Asia in Review Archive 2019 (July – December)


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03 September 2019

Kashmir: Indian Supreme Court gets involved; Khan joins mass demonstrations

(ls) Over the weekend, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan joined a rally of thousands in Islamabad to protest against India’s decision. He promised to raise also the issue of rights violations allegedly perpetrated by India in the disputed region at the United Nations next month. In addition to the protest in Islamabad, major demonstrations were also held in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. [Al Jazeera]

India’s Supreme Court has taken up legal challenges to the government’s decision to revoke Indian-controlled Kashmir’s special status. The Court ordered the federal government to file replies to several petitions related to the issue. [Straits Times]

03 September 2019

India to outlaw several single-use plastic products

(td) India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to scrap plastics by 2022 and sets to launch the campaign with a ban on six items on 2 October this year. These include plastic bags, cups, plates, small bottles, straws and certain types of sachets. While some Indian states already have outlawed polythene bags, Modi plans on taking further steps towards freeing India of single-use plastic as worldwide concerns are growing about plastic pollution, with a particular focus on the oceans, where nearly 50% of single-use plastic products end up, killing marine life and entering the human food chain. [Reuters] [Indian Express]

03 September 2019

India: New hope for child rights after tough sentence for human trafficker

(td) In India, a human trafficker who trafficked several boys for forced labor has been awarded a rare life sentence. The region Rajasthan has about 250,000 child workers. Manufacturers often favor children for bead work and intricate embroidery. In January, a state-supported campaign against child exploitation started, with new checks at stations, awareness campaigns and a more systematic approach to fighting legal cases. [Reuters]

03 September 2019

India: Anti-lynching Act passed in West Bengal

(ls) In India’s state of West Bengal, the West Bengal (Prevention of Lynching) Bill, 2019 was passed into legislation. It aims to “provide effective protection of the Constitutional rights of vulnerable persons and to prevent the lynching” of innocents. In particular, it introduces the death penalty as a punishment for cases in which a person dies. The new law comes in the aftermath of a string of incidents of people getting beaten to death over rumors of cattle smuggling and child theft. The Act also has provisions for dealing with “dissemination of offensive material” that may lead to mob violence. [India Today]

03 September 2019

India: Assam declares about 2 million people stateless

(ls) Over the weekend, the Indian state of Assam published a citizenship list aimed at removing “foreign infiltrators”. The publication of the list left almost two million people stateless. Most of those excluded were expected to be Muslim. The government aims to replicate the process nationwide. Assam has long seen large influxes from Bangladesh, particularly in the country’s 1971 war of independence. Only those who can demonstrate that they or their forebears were in India before 1971 could be included in the list. [South China Morning Post]

The persons concerned may well end up in a limbo of statelessness. Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen already declared that people who were left off the citizen register in India’s Assam are not Bangladeshi. “Under no circumstances, Bangladesh would be affected,” he said. [Daily Star]

The development needs to be seen against the background of the pro-Hindu – and, vice-versa, anti-Muslim – policies of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, which is also in power in Assam. In January, India’s lower house passed legislation that grants citizenship to people who moved to India from neighboring countries as recently as six years ago, but only as long as they are not Muslims.

Rajshree Chandra, professor at the University of Delhi, describes how legal-constitutional, legal-exceptional and extra-legal measures are employed by the Indian government to confront “the Other”. [The Wire]

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16 July 2019

India to buy more Russian fighter jets

(jk) The Indian Air Force (IAF) is looking to buy 18 Sukhoi Su-30MKI and 21 Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter aircraft from Russia, supplementing the IAF which already operates close to 350 such aircraft. According to Russian officials, the request is under review. The aircraft, just like previously purchased ones, will mostly be built in India and the likely sale is a continuation of the supply from Russia to the IAF. [ZeeNews]

16 July 2019

India aborts moon mission launch due to a technical glitch

(kj) Less than an hour before lift-off, India has decided to abort the launch of a spacecraft which was slated to land on the moon. The Chandrayaan-2 mission was called off when a technical glitch was detected in the 640-ton, 14-story rocket launcher. The Indian Space Research Organization says that new launch date will be made public later. [The Canberra Times]

Chandrayaan-2 is India’s maiden attempt at landing on the moon’s surface and is its most prestigious mission to date. Thus far, this has been achieved only by the United States, China and Russia. If the mission is successful, it would be the first mission to land on the moon’s south pole region. Vital information, such as chemical composition and the presence of water, can then be explored. [The Guardian]

Analysts claim that this mission is part of government’s intentions to showcase India’s supremacy in technology and security. Its success would complement its possession of nuclear weapons as well as its upcoming position as the world’s fifth largest economy. [Time]

16 July 2019

Al Qaeda threatens more attacks on Kashmir

(kj) A video has been released by the Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, which revealed plans to seek more attacks in Kashmir, India. In the video, Zawahiri attacked the Indians and the Pakistanis, and communicated the profound level of frustration amongst militant ranks acting in the region. [India Today]

Intelligence analysts believe that the video is sparked by the government’s success in isolating separatists and inspecting terror incidents in Jammu and Kashmir [NDTV].

