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Editorial by Cecil Victor. Dec. 7. 2015. Foreign Policy


Editorial. Cecil Victor. VII. XII. XV 





Cecil Victor-fnbworld By Cecil Victor



Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is chalking up impressive attendance at his rallies in US and Britain there are signs that in the immediate Indian periphery his foreign policy is coming apart at the seams. We are losing millennia-old influence in neighbouring Nepal and the consequences can be terrible. A Hindu-majority nation that the BJP parivar presumed should be a natural ally has been pushed into the eager arms of the Chinese.


The imposition of what is perceived to be a State-sponsored blockade of essential commodities and petroleum products at the India-Nepal border has riled the Nepali political classes. Indian explanations that it was the agitating Madhesi population that inhabits the Tarai region of Nepal that has prevented the transit of fuel across the border has not found credence in Kathmandu. Nepal has signed an agreement with Beijing for the supply of petroleum products through the Tibet Autonomous Region where China has laid oil and gas pipelines as part of its military infrastructure to sustain its troops along the Line of Actual Control in the Himalayas.


China has long been lobbying in Nepal for permission to recruit the redoubtable Gorkhas into the People’s Liberation Army but Kathmandu has hitherto preferred to abide by the tripartite agreement with Britain and India that the Gorkhas could only be recruited into the armies of these two countries. The announcement that the PLA is to be downsized by the demobilization of several lakh Chinese soldiers does not preclude the possibility of a special Gorkha regiment to be used as a political showcase for geopolitical purposes. Under Nepali Maoist leader Prachanda’s tutelage there was an attempt to stop recruitment of Gorkhas into the Indian Army—a move that could cause widespread geostrategic and social disruption.


Any nation perceived to be applying blockade to a landlocked neighbour would attract international opprobrium. Successive BJP-led governments in India have used this tactic even against the militancy in Kashmir. Most recently it happened immediately after Pakistani terrorists attacked Udhampur and Gurdaspur and communal tensions flared in the Jammu region over the burning of a truck driven by a member of a particular community. Goods and traffic bound for the Valley were stopped. Something similar happened when there were agitations over attempts to extend the limits of the Amarnath yatra zone. The BJP blocked the Jammu-Srinagar highway, an act widely described as an ‘economic blockade’. Having created a coalition government with the PDP the BJP should now  realize that such blockades do not foster the winning of hearts and minds in an insurgency-affected region.


Also, far from being able to stop the terrorists at the Line of Control itself the Indian security forces have not been able to stop Pakistani terrorists as they make deeper penetrations in the hinterland both through the LoC as well as the international border. What is happening on the ground is a buildup of homegrown militants (Eleven of them posed for a selfie with their weapons and uploaded it on the Internet) and increasing Pakistan Army pressure on the Line of Control. In its first avatar the BJP had promised that intrusions would be stopped at the LoC. If a linkup between the Pakistan Army and the homegrown terrorists happens then India will be confronted with another full-blown war.


At the opposite point in the compass off the southern coast of peninsular India the Sri Lankan Navy did what it has been doing with gay abandon for many years – arresting Indian fisherfolk for alleged intrusion into Sri Lankan waters. This happened even before the sweat raised by the Joint India-Sri Lanka military exercise code-named “Mitra Shakti-2015 had dried. The avowed intention of the 14-day exercise was to inculcate an understanding of transnational terrorism. (It needs to be recalled that Sri Lanka is one of the few countries of the world that have managed to crush a deeply entrenched insurgency by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam by purely military means.) The other aspects of the joint exercise were to create “jointmanship and conduct joint tactical operations controlled by a Joint Command Post”. This was in the context of land warfare.


Given the manner in which Tamil Nadu fishermen are regularly stuffed into Sri Lanka jails and made pawns of inter-nation jiggery-pokery over their eventual release would it not be more appropriate that the eventuality does not happen at all? A Joint Command Post operating along the maritime boundary will ensure that Indian fishermen remain within Indian jurisdiction and not enter Sri Lankan waters and vice versa. A demarcated maritime boundary can be marked with buoys to ensure that transgressions do not occur leading to arrests and incarceration and bad blood between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. This is a real and present danger and needs to be tackled with the same jointmanship as landbased counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations.


As many as 650 fishermen are languishing in jails in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh and their trawlers have been seized.


Good diplomacy would have ensured that such irritants do not impinge upon international relations. If joint operations can be held on land why not on the seas? 


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