Saturday, September 3, 2016
BY MANOJ JOSHI
Narendra Modi’s visit to Vietnam is the first bilateral by an Indian Prime Minister since Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2001. In today’s hyper-nationalist times, Modi’s visit assumes a larger-than-life form with some ‘bhakts’ virtually seeing the feisty South-East Asian nation as an instrument of Indian geostrategy in the same way that Beijing uses Islamabad against New Delhi. This connection is underscored by the fact that Modi chose to visit Hanoi on his way to the G-20 summit in Guangzhou, where he is expected to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
The “Pakistan” thesis doesn’t hold water for the simple reason that no other country in the world can be so self-destructive as Pakistan is in its rivalry with India. Vietnam, on the other hand, is a very smart country which has a ruthless understanding of self interest; after all, confronted with a rising China, it has not hesitated to befriend the United States, the country that was reponsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Vietnamese in the 1960s and 1970s.Given where it is located, Vietnam almost certainly is looking to leverage its friendship with India to offset the rising power of its northern neighbour. But it is under no illusion that it can “take on” China; India is too weak to make up the power differential and its new friend, the United States, is too unreliable.
Following his meeting with Premier Ngyuen Xuan Phuc on Saturday, Modi announced a new $500 million line of credit for defence products and a target of $15 billion for two-way trade (currently it is around $9 billion). The two sides also signed agreements in areas like health, cyber security, ship building and naval information sharing. Indian investments are of the order of $1 billion in the area of food processing, fertilisers, sugar, auto components, information technology and agro-chemicals. Indian companies like ONGC Videsh have been active in Vietnam’s oil exploration efforts since the late 1980s despite some offshore areas being contested by China.Vietnam carefully manages its ties with China. For the past 12 years, China has been Vietnam’s top trade partner with estimated trade anywhere between $66-96 billion per annum. Vietnam is part of China’s production value chain for making electronic goods and sub-assemblies.
The Indo-Vietnamese strategic relationship – now upgraded, in nomenclature at least, to a ‘strategic comprehensive partnership’ – is important, but its importance should not be over-stated. In terms of substance, it is actually fairly modest, beginning with the MoU on defence cooperation that was signed by the defence ministers of the two countries in November 2009. India offers 50 slots to Vietnamese defence personnel under the India Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme. India had offered a $100 million line of credit to Vietnam to purchase four offshore patrol vessels that are currently being built in Indian yards. The two countries also have some unspecified cooperation in electronic intelligence in relation to Chinese naval activity in the seas of Vietnam. India has helped Vietnam train personnel who are operating its Kilo class submarines, and New Delhi has offered to upgrade and maintain Russian-origin equipment with the Vietnamese forces such as tanks, fighter aircraft, helicopter and ships.
So far, there is no reference to the Brahmos missile, though it is well known that India has been keen to sell the missile to Vietnam. Hanoi itself is likely to be cautious on such a deal which could be viewed as destabilising. The recent emplacement of a missile battery off the Chinese border in Arunachal was sharply criticised by China.
Hawks in India virtually equate Brahmos with a ‘Brahmastra’, the mythical war-winning weapon of the Mahabhrata. The fact of the matter is that it is a type of missile in service with many navies, though India and Russia may have developed a land-attack and air-to0ground version of it. An important aspect of any sale would be the Russian view, since they have a veto on its marketing. While Russia continues to sell weapons and systems to Vietnam, it will certainly be guided by China on any sale of the Brahmos to Hanoi. In any case, with its DF-21Cs and HQ-9 SAMs, China has more than enough to deal with Vietnam.
The Sino-Vietnamese relationship
Vietnamese Prime Minister Ngyuen Xuan Phuc will visit China later this month, following up on the defence minister, Ngo Xuan Lich’s visit this week. Hanoi is aware that its partners like India, Japan and even the US are not a match for the power that Beijing, especially with its new friend Russia, can bring to bear on it. The Vietnamese may have given the Chinese a bloody nose in 1979, but Beijing’s adventure against Vietnam achieved all its military and political objectives. So it wants to maintain an even keel in its ties with Beijing.
Vietnam has settled its land border dispute with China, as well as that relating to the seas opposite Hainan island. What remains toxic, however, is the issue of South China Sea where Hanoi claims all of the Paracels, occupied by China, as well as the Spratlys, where the Vietnamese control 25 of the “rocks”, as compared to just seven by China.
Vietnam will not get too close to the US in order to anger China and neither will it get so close to Beijing as to discomfit Uncle Sam. US President Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam and the decision to lift the American arms embargo is a significant development, but for now, little will happen till a new president is in office in Washington. But one thing is more or less certain — the Trans-Pacific Partnership is probably dead. Vietnam’s membership of the new trade agreement could have had major consequences. In any case, the US tends to be difficult in transferring cutting-edge technology to anyone and there is no indication that it will give Vietnam anything that will remotely upset the Chinese.
Vietnam’s key to dealing with China lies in the close party-to-party ties that the ruling establishments of the two countries enjoy. This relationship is quite deep, involving party organisations, institutions and personnel. Under General Secretary Ngyuen Phu Trong, the Vietnamese follow a policy that accepts the centrality of good relations with “socialist China”.
Yet, there is a well-spring of anti-Chinese feeling among the Vietnamese public, in part because of history, and in part arising from recent events like China’s forcible occupation of the Paracel islands.
More recently, the two countries have had issues with oil exploration, with China insisting that many blocs Vietnam has put on the international market are part of its territory, while in turn, China has offered areas which fall in Vietnam’s EEZ.
