building the Central Asian China Gas Pipeline (CACGP) that starts from Gedaim on the Turkmen-Uzbek border running through Central Uzbekistan and Southern Kazakhstan before ending in Horgos in Xinjiang. The three parallel pipelines; part of the CACGP network have a total capacity of 30 billion cubic meters. China has also embarked on a fourth pipeline in the CACGP and signed agreements with various Central Asian countries; becoming a nearly 50 percent stakeholder in the project. The CACGP transports natural gas from Central Asia to Xinjiang and further connects with the Chinese mainland through the East-West pipeline. These pipeline projects are critical for China to reduce its dependence on Coal and Oil as energy, which it largely imports from the Persian Gulf and Australia. Xinjiang has nearly 570 rivers and 270 mountain springs. Xinjiang, like Tibet, is home to Major River Systems like the Ili, Eerqisi, Kaidu and Yarkand that flow towards the mainland providing a critical supply of fresh water to the densely populated areas on the coast. Xinjiang in this sense is critical for China’s water and food security to feed its population. 

The above factors have led to the development of critical infrastructure like roads and railways in Xinjiang and have brought prosperity there. However, this has not percolated down to the Uighurs and has only benefitted the migrant Hans, who enjoy exalted positions in businesses run by the CPC. The Han are also systemically diluting the demographics of the region. The Han Population in the region has increased from 6.7 percent in 1949 to 40 percent in 2008. In 2012, as per statistics, of Xinjiang's 22.32 million people, 8.47 million were Han Chinese, and 10.52 million were Uighurs. Besides them, there are other ethnic groups such as the Kazak, Hui, Mongolian, Kirgiz, Xibe, Tajik, Ozbek, Manchu, Daur, Tatar, and Russian. 

The increasing number of Han Chinese settling in Xinjiang led to widespread rioting in the region during the 1990's. The denial of economic opportunities and jobs to the ethnic minorities in Xinjiang further fuelled separatism and turned violent as the suppression of the basic rights and demands of Uighurs continued. In the 1990's the breakup of the USSR furthered the quest for independence from China. The PLA brutally crushed all dissent and carried out thousands of public executions to install fear in a flashback of Mao's era. The Chinese administration has banned public servants from Ramadan Iftar meals and in 1997, China arrested Muslim youths for simply attending a religious ceremony. This resulted in nearly 15,000 people protesting against this Chinese oppression of the right to religion and also called for the release of prisoners taken during crackdowns such as the Ghulja incident. Since 1997 terror attacks in Xinjiang have been increasing regularly targeting the Han population. The 2014 Kunming attack, the 2015 coal mine attack and bomb blasts are just a few examples of the increasing terror in Xinjiang.  

The brutal crackdown of Uighurs, the economic exploitation of its rich resources and the large migration of Han population in Xinjiang has drawn strong resistance from the Uighurs. These events of repression have resulted in elements among them joining terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda in neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan. Uighur separatist groups were formed in the 1990's and have carried out many bombings and attacks in Xinjiang. The most known group in the region was the ETIM (East Turkistan Islamic Movement) whose aim was to overthrow the Chinese control of East Turkestan or Xinjiang and establish the rule of Sharia. As per Russian media reports, Osama bin Laden convened a meeting in 1999 in Afghanistan that included IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) and ETIM and agreed to fund them. The Kyrgyz security sources also confirmed the said collaboration between the terror groups in 2001. Pakistani officials have also admitted that the terrorist organizations in Western China have links with terror groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan (like the Pakistan-Taliban). Other groups seeking independence are East Turkistan Liberation Organization (ETLO), United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET), and the Uyghur Liberation Organization (ULO). The ETIM was subsequently banned by US and UNSC as a terror organization in 2002 as part of increased US-China anti-terror cooperation post 9/11, but many human rights organizations have objected to the same stating that the Uighurs are justified in oppressing genuine dissent and human rights violations. 

