Asia in Review Archive 2019 (July – December)


Date of AiR edition

News summary

12 November 2019

India: farmers and manufacturers welcome PM Modi’s move to reject RCEP trade deal

(jk) While many observers over the past week have focused on India and how they think it was a bad decision for India not to join RCEP [Asia in Review, No. 45, November/2019, 1], mainly for geopolitical reasons such as reduced influence in Asia and comparable to US President Trump’s decision on the TPP withdrawal, India’s farmers and manufacturers who were afraid of Chinese competition and feared a flooding of the Indian market with cheap Chinese imports largely celebrated the move. [Straits Times]




12 November 2019

India: Supreme Court finds state government had “miserably failed” to protect the public from toxic fumes

(jk) The failure of dealing with or alleviating the toxic fume crisis in India’s capital of New Delhi, which has been ongoing for more than two weeks now, has been heavily criticised by India’s Supreme Court. It displays a “blatant and grave violation of right to life” and has led to a public health emergency causing school closures and flight cancellations in addition to the detrimental health effects on New Delhi’s residents. [CNN]





12 November 2019

India’s Supreme Court awards Hindus control of disputed religious site

(jk) India’s Supreme Court has awarded Hindus control of a disputed religious site in the town of Ayodhya for the construction of a temple and given Muslims five acres of land “somewhere else” to build a mosque. The ruling upset many Muslims in the country who continue to face unfavourable treatment by a Hindu-dominant government in Delhi.

The case was described as a landmark verdict and led to heightened security alerts across the country. The ruling “settles” a decades-old dispute between Muslims and Hindus which, in 1992 led to the destruction of a Mosque that was built on the land in question by Hindu mobs,  triggering nationwide religious violence that killed about 2,000, mostly Muslim Indians. [South China Morning Post]





5 November 2019

India to build nation-wide face recognition system

(ls) The Indian government has started the procurement procedure for its planned National Automated Facial Recognition System which is aimed to provide a centralized database for police forces across its 28 states. Once in place, it will be the world’s largest facial recognition system. According to current plans, the connected database will draw on images from existing records of prisoners, photos in passports, and “any other image database” with any entity. The Indian parliament did not debate the issue so far. [Straits Times 1]

Meanwhile, several professors, journalists, human rights lawyers and activists have been the victim of a hacking attack that compromised several WhatsApp accounts, enabling the hackers to monitor chats. The attacks appear to have been conducted with use of the spyware Pegasus, which was also used to hack into the phones of around 1,400 users globally over two weeks in May. Opposition leaders and critics accused the Modi government of being caught snooping, a charge dismissed by officials. [Straits Times 2]



5 November 2019

India cooperates with Saudi Arabia on security issues

(ls) India and Saudi Arabia emphasized their good cooperation on security issues, including counter terrorism, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on a visit to Riyadh earlier last week. Saudi Arabia is a key ally of Pakistan. Nonetheless, Modi said the two countries were also in the process of entering into agreements on security cooperation, collaboration in defence industries, and that they have agreed to hold a comprehensive security dialogue mechanism between them. Saudi Arabia last month said it was looking at investing $100 billion in India in areas of energy, refining, petrochemicals, infrastructure, agriculture, minerals and mining. [The Hindu]



5 November 2019

Germany-India relations: Chancellor Merkel in New Delhi

(ls) Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visited New Delhi and met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The talks were focused on trade, investment, regional security and climate change. Merkel called for a new attempt to negotiate a European-Indian free trade agreement. Negotiations for a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and India were launched in 2007 and, according to information from the EU Commission, suspended in 2013 due to a “gap in the level of ambition between the EU and India.” [DW] [European Commission]

Merkel also pledged one billion euros to help Indian cities switch to green transport over the next five years. During her visit, she witnessed New Delhi’s pollution which, as often at the beginning of November, reached “emergency” levels. [South China Morning Post] Speaking about the situation in Kashmir, Merkel said that the conditions in which the people of Kashmir were living were unsustainable and had to be improved. [India Today] Shortly before her visit, almost 30 Members of the European Parliament, mostly from far-right parties, traveled to Indian-administered Kashmir in an unofficial visit. [Al Jazeera]



5 November 2019

India effectuates Jammu and Kashmir’s end of autonomy, sparking diplomatic protest