The big question is whether Hanoi will take up the South China Sea issue through the UNCLOS arbitration system following the successful example of the Philippines. The likely answer at this juncture is no. While Vietnam insists that peaceful settlement must be based on “equality” and respect for international law, China will be brazen and seek to strike a bilateral deal with Vietnam, after it has done so with the Philippines. At the end of the day, Vietnam will do what it considers best for its national interest. Indian policy makers would do well to understand that.
By Afrasiab Khattak
Under normal circumstances border management is a serious business for nation states and no one can have any problem with it as every state is supposed to do it as a matter of duty. As a long term measure, no sane person in Pakistan or Afghanistan would have anything to say against it. In fact, during the 2014 Pakistan visit of the Afghan President Dr. Ashraf Ghani, both countries had agreed on opening about fourteen crossing points on the border and had also decided to use them as trade routes. For all practical purposes this was an agreement on border management between the two countries as part of a package deal for normalising relations that also included Pakistani promises for bringing Taliban to the negotiation table and for acting against those who wouldn’t be ready to talk peace. This package deal fell apart as the Taliban refused to take part in peace negotiations while Pakistan did not withdraw her support to them.
Since June this year the apparently harmless term of border management has been misused to justify and camouflage an otherwise unjustifiable Afghan policy in Pakistan. A large scale and systematic campaign of disinformation has been launched to mould public opinion in favor of a deeply flawed policy that has played havoc with peace in both the countries. The lack of knowledge in the public (particularly in the Punjab) about the complicated nature of Pak-Afghan border comes very handy in misguiding the public opinion. The bankrupt nature of the policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan is so thoroughly exposed that it can’t be followed anymore under its original and real name. Hence the need for a new and “legitimate” dressing for it.
By unilaterally sealing off Torkham and Speen Boldak and by tightening Ghulam Khan (North Waziristan) and Angoor Adda (South Waziristan) in a similar fashion, an impression was created that these measures are meant for blocking terrorist movement across the borders. Same policy was adopted on four other lesser known crossing points namely, Arundu (Chitral), Gursal (Bajaur), Nawa Pass (Momand) and Kharlachi in Kurram Agency. But not many people would know that there are at least 262 crossing points on the almost 2400 km long Durand Line. So even if the aforementioned eight crossing points are absolutely managed and controlled it will leave at least 254 crossing points open, which are mostly unmanned. As far as the terrorists are concerned they will still have hundreds of routs to use, at least in the short term.
There are three important dimensions of the present policy of the so-called border management that underlines its dubious nature. One, it is totally unilateral. After all any border can be effectively managed only when it is done bilaterally. But after falling apart of the package deal of 2014, there has been no new initiative from Pakistan to involve the Afghan side in it.
The fact of the matter is that foreign office and civilian government have not much of a role in the formation or execution of this policy so it mainly focuses on military measure and is extremely week on political component for obvious reasons. Two, the abrupt adoption and implementation of this policy in first week of June coincides with the peak of summer military offensive of Taliban. For all practical purposes it serves more for increasing pressure on the beleaguered NUG in Kabul than blocking the movement of terrorists. Particularly unilateral blocking of Torkham and Spinboldak, in violation of the Transit Trade Agreement between the two countries, can also put economic pressure on Kabul. Three, new measures adopted in the name of border management are also accompanied by a policy of pushing refugees out by force. Afghan refugees have faced unprecedented harassment on a very large scale. Thousands of them had to flee in the face of brutal and callous police action, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA where their ghettos were bulldozed. Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, which has been dealing with the affairs of Afghan refugees for many long years, has lost control over the issue and the Interior Ministry has stepped in and unleashed the police, FC, Rangers and other LEAs on the refugees.
It is pretty clear that an enforced repatriation can’t be sustainable at a time when Pakistan based Taliban have expanded their operations throughout Afghanistan. The Afghan government has to deal with q growing number of IDPs because of the ever expanding military conflict. The only practical purpose of this inhuman Pakistani policy towards Afghan refugees can be to add to the chaos in Afghanistan created by Taliban’s war of attrition.
The cumulative effect of the so called border management and refugee bashing and refugee thrashing has led to a huge humanitarian crises on both sides of the Durand Line. I am focussing here on the situation on the Pakistani side. Pakistani hospitals and other centers of basic human facilities have closed their doors on Afghan refugees who have literally become aliens without any legal rights. Afghan refugees, including women and children, have to wait in scorching heat in open skies in places where there are no lavatories or shades. These are sufferings that are not very dissimilar to the ones faced by Palestinians on the Israeli controlled crossing points. It is only natural that the aforementioned humanitarian crises has created a wave of anguish among Pashtuns living in Pakistan. It is particularly so because the ID cards of thousands of Pashtun citizens of Pakistan have also been blocked in Punjab and Sindh and many of them have faced arrests and fleecing by police. All the major political parties based in Pashtun areas have raised their voices against these inhuman policies. Now political parties, both secular and religious, are getting together for opposing the aforementioned policies.
On Thursday evening important political leaders representing different and diverse political parties held a meeting in Islamabad at the residence of JUI Amir Moulana Fazlullah-u-Renman and after detailed deliberations demanded immediate reversal of the current policies towards Afghan refugees and adoption of remedial measures. They decided to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other high state functionaries in a delegation for presenting their demands to them. They are also united in raising it in the parliament. The disassociation of important Pashtun political leaders from the current Afghan policy has exposed the lack of political support for it inside Pakistan. The insistence of Punjabi dominated security establishment of Pakistan on the adventurist Afghan policy is creating new fault lines within Pakistan even if one ignores the disastrous consequences of it in Afghanistan.