The ETIM which later evolved as TIP (Turkistan Islamic Party) has links with various terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria/Iraq. Sheikh Abdullah Mansour, the Pakistan-based head of TIP has stated that all Muslims have a “universal jihad obligation” to fight China. In 2014, Al-Qaeda’s English magazine Resurgence called Xinjiang as “occupied Muslim land that must be recovered into the shade of the Islamic Caliphate” while al-Baghdadi of the ISIS spoke about Muslim rights being forcibly seized in China and called for Muslims around the world to pledge allegiance to him to liberate their fellow Muslim brothers in Xinjiang. Over 2000 Uighurs from Xinjiang and Central Asia have joined ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and are fighting in Iraq and Syria. ISIS has also begun a propaganda program to encourage Uighurs to join the fight for the Caliphate in what appears to be an indication of their support for the East Turkestan Movement. One of the prime reasons for Uighurs to join these terror groups is to gain militant experience in Syria & Iraq in order to prepare and return to fight for their independence in Xinjiang. Thus, it is quite possible that Xinjiang may also become the battleground for supremacy between the ISIS and Al-Qaeda and create a new terror syndicate like the IMU in Uzbekistan in the fight for Central Asia.

Turkey has special interest in Xinjiang due to its longstanding ethnic and cultural affinities with the Uighurs and a perception of them as an ‘authentic’ Turkic people suffering under Chinese occupation. The Grey Wolves, a nationalist Turkish organization created in 1968 is an anti-communist movement that dreams of Pan-Turkism similar to the wishes of President Erdogan who has unsurprisingly likened Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs to “genocide” and called for China to “abandon its policy of assimilation”. The Grey Wolves support the ETIM and have set up training camps in Central Asia and enjoy unequivocal support and recruitment from the Uighurs in Xinjiang. The East Turkestan Grey Wolf Party is among the major terrorist organizations of Xinjiang. The Bangkok bombings of 2015 were also linked to Uighurs holding Turkish passports and the arrest of a Turkish citizen with bomb-making material has brought the focus back to the Grey Wolves. The Grey Wolves have close ties to Turkish crime mafia gangs that operate in Bangkok and provide logistical support for the transit of Uighurs from China to Turkey. The attacks were carried out in response to Thailand’s deportation of over 100 Uighurs to China. 

External agencies and countries like the US have fueled the movement of East Turkistan for their strategic gains. Turkey is a NATO member and the US and its allies are using Turkey to carry out its dirty work for them. Thus, the US is achieving its foreign policy goals of destabilizing China politically and militarily through proxies. The independence of Xinjiang will result in a major loss of territory for China and combined with the Tibet separation movement (that is inevitable with the rise of China) will virtually isolate China from Central Asia. It can also have other ramifications such as the demand for independence in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Militarily, the Uighur movement is backed by the US and NATO through intermediary groups like Turkey’s Grey Wolves while politically it is in the form of World Uighur Congress through Washington and Munich-based organizations. They have been instrumental in pioneering the Uighur Separatist movement globally highlighting the Chinese repression and exploitation of the region. According to various reports, US-based Non-Governmental Organization NED (National Endowment for Democracy) has been actively funding and backing the activities of World Uighur Congress (WUC). It is estimated that NED nearly funnels in $2,15,000 annually to WUC for the advocacy of human rights and democracy. NED has been instrumental in orchestrating many such movements across the world from Ukraine to Georgia to Burma through its NGO’s and activists network. In 2006, Rebeiya Kadeer was elected as President of the Uighur American Association and World Uighur Congress. On July 6, 2006, the Xinjiang administration blamed Rebeiya Kadeer in Washington DC as the mastermind of abetting the violent clashes in the region and also linked her to the terrorist attacks, which was flatly denied by Kadeer. Rebeiya Kadeer had the full backing of the US Administration, evident from her meeting with President Bush in the year 2007 where he called on China to release her family members taken as prisoners. Simultaneously China’s handling of the protests sparked international outrage with countries like Turkey and the OIC Nations expressing concerns for the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. 

Xinjiang is an important part of OBOR. Its economic transit corridors make Xinjiang extremely critical to China’s global ambitions of reviving the ancient Silk Route. A train from China to Tehran recently opened the Silk Route, further aiming to connect Europe and Russia through Central Asia. The Chinese ambitions in Xinjiang are also about securing an alternate route to the Persian Gulf through Central Asia. The CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) connects the Karakoram Highway in PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) to the Gwadar Port in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. The CPEC will be instrumental in connecting Xinjiang with the Persian Gulf through the Karakoram and Gwadar Port giving China an alternate route for energy supplies from the Malacca Straits where it could face a blockade during a potential conflict. Xinjiang is a gateway to the Chinese expansion of influence in Central Asia and further to Eurasia and the Persian Gulf. 