(ls) Last Wednesday, the Indian government formally revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy and split it into two federal territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The state’s constitution, its penal code and state flag were nullified. The region is now subject to the same central laws as all other Indian territories. Jammu and Kashmir will have its own state legislature, while Ladakh will be controlled from the capital. In August, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tabled the relevant legislation in the Indian parliament to approve the end of article 370 of the constitution, which for over 70 years has guaranteed special privileges to the predominately Muslim region. [The Guardian]

Pakistan’s government rejected the move and said that the latest political maps issued by India, which showed the entire Kashmir region as part of India, were “incorrect and legally untenable” under international law. [Telegraph India] China, which considers parts of Ladakh as part of its territory, also condemned India’s decision. A spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry said that “this is awful and void, and this is not effective in any way and will not change the fact that the area is under China’s actual control.” [Reuters]



29 October 2019

India: BJP does a little worse than expected in state elections

(jk) India saw two state elections last week for which the results show that the ruling BJP fared slightly worse than many had expected after it swept to victory for Modi’s second term not long ago. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is leading in the western state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, but it ended up with fewer seats than in the previous state election in 2014.

In the northern state of Haryana, many of the BJP’s ruling ministers lost their seat and the party failed to win a majority. Congress, although behind the BJP, is looking at doubling its seats there and may even throw its hat in the ring to forge an alliance that could form the government. [The Economic Times] [India Today 1 , India Today 2]

Incidentally, in Jammu and Kashmir local body elections in which a small number of elected representatives voted for higher body officials were held amid a largely continuing communications lockdown. The elections were boycotted by the main opposition parties, including the Indian Congress. [Straits Times]



22 October 2019

Maritime terrorism in Asia: An assessment 

(ls) A paper published by the Observer Research Foundation evaluates the possibility of an increase in maritime terrorist violence in Asia. Based on an analysis of recent incidents, it argues that the vulnerability of high seas shipping to criminal acts of violence and the weak and inconsistent nature of maritime governance raises the possibility of a terrorist strike in the Asian littorals. [ORF]



22 October 2019

India and Philippines enhance navy cooperation

(ls) The Philippine Coast Guard and the Indian Navy will enhance their cooperation according to an agreement signed during the state visit of Indian President Ram Nath Kovind to the Philippines. The “Memorandum of Understanding on the Sharing of White Shipping Information” aims to facilitate the sharing of information on non-military and non-government shipping vessels. In a recent months, the Philippines have, on several occasions, blamed Chinese fishing vessels of intruding in what Manila considers its territorial waters. [Rappler]


22 October 2019

Shots at India-Bangladesh border result in death of Indian border guard

(ls) In a rare clash between India and Bangladesh, officers of the Bangladesh Border Guard (BGB) killed an Indian border guard last week. After an Indian fisherman had been detained by the Bangladeshi officers, the situation got out of hand and resulted in what the Bangladeshi side described as shots in self-defence. The Indian Border Security Force (BSF) said the shots were unprovoked. India and Bangladesh, which generally have close ties, share a border stretching more than 4,000 km, where clashes sometimes occur over immigration into India from Bangladesh. [Reuters] [Economic Times]


15 October 2019

RCEP negotiations in Bangkok struggling to accommodate India’s demands

(ls) Negotiations on fourteen out of 20 chapters of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) have been concluded at a meeting of ASEAN trade ministers in Bangkok. RCEP includes ASEAN’s ten member states, plus Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. Thailand, the current ASEAN chair aims to seal a deal that could be signed during the ASEAN summit next month. [Straits Times]

According to observers, the main hurdle for finalizing the agreement is the negotiation position of India. Among the controversial issues are provisions on the mechanism for investor-state dispute settlement, exemptions for ratchet obligations and data localization. Key allies of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have mounted a nationwide protest against the RCEP, claiming the deal will be ruinous to local industries. [South China Morning Post]


15 October 2019

India takes first delivery in controversial Rafale jet deal from France

(jk) India last week received its first of 36 Rafale fighter jets ordered from France in 2016 after the deal was held up by numerous allegations of corruption brought forward by the opposition Congress Party. Although allegations have not gone away entirely, in December last year a court decision in India dismissed calls for an investigation into the deal, saying it saw no evidence of “commercial favouritism.” [Asia Times]


15 October 2019

Two Bangladesh Navy ships in India for maiden bilateral exercise

(jk) Two ships of the Bangladesh Navy have reached India for a four-day bilateral navy exercise which will mark the first time the two navies exercise bilaterally.  [India Today]


15 October 2019

Pakistan– India- China: Imran Kahn’s China Visit and Modi-Xi meeting

(jk) For the third time in a year, Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan visited Beijing last week. While Pakistan has been one of the largest recipients of Chinese BRI investment, its financial input has dropped sharply (77%!) over the past fiscal year. [Bloomberg]  Despite the economic slowdown, China has been supportive of Pakistan, not least with regards to the ongoing situation Kashmir vis-a-vis India. The visit came just days before Chinese President Xi was scheduled to meet Indian PM Modi.