The Indian government disregarded the video, claiming that these threats are commonplace. In addition, they state that Indian security forces were well prepared to counter any danger that Al Qaeda might inflict upon Kashmir. [Business Standard]

Despite this, Indian intelligence and security officials are cognisant that Al Qaeda has less self-imposed restrictions as compared to Kashmiri and Pakistan-based militant groups. There is a cause of concern, especially for a group interested in developing its reputation in the region. [Asia Times]

16 July 2019

India includes death penalty in child abuse law

(kj) To counter the rising prevalence of child sex abuse in India, the Union Cabinet has officially accepted 14 amendments to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. Most notably, the death penalty has been newly incorporated for cases of “aggravated penetrative sexual assault of children”. Fines and imprisonment have also been freshly instituted to mitigate the generation and transmission of child pornography. [India Today] [The Daily Star]

Instituted in 2012, the POSCO Act aims to address the problem of child sexual abuse by furnishing strict legal provisions. The act highlights various categories of sexual abuse, such as penetrative, non-penetrative, sexual harassment and child trafficking. The prescribed punishment under the Act depends on the severity of the offence. [First Post]

16 July 2019

India: Congress rushes Scindia to Madhya Pradesh to prevent political crisis

(kj) The Indian Congress party has urgently sent General Secretary Jyotiraditya Scindia to Madhya Pradesh to prevent more Members of the state’s Legislative Assembly (MLAs) from switching to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This strategic move by the Congress comes in light of 13 MLAs transitioning to the BJP in Karnataka. [AiR 2/7/2019] In addition, 10 MLAs transferred to the BJP in Goa. [The Times of India]

Scindia’s engagements, according to political analysts, were meant to portray unity amongst state leaders of the Congress. [India Today]

Even though the Congress currently receives majority support by the state, its position is uncertain. It only won by a sheer margin in last year’s Assembly elections, and this was only made possible by some support by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP). [India Times]

9 July 2019

Bhutan: The challenges of being sandwiched between India and China

(ls) As the Indian-Chinese power rivalry continues to leave its traces in the Indian subcontinent, Bhutan has difficulties to develop a more autonomous position in bilateral relations with the neighboring giants. Though, since 2007, a new treaty between India and Bhutan, which superseded an earlier one of 1949, eradicated the formal advisory role of India in Bhutan’s foreign relations and recognized Bhutan as an essential ally, India continues to effectively control the Himalayan country’s bilateral relations. This was particularly visible in 2017’s Doklam standoff, where Bhutan was prevented to actively engage in the solution of the conflict. At the same time, Bhutan relies heavily on Indian investment in and purchase of hydropower, which renders Bhutan’s position vulnerable. At the same time, as tourism is the second greatest economic contributor to Bhutan’s GDP, China commands a significant economic leverage as well. [Modern Diplomacy] 

9 July 2019

India: World’s largest combat jet deal under way

(cl) India has moved a step closer to inviting bids for the purchase of 114 fighter jets, currently the world’s largest deal in play, as PM Modi seeks to boost the capability of the country’s armed forces and replace an ageing combat aircraft fleet. The deal, valued at more than USD15b, has attracted initial offers from global defence majors. [Dhaka Tribune]

Modernising the country’s defence forces is critical for Modi, who hardly signed any new major arms deals during his first term, even as twin threats from neighbouring China and Pakistan loomed. The Defence Ministry also plans to purchase tanks and armoured vehicles, as well as engaging in partnerships with foreign shipbuilders to manufacture submarines in India. [International Business Times] [Straits Times]

9 July 2019

Kashmir: Allegations of abuse and torture by Indian security forces as violence increases

(ls) After tensions with the Indian authorities in Kashmir have sharply increased, Kashmiris are calling for an international investigation into accounts of abuse and torture by the security forces. A report by a local NGO found that security personnel got away with their actions because of laws that give them broad impunity. India denies the intensifying accusations of abuses in Kashmir. However, also the United Nations raised grave human rights concerns in Kashmir, referring to cases of torture, among other issues, while detainees were in the custody of Indian security forces. [New York Times]

Meanwhile, at least five Pakistani soldiers have been killed after an explosion near the de facto border with India in Kashmir. Pakistan referred to the incident as “state-sponsored terrorism”. Since a suicide attack on Indian security forces and a following military tit-for-tat, firing across the “Line of Control” has increased, with civilian and security casualties on either side. [Al Jazeera]

9 July 2019

India-China relations: Do increased cyber-attacks point to future battlegrounds?