Xinjiang is the most vulnerable province of China given the fact that its borders many Central Asian countries as well as Russia unlike the other provinces of China which are largely covered by sea or the Himalayan mountains. An interesting tug of war is being played out in Xinjiang. As China’s ambition grows; the voices for independence in Xinjiang will be heard louder with foreign powers like the United States covertly funding the separatists movement in Xinjiang and the Central Asian regions. The Chinese repression of the ethnic Uighurs by the increasing Han population will fuel support for the East Turkistan movement across the neighboring countries that are connected to Xinjiang. Even India has hinted about playing the Uighur card in countering China’s expansionist designs in Asia-Pacific region through military and economic campaigns. The Indian government recently allowed 8 Chinese dissidents and a member of World Uighur Congress to visit Dharamshala and meet Dalai Lama, the head of the Tibetan Government in Exile in India. China’s global quest for dominance will face many hurdles; most of them from within such as Tibet and Xinjiang without which China’s power will be severely compromised. The US has tasted some success in the democratization of the Middle East. Will it be able to pull off a democracy coup in Tibet and Xinjiang? Will it choose to align stronger with India and go against Pakistan for the Great Game of Central Asia? How much will India support the US and attempt to undo the wrongs of its erstwhile foreign policy? Only time will tell. 

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Russian Resurgence

There has been an extensive debate in the international community on Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict. The Syrian conflict has been raging since 2010 and has become the breeding ground for terrorist organizations like ISIS, Jabhat Ul Nusra, Hezbollah, etc. The conflict in Syria and Iraq presents a new security challenge for the regional as well as global powers. Countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and EU have been the recipients of the refugees pouring out from the conflict zones. The sectarian battle lines in the region are drawn between the Assad regime backed by Russia and Iran; and Sunni rebel opposition groups backed by the GCC and the Western powers, which were in the position of overpowering the Syrian regime in its last bastions till Russia entered the conflict in September 2015. Just like the backing of Egypt in the Egypt-Israeli War of Attrition in 1969-70, the Kremlin has once again been instrumental in tilting the balance in favour of its allies in the Middle East. 

The western media and strategic think tanks were caught napping by Russia’s strategic surgical forays which depict that the Russian military still has the prowess to stall the designs of the American Deep state of overthrowing governments in critical states like Syria, which are its allies.  The US establishment exulted that the Russian intervention on the side of the Syrian regime would only prolong the conflict and complicate matters. Some neo-cons in Washington went to great lengths to draw parallels between Afghanistan and Syria, saying that the Syrian conflict will be Russia’s Vietnam as it will get stuck in the Syrian Quagmire. All these strategic thinkers have been made to bite the dust with the Russian intervention significantly altering the geopolitical dynamics in the region. 

The Russian military intervention in Syria began in September 2015 when the Assad regime was attacked in Idlib province after it lost substantial territory. The consolidation of the Syrian Rebels in the Idlib province in Northwest Syria in early 2015 directly threatened the regime's supply lines and routes leading up to the west coast city of Lattakia and Tartus where Russia has a naval base. The loss of Palmyra by the regime to ISIS in May 2015 further highlighted the fragility of Syrian Arab Army (SAA). Russia was faced with the prospect of Western-backed rebels and Jihadists like ISIS toppling a friendly regime and threatening its strategic assets in Syria. The Syrian government forces, post the loss of about a third of their men and several military bases, required active backups from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah, to hold the fort. The failure of Iranian-backed operations against the Syrian Rebels was pivotal in prompting Russia’s calculated decision to intervene in Syria and secure its strategic assets.

Russia’s military campaign in Syria began in September 2015 with one Cruiser, one Destroyer and two Frigates in the Black Sea fleet.  Its assets in the Lattakia Airbase included 4 SU-34 fullback Fighter Bombers, 12 SU 24 Fencer attack aircraft, 12 SU 25 Frogfoot close air support, 4 SU 30 Sukhoi Flanker jets and 12 MI-24 Attack Helicopters. The Russian airstrikes map of Syria primarily targeted the Rebel-held areas in the Hama and Idlib provinces erasing the gains made by the Rebels and bolstering the Assad regime. The bombing patterns of the Russians till very late in their short campaign focused on the Alawite minority-dominated regions of Hama, Idlib and later Aleppo. The pattern clearly showed that Russia’s primary aim was not to defeat ISIS, but to strengthen the Assad regime and secure its assets like the naval base at Tartus on the Syrian Coast. The United States and its Sunni Arab coalition was incensed with the Russian intervention as it spoilt a likely victory in Syria. Russia in the meanwhile, set up a coordination centre with Israel, allowing the Israeli Air force to strike a transfer of arms to Hezbollah, a sworn enemy of Israel in return for better logistical support from an unlikely US ally in the Middle East. This co-ordination with Israel was however limited as Russia is also supplying weapon systems to Israel's nemesis Iran.