PM Khan was accompanied by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who met with Senior Chinese Generals. China has long been supportive of Pakistan’s army and plays an active role in most of Pakistan’s defence deals. A recent one included support to build and sell (not least by handing out a loan to the purchasing party) JF-17 fighter jets to Myanmar. [Nikkei Asian Review]

The India Summit, a two-day informal summit in India that followed, saw a lot of public “understanding” of each other’s policies and sensitivities, as well as commitments to boost economic ties. The leaders addressed the trade deficit India has with China (some $53bn) and also India’s ongoing concerns over a lack of market access to the Chinese market and the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP). The issue of Kashmir was not discussed. [Al Jazeera] Ahead of Xi’s arrival, police detained the chief of the Tibetan Youth Congress and 11 Tibetan students who were allegedly planning to protest during the visit.

On more general level, an interesting recent background paper describes how Pakistan and China are driving Indian defence policy and how the Indian defence sector must reform to stay relevant. [KAS]

15 October 2019

India: Nationwide protests against RCEP launched 

(jk) An organisation close to the Hindu-nationalist movement and the ruling BJP party has announced a 10-day protest in India against the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). [Live Mint]

India has a number of concerns regarding the trade-deal, including that a liberalisation would crush domestic manufacturers and industries while allowing too many – in particular Chinese goods – to flood its market. Other issues include the local storage of personal data in e-commerce and what type of regulations should govern data storage within RCEP. [South China Morning Post]

15 October 2019

India’s economic slowdown continues

(jk) India’s central bank has adapted its forecast for the country’s economic growth to 6.1 per cent for this year, down from a previous estimate of 6.9 per cent and has cut interest rates for the fifth time in a year last week. In an attempt to stop the economy from its continuing deceleration, PM Modi last month announced a hefty corporate tax cut from 30 to 22 per cent and moves to privatise some state-run businesses. [Financial Times]

8 October 2019

India-Bangladesh relations: Strategic interests more important than disagreements

(ls) Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior Indian officials last week. They agreed on the need for greater effort to facilitate the safe return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. As regards India’s recent move to identify thousands of what it says are “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh, the two prime ministers were not reaching any agreement. Nonetheless, India is focused on making Bangladesh a central element of its Act East policy, to counter China’s growing influence in South Asia. [DW]

8 October 2019

India and USA discuss plans to advance their vision for Free and Open Indo-Pacific

(td) Last week, India and the United States discussed plans to advance their common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The discussions were held during a bilateral talk between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. The two sides also discussed a wide range of bilateral and multilateral issues of mutual interest including the growing US-India strategic relationship and the developments pertaining to Kashmir. [Times of India]

8 October 2019

India: No academic cooperation with China without prior approval

(ls) India’s University Grants Commission (UGC) has instructed its universities not to enter into academic cooperation agreements with Chinese institutions unless they obtain prior approval by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs. The new rule applies to Memoranda of Understanding, educational exchange programmes, agreements or other joint declarations of intent. Existing cooperation agreements will also need to be approved. Whether the move just means a step to mere monitoring or indicates a trend toward reduced cooperation remains to be seen in the future. [South China Morning Post]

8 October 2019

India: Reports and opinions on Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birthday

(ls) On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday last week, several perspectives on the celebrations but also Gandhi’s life and legacy for Indian politics and society have been published. India Today brought an overview of the commemorative ceremonies in which politicians from all camps to part. [India Today] Al Jazeera offered a DPA piece on the (ir)relevance of Gandhi’s teachings amid the rise of Hindu nationalism and ongoing attacks against minorities. [Al Jazeera] And Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote an article for the New York Times on “Why India and the World Need Gandhi”. [New York Times]