(ls) In India concern is growing that China’s cyber capacities could undermine New Delhi’s conventional military capabilities in a case of a military conflict. According to a 2018 governmental report, 35 percent of cyber-attacks against India were attributed to China. The Chinese government has repeatedly denied responsibility for the actions. The difficulties in attribution and the fact that many attacks remain below the threshold of a use of force in legal terms generally raise the question how to treat such cyber operations under international law. [The Diplomat]

9 July 2019

India: Constitution’s Articles on Jammu and Kashmir will be scrapped

(cl) India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plans to scrap Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. Art. 370 grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir and limits Parliament’s power to make laws concerning the state (Art. 370). Article 35A empowers the state assembly to define “permanent residents” for bestowing special rights on them. [Times of India] [Times Now News]

9 July 2019

India: Congress in turmoil as Rahul Gandhi resigns

(cl/ls) A month after PM Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) crushed the oppositional Congress Party in the general elections Rahul Gandhi and several other senior Congress leaders resigned from office. [India Today]

However, the Congress has refused to accept Gandhi’s resignation amid speculations that he would be persuaded to continue heading the party motivated protests urging him to continue at the Congress helm. [New York Times]

Before the rise of the BJP under Modi, the Congress party was the dominant political force in India. [CNN News] Adding to the party’s turmoil, the Congress-led coalition government in the Indian state of Karnataka just faced the resignation of 10 Congress and 3 Janata Dal (Secular) Members of the state’s Legislative Assembly prompting the parties to make frantic efforts to reach out with attractive offers to the rebels who, however, rejected. [Times of India] [Hindustan Times] 

2 July 2019

Indian naval ship in Egypt for Overseas Deployment Programme

(jk) An Indian Naval vessel arrived at Alexandria in Egypt late last week for a three-day visit as a part of the Western Fleet Overseas Deployment programme. According to the Indian Navy the visit “demonstrates India’s commitment to its ties with Egypt and of Indian Navy’s increasing footprint and operational reach.” [NDTV]

2 July 2019

Pompeo’s India visit and US India relations

(jk) According US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the recent trade tensions between the US and India (e.g. India’s imposition of retaliatory tariffs on some US items earlier this month, after the US ended trade concessions for India) won’t impact ties and their partnership is already beginning to reach new heights. In the same vein, Assistant Secretary of Defense recently  highlighted plenty of “convergence” on a lot of the strategic issues between the US and India. [Youtube: Asia Policy Assembly 2019, from 2:23:00] Conversely, some observers class the recent trade spat as a “low intensity trade war”. [Newsweek]

Pompeo was on a three day visit to India last week, as part of a longer tour to the countries of the Indo-Pacific region. Obvious sticking points still evolve around the US$5-billion defence deal for S-400 air defence systems between India and Russia, but the Foreign Secretary and his counterpart have stated that these issues could be resolved among friends. India’s Foreign Minister said during a press conference that India would be guided “by its own interests” when it comes to purchasing defence systems from Russia. [NDTV] Moreover, rumours are emerging that India considers making its payments for Russian arms in euros to a Russia-nominated bank, allegedly being able to bypass US sanctions. [Economic Times] At the same time, India is negotiating significant defence deals with the US -worth around US$10-billion- including the purchase of naval aircraft, air defence missiles and helicopters. [Times of India]

Overall, despite clear “strategic convergence” on a number of issue, the rhetoric of “new heights” or even more inflated terms are unlikely to hold up to reality. India will do exactly as it says and firstly look at its own national interest. It will continue to give a bit and take a bit, as it has done with reducing Iranian oil imports on the one hand, but most likely going ahead with its Russian arms purchases on the other. For a good, more detailed overview of the ups and downs of US-India relations of late, see [Brookings].


2 July 2019

India’s Congress party struggles to resolve its leadership crisis

(cl) India’s Congress party is facing a leadership crisis as its president Rahul Gandhi refuses to reverse his decision to quit his post following a significant loss to Bharatiya Janata Party’s Modi in last month’s general election. [South China Morning Post] The party has refused to accept his resignation, with several protests breaking out including one by Youth Congress members on Wednesday. Several Congress office-bearers have also resigned in response, urging him to withdraw his resignation before they accepted any party position. However, Mr Gandhi has steered clear of making any decisions in the party and urged the Congress to choose another leader on Wednesday. [India Today] Analysts say that continued uncertainty would further harm a party which, until the rise of the BJP under PM Modi, was the dominant political force in Indian politics. The party had suffered back-to-back losses in general elections in 2014 and this year, and has seen its political influence wane as the BJP’s political influence spread beyond its traditional support base in central and western India to other parts of the country. Mr Gandhi has also faced constant questions over his leadership abilities due to his long absences from public life, with the exception of election times. [Times of India]