The bombing of a Russian jetliner by ISIS in Sinai over Egypt killed nearly 226 people on 31st October 2015, provided a new challenge to the Russian leadership over its campaign in Syria. The Russian leadership remaining steadfast over its military intervention suspended its flights to Sinai to mitigate such risks. Nearly a month after the deadly bombing of the  Russian jetliner in Egypt, Russia faced another military challenge on  24th November 2015 when the Turkish Air force shot down a Russian Air force jet SU 24 on its border with Syria. The shooting down of a Russian jet by a NATO country was a first in many decades and had the potential to escalate the Syrian conflict globally. Turkey justified its shoot down of the Russian jet claiming it violated its airspace despite warnings; while Russia categorically denied the same and countered with economic sanctions against Turkey. Russia in response also deployed its S-400 Missile Defence system to securing the Syrian airspace for its missions and Turkey responded by deploying the KOLAR electronic jamming system on its southern border with Syria. 

The bombing of the Russian jetliner and the killing of its pilot by the Syrian rebels by Turkey further aggravated the Russian response to the Rebels in Northwest Syria. The Russian leadership under Vladimir Putin displayed its resolve by intensifying its air campaign in Syria in Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo, which was countered by the western media as high human casualties due to the bombings of schools, bakery’s, hospitals, etc. The continuous bombing raids by the Russian Air force and the coordinated ground assault by Regime forces along with the Shia militias further choked the Syrian Rebels, pushing them back. The offensive started to show results.  The events in early 2016 (January-February) started tilting the balance on the ground towards the Assad regime as the Rebels started to lose their earlier territorial gains. The Aleppo offensive in February 2016 was another decisive manoeuvre by Russia where the supply lines to Turkey were cut off. This put the city under siege leading millions to flee towards the Turkish border as refugees. The battle for Aleppo, the centre of the Syrian Revolution was a defining moment. 

Russia’s military offensive against the Syrian Rebels was followed by swift diplomatic manoeuvres like the talks in Geneva with the US and the Saudi Arabia led GCC states to help achieve a political solution. Russia’s forceful intervention and the pushback of the Syrian Rebels strengthened its diplomatic hand at the negotiating table. Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the 2015 Riyadh Conference gathered all the Rebels groups, but Russia refused to accept their say in the peace process and demanded that the Syrian Kurds who were actively fighting against ISIS, should also be made a part of the political process. Turkey and Saudi Arabia, however, rejected this demand. Meanwhile, the US-backed and trained SDF, a group of Syrian Arab and Kurdish groups who were leading the charge on ISIS; opened its office in Moscow. After Russia’s acceptance, the UNSC; post five years of the Syrian Civil War finally passed a Resolution No. 2254 on 18th December 2015. The UNSC Resolution called for a ceasefire between the Syrian Regime and the Rebels while declaring ISIS and Nusra as terrorist organizations. The Resolution also laid down the conditions of dialogue under UN Leadership leading to a political transition in Syria by way of a New Constitution leading up to 2016-2017.

Russia, cashing upon the gains made in the short military campaign took advantage of America’s dithering of fighting against the Jihadists; backed the Syrian Kurds by proposing a Federal Structure for new Syrian Constitution. After years of opposition, the Syrian rebel groups finally seem to be embracing the Russian idea of sharing power with the Assad regime in Syria as a part of a political transition. Russia was instrumental in not only suppressing the Western-backed rebels but also getting them to drop any preconditions of the removal of Assad. Russia followed this up with Cessation of Hostilities Agreement which was announced by the Foreign Ministers of the US and Russia on 22nd February 2016.  This stated that a nationwide ceasefire would go into effect between the Syrian regime and the recognised Syrian Rebel groups while the fight against ISIS and Nusra jihadists will continue. The ISSG Taskforce will monitor the ceasefire under the UN. This ceasefire came into operation on 27th February 2016. Contrary to various western experts and strategists, the Russian leadership quickly de-escalated its military campaign while maintaining sufficient strength on the ground to deter any change of status quo. Russia withdrew some of its forces in March 2016 surprising the Western experts who prophesized a quagmire like Afghanistan for Russia. The Russian leadership taking a leaf out of its Afghan disaster in the 80's minimized the risks while achieving its strategic objectives. As the ceasefire precariously holds on, the Russian-backed offensive of Syrian regime achieved another success by liberating Palmyra from ISIS. 