8 October 2019

India: Impacts of Kashmir and Jammu’s change of status and the internet lockdown

(ls) After India changed the status of Indian-controlled Kashmir and divided it into two centrally governed union territories, Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh, also the future of Ladakh remains unsure. When the change in governmental status was announced for Ladakh, there were celebrations by its Buddhist population, whereas Muslims largely want to remain tied to the Kashmir valley. Many Buddhists now fear land grabs, loss of trade and damage to the fragile ecosystem of the region’s high-altitude deserts. On the Muslim side, posters and banners demanding Kashmir’s independence from India could be seen at several mosques and religious sites. So far, the tensions between the groups have been confined to cultural and political differences, without violence. The question is whether this is going to change. [Japan Times]

For two months now, the Indian Internet and mobile blockade has cost Kashmir’s IT industry significant losses. Several companies have already laid off workers, many are preparing to move their business away from Kashmir. Apart from 6,000 mobiles used by police and government officials, most of Kashmir’s 880,000 mobile connections and Internet services remain suspended. [Straits Times]

1 October 2019

PM Modi Meets with Leaders of Pacific Island and neighbouring countries

(td/jk) Prime Minister Modi met with leaders of the Pacific Island countries on the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session in New York and demonstrated India’s commitment to advancing their development priorities. The meeting was attended by the heads of delegations of Fiji, Republic of Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Nauru, Republic of Palau, Independent State of Papua New Guinea, The Independent State of Samoa, Solomon Islands, Kingdom of Tonga, Tuvalu and Republic of Vanuatu.

The leaders deliberated on a wide range of issues, including sharing of development experiences for attainment of sustainable development goals, enhancing cooperation in renewable energy, joining the newly-launched Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, capacity building, implementation of projects under the India-UN Development Partnership Fund and a roadmap for future India-PSIDS cooperation.

During the meeting, Modi emphasised that India and the PSIDS had shared values as well as a shared future, and highlighted the need for development policies to be inclusive and sustainable to reduce inequality and contribute to empowerment and improvement of the quality of people’s lives. He said India was equally committed to tackle the impact of climate change and supported the efforts of the PSIDS to achieve their developmental goals through necessary developmental and technical assistance. Modi also underlined the reality of climate change and called for increasing the share of renewable energy in the total energy mix to mitigate many adverse effects of climate change. (News 18)

On the sidelines of the UNGA in New York, Modi also met Bhutan’s PM, for fourth time in a year and  following his recent visit to Bhutan in August and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh. They reviewed their bilateral relationship and agreed to maintain the momentum to take the India-Bangladesh relationship to new heights. [NDTV] [India Today]

1 October 2019

India-US to hold tri-service “Tiger Triumph” Exercise in November

(jk) At the recent ‘Howdy, Modi!’ rally in Houston, Texas President Modi and US President Trump focused on the two countries’ defence relationship as Trump pointed to US arms sales to India to have reached around USD 18 billion over the past decade. He further announced that the United States and India will “demonstrate a dramatic progress of our defence relationship” by holding the “first-ever tri-service military exercise” in November. [Hindustan Times] While this is the first Army/Navy/Air Force exercise between the two countries, India has previously trained in a similar exercise with Russia. [NDTV]

The US and India also just concluded the joint military training exercise “Yudh Abhyas”, one of the largest joint military training and defence corporation trainings between India and the US. [Economic Times]

1 October 2019

Pakistan stops postal exchange with India

(td) People in Punjab on the Indian side have stopped receiving regular mail such as magazines, publications, and even letters which they used to get regularly from Pakistan via post. Due to the ongoing tension between India and Pakistan following the scrapping of special status for Jammu & Kashmir, Islamabad has now stopped the postal mail exchange between the two countries.

The deputy director general of the department of post of the Government of India confirmed that the written orders to stop mail via post were issued by the customs department of Pakistan last month. Since August 27, there has been no exchange of post between the two neighbours.  (Indian Express)

1 October 2019

Jammu-Kashmir: Block Development Council elections on October 24

(td) In a first major test to the prevailing security situation in Jammu-Kashmir, the state’s Chief Electoral Officer announced that elections for the chairpersons of Block Development Councils will be held on October 24.

The Block Development Council forms the second tier of the Panchayat Raj system. All the 23,629 panches and 3,652 sarpanches of the Panchayats will vote to elect the chairperson of the Block Development Council. There is a total of 316 blocks.