To understand the Russian military campaign, one needs to decipher the strategic goals; the Russian policy makers had in Syria. After carefully examining the pattern of Russian air strikes in Rebel-held areas, it can be stated that the Russian strategic objectives in Syria were multi fold. They were (a) To protect its naval assets in Tartus Port and push back the rebel forces to a safe limit; (b) Ensure the stability of the fragile Syrian regime which was on the verge of collapse, (c) Increase the regime depth in the Northwest provinces of Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo by air strikes, (d) Secure the Alawite, and Druze minority dominated enclaves in the North and West of Syria.  Last but not the least; secure a place for itself at the negotiating table when the talks for the Syrian Political transition mandated by the UN get underway. It was a strategic and a diplomatic victory which Russia sought to underscore by a short and swift military campaign. 

Russia’s military scale down just when the battle of Aleppo was nearing a crescendo and its acceptance to coordinate with the United States on the Political Transition in Syria and the fight against ISIS underscores the strategies of the Russian leadership. The Russian military campaign was never aimed at securing a military victory for Assad or to wipe out the ISIS.  Russia outsmarted the West in the Syrian conflict while securing its strategic interest and also sent a global message that Russia is a dependable ally. The Syrian conflict also provided the Russian military industrial complex to showcase that its men and machines still have the power to roll over and stall hegemons across the world.


Foundational Agreements and the Growing Indo-US Partnership

Photo Credit: AFP
Since the time Narendra Modi has been elected as the Prime Minister of India in May 2014, his foreign policy has been dynamic and innovative, to say the least. Unlike the previous administrations, which continued to be ambivalent on India’s attitude towards the world, the Modi Government has taken steps to break traditional barriers with innovative yet strategic decision-making. One of the prime focuses of PM Modi’s foreign policy has been the defence and military engagements with the US and its allies in Asia-Pacific. In addition to military exercises like Malabar with Japan and US, nuclear deal with Australia, India in January 2015 concluded a 10-year Defence Partnership agreement during President Obama’s visit to India. India and US in the Defence Agreement signed in January 2015 agreed on incorporating DTTI (Defense Technology and Trade Initiative) as part of bilateral cooperation in exchange of technologies and arms. DTTI’s incorporation in the bilateral defence agreement with the US marked a new phase and a stark departure from the previous UPA regime, which hedged on signing DTTI.

The incorporation of DTTI and the US proposals to share technologies in critical sectors like aircraft carriers and jet engines set the ball rolling for future military co-operation between the two countries. The US has been prodding India to sign three further foundational military agreements namely the LSA, CISMOA, and BECA as an enabler for transfer of critical technologies that India desires. On April 12, 2016, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter visited India to conclude these Foundational Agreements.  India and the US announced that they have principally agreed on the terms of one agreement i.e. Logistical Support Agreement (LSA) and expect it to be signed in the coming months. There has been much skepticism over the nature of these foundational agreements, on what they mean in practical terms and what the geopolitical impact of the same is. Let's look into the facts of these agreements and likely effects of its signing in the near future.

LSA, the first of the agreements, which India has agreed to sign, generally entails the sharing of military logistics like bases and refueling and providing facilities to armed forces, aircrafts and maritime vessels. The purpose of LSA is better coordination between the two militaries on the ground in the theater of war, peace, natural disasters, relief and rescue efforts, military training and exercises. However, unlike the other US allies, India placed some concerns with the US on hosting US military bases on Indian Territory. The objection raised by India on US military bases is valid given its sovereign autonomy. After intense negotiations, India has been able to gain concessions from the US on an India-specific LSA, which addresses India’s concerns. Under the proposed terms of the agreement, India will share its military facilities with the US on reciprocal basis only for refueling, relief, rescue and other logistical support. India has categorically stated that this agreement does not mean that US Forces will be permanently stationed on Indian military bases. India has further stated that coordination with the US under the proposed LSA will be on a case-to-case basis.