In 2018, Panchayat elections were held in nine phases — from November 17 to December 11 — in J&K. Kashmir’s mainstream political parties, including the PDP and NC, had boycotted the elections. The top leadership of PDP and NC are currently under detention.

Home Minister Amit Shah said: “The decision on Article 370 will strengthen the unity and integrity of India,” adding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir will be completely normal soon.

The Valley has been under a security clampdown since August 5 when the Centre modified the provisions of Article 370 to revoke the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir by the Indian Constitution. J&K was also bifurcated and reduced to a Union Territory. (Indian Express)

1 October 2019

India: States election dates announced

(jk) The two BJP-ruled Indian states of Maharashtra and Haryana will see assembly elections alongside a number of by-elections next month on 21 October. It will be the first election since PM Modi’s huge win at the general elections earlier this year and will provide an indicator as to his popularity, in particular after the Jammu and Kashmir decision and his continued Hindu nationalist policies. [The Economic Times]

24 September 2019

First Singapore-India-Thailand trilateral maritime exercises (SITMEX) in Andaman Sea 

(jk) An inaugural trilateral exercise of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN),the Royal Thailand Navy (RTN) and the Indian Navy (IN) took place at Port Blair, an Indian territory in the Bay of Bengal, last week. The exercise seeks to improve maritime inter-relationships amongst the three navies and contribute to the overall maritime security in the region. [Devdiscourse]

24 September 2019

Nepal: Energy politics with India and Bangladesh

(ls) As relations between India and Nepal are deteriorating under Kathmandu’s communist government, the Himalayan country’s electricity export outlook is also worsening. Over the last four years, two foreign companies have pulled out of two hydropower projects due to the less attractive prospect. Despite signing a Power Trade Agreement in 2014 aimed at easing flows of electricity across the frontier, the process has been stalled by the lack of a policy framework on both sides. However, Nepal also sees Bangladesh as a potential buyer of its energy. Hydropower is one of Nepal’s major export sectors. [Nikkei Asian Review]

24 September 2019

Pakistan refuses Indian airspace request; independence movement in Pakistan-controlled Jammu and Kashmir grows

(ls) In a continued tit-for-tat over the situation in Kashmir, Pakistan refused a request from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cross its airspace on a flight to Germany last week. Earlier this month, Pakistan also denied use of its airspace to India’s President Ram Nath Kovind. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, news of violence and use of force in Indian Kashmir is spreading. Evidence of torture is mounting. New Delhi says the lockdown, with mobile service and the Internet still cut in most areas, is to prevent “terrorists” backed by Islamabad from stirring up trouble. India’s national security adviser has denied that the military has committed any atrocities. [Straits Times]

At the same time, Pakistani security responses to a growing independence movement can be seen in Pakistan-controlled Jammu and Kashmir. Pro-independence demonstrations that once attracted dozens of protesters are now attracting thousands. This may be due to fears that the possibility to reunify has been slowly slipping away ever since India increased its control of the divided territory and Pakistan did little to stop it other than to offer negotiations that India refused. [New York Times]

24 September 2019

U.S. lawmakers demand end to sanctions against India as Modi joins Trump rally

(ls/td) A group of parliamentarians of the U.S. Congress have urged the government to restore trade concessions to India, saying the withdrawal of the privilege had led to retaliatory tariffs from New Delhi which were hurting U.S. industry. In June, the United States ended its preferential trade treatment for India, removing it from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program that allowed duty-free entry for up to $5.6 billion worth of its annual exports to the United States. India responded with retaliatory tariffs on several products. [India Today]

Meanwhile, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi appeared at a rally of U.S. President Trump in Texas, sending a message of unity despite trade tensions. About 50,000 Indian Americans attended the “Howdy Modi!” rally in Houston. The two leaders pledged to fight terrorism while heaping praise on each other’s achievements. India and the US have gradually become natural allies over the past few decades as China’s influence in the region grows. [Guardian]

24 September 2019

India: Major reform of water governance

(ls) In possibly the most ambitious change to India’s water governance since the founding of the country in 1947, the central government is pushing to bring all inter-state river basins under its control in order to end India’s long history of inter-state water disputes. The new law would allow the central government to take over management of inter-state river basins from state governments, starting with the 13 largest basins. This has led to a sharp response by many water activists and some state governments, who point to the successes of the decentralization of water management. The Daily Star reports on the backgrounds. [Daily Star]