It is worth mentioning that even Philippines in 2002 signed a similar agreement MLSA (Mutual Logistical Support Agreement) with the US, whereby the Philippines and the US military agreed to share logistics and coordinate military activities. The said agreement explicitly laid out terms of the activities covered in MLSA i.e. supplies like food, Oil, water, lubricants, ammunition, etc as agreed between the parties. The MLSA further included repair, maintenance, training, transport and medical services. However it specifically stated that “No United States military base, facility or permanent structure shall be constructed, established, or allowed under this Agreement.” The proposed agreement of LSA which India has agreed to sign is on similar lines with India’s sovereignty not being diluted.  The LSA reaffirms that the storage units and other facilities shall always remain under the control and supervision of the host state. India has agreed to LSA given that the extent of military cooperation between India and the US has increased multifold in the last decade from anti-piracy efforts, Nepal earthquake rescue, and military exercises.

The other agreements which the US wishes India to sign as a precursor to technology transfers are CISMOA (Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement) and BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement). These agreements are contentious in nature as CISMOA primarily will enable the US and India to share encrypted technologies on critical weapon systems with each other. The US argument is that it requires this agreement to be signed to provide India with encrypted technologies like on the P8I and C-130 Hercules which the Indian Air Force operates. The US, in the past, has removed the critical encryption technologies while supplying these aircraft manufactured by Boeing to the Indian Air Force. Other arguments put forward in favour of CISMOA are that it entails the sharing of encryption and communications like radio frequency which would make the coordination between the two militaries easier in a war zone for calling for a military strike or missile defence system like the Patriot which works on certain US spectrum frequencies. CISMOA also means the greater exchange of command operations between the two countries with Indian and US commanders operating on each other’s facilities, technologies, etc. India and specifically its Air Force have steadfastly objected to this agreement as India uses various encrypted technologies of Russian and French origin on some of its weapon systems which it would not like to share with the US. The objections of India on sharing encrypted technologies of critical weapons systems seem valid, and it remains to be seen how the two negotiate on these contentious issues.

The third foundational agreement between India and the US is BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement).  This agreement proposes to share geospatial data or sharing numerical data on target locations as well as forces stationed in the area. It also talks about sharing GPS coordinates between the two sides in the theatres of war as well as rescue and relief missions. India’s objection to this agreement is that it is on the verge of developing its own GPS System to map digital data of the Subcontinent and that it may not need this agreement. On the flip side, this agreement could provide India with the US’s GPS facilities outside of the Subcontinent especially in the Indian Ocean region and South East Asia as the military coordination between both the parties increases. Hence like LSA (agreed upon), both CISMOA and BECA need careful considerations and deliberations to resolve any clauses that could hamper India’s sovereign rights and its defence relationship with any other world power.

The conclusion of LSA between India and the US offers an entirely new prospect of military and defence cooperation between the two largest democracies on the planet. The signing of LSA would send a larger geopolitical signal to India’s regional competitors especially China, who is trying to create a Global Order-oriented from Shanghai. China’s rise and its creeping takeover of Pakistan has added a totally a new dimension to the geopolitics in Asia. China has recently even outpaced the US in aiding and arming Pakistan with $49 billion for the CPEC, JF-17 Fighter Jets (with RD 93 engines provided by Russia), submarines and missile and nuclear technologies. China also recently vetoed India’s attempt to get Pakistan-based terrorist Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar banned for the Pathankot attack. The creeping Chinese colonisation of Pakistan presents a whole new set of challenges to India’s security doctrine with a prospect of a two-front war in the future. It is in this context that India needs to prepare a comprehensive strategic doctrine to augment its military and economic strength which will require the aid of countries like the US, Japan and even its old friend Russia to contain the Chinese dragon.

While the prospect of an Indo-US military partnership seems lucrative in the wake of a rising China; yet the agreements have some genuine apprehensions. India has reportedly asked the United States to stand guarantee for Transfer of Technologies by its military industrial complex. Earlier assurances of India’s entry into NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) for The Nuclear Deal in 2009-10 have yielded no results thus far. India’s entry into MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime) was also recently blocked by Italy. When it comes to the US, the lucrative deals being made on offer like F-18 Super Hornets, aircraft carriers, etc in Make in India have so far turned out to be mere lip service. The apprehension in India about the US’s willingness to transfer technologies to India and its arms supplies to Pakistan is genuine. It is this trust deficit that the two powers will have to bridge if they are to work together in the Asia-Pacific. The United States will have to stand the test of time and deliver; for which it has repeatedly proved to be fickle and unreliable.Only time will judge whether Indo-US military agreements like LSA will prove to be a game-changer in the Asia Pacific Region.