24 September 2019

India bans e-cigarettes

(ls) The Indian government has approved an ordinance banning production, import, distribution and sale of electronic cigarettes. The decision was taken due to possible health risks to the youth. The government is expected to replace the ordinance with a bill in the next session of Parliament. India has 106 million adult smokers, second only to China in the world, making it a lucrative market for firms making e-cigarettes. [Indian Express]

24 September 2019

India: Senior pro-India politician Farooq Abdullah arrested in Jammu and Kashmir

(ls/td) In India, the former chief minister of the Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir Farooq Abdullah was arrested under the Public Safety Act (PSA) that allows authorities to imprison someone for up to two years without charge or trial. Abdullah is a senior pro-India Kashmiri politician. He has been under house arrest since 5 August when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripped Kashmir of its special status and imposed a security lockdown. [Time]

In April, Abdullah had warned that India was “on a precipice” as far as the Kashmir crisis was concerned. His detention and the crackdown against Congress party members in Indian-administered Kashmir indicate a further shrinking of New Delhi’s allies in the region. The Abdaullah family is close to India’s Nehru-Gandhi family, which leads the main opposition Congress party. [Al Jazeera]

In a separate development, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited former Finance Minister Chidambaram in jail. Chidambaram was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on 21 August in what some observers as a continued crackdown on opposition politicians. [India Today]

17 September 2019

India and its neighbourhood policy to counter the BRI 

(jk) Modi’s “Neighborhood First” policy is India’s attempt to counter China’s Belt and Road plan and keep New Dehli’s regional influence strong, argues Stratfor in [The National Interest]

17 September 2019

Ongoing controversy over National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam 

(jk) The controversy over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in India’s northeast state of Assam remains. Even after final numbers have been released, the problems with the exercise are far from over [AiR, 36, September 1]. According to this author, “the goal of the massive exercise which involved some 50,000 persons, lasting some seven years and costing close to 1.5 billion rupees (about $220 million) was to scour the land for non-Indians, for the most part Bangladeshis who had come over quietly, informally and settled ubiquitously”, but none of it has been achieved. Instead,  no one, including the groups that called for the register will be satisfied with this outcome as the majority of the nearly 2 million off the list do not appear to be Muslim, but Bengali Hindus. [Al Jazeera]

17 September 2019

India opens cross-border pipeline with Nepal

(jk) The leaders of India, PM Modi, and Nepal, PM KP Oli, have officially opened the first cross-country oil pipeline, allowing Nepal to receive direct oil-supplies from India without relying on trucks passing through often narrow border areas.

Nepal is heavily reliant on oil supplies from India and over recent years, protests and other disturbances at the Nepali-India border have often led to shortages in energy supplies. 

India-Nepal ties are recovering after Oli’s first term in which India-Nepal ties had reached a  low point when Modi pressured for the interests of Indian-origin Madhesi in the country,  allegedly supporting a blockade to put pressure on Kathmandu to make specific changes to its constitution. The blockade created widespread suffering in Nepal, which had also just suffered a major earthquake, and caused many anti-Indian sentiments. [Live Mint]

17 September 2019

Russia and India discussing local production of S400s and use of national currencies 

(jk) In the latest development of the significant India-Russia defence deal surrounding the  S-400 Air Defense System, Moscow and New Delhi are now also discussing possibilities of local production of some of the weapon’s system. [Money Control]

Additionally, earlier this month, Modi attended the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok. At the forum, he met Russian President Putin who remarked upon the importance of using national currencies for mutual settlements. “We consider the introduction of the practice of using national currencies in our settlements to be a key component of the work with our Indian partners, as well as ensuring smooth interbank transactions, which would help India join the Bank of Russia financial message transfer system,” he said. [Russia Today]

17 September 2019

India and Pakistan join SCO anti-terror drills in Russia

(jk) India and Pakistan will both be part of a military drill along with China and five other countries (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) in Russia this month under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Iran will be present as an observer. Both India and Pakistan entered the grouping as observers in 2005 and became full members in 2017. This is the second time the two participate in the SCO military drills together. [Financial Express]

10 September 2019

India’s moon mission ends in failure, but NASA offers cooperation

(ls) Shortly before landing on the surface of the moon, India’s robotic lander Vikram, which is part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, lost contact with ground control. A successful landing would have made India just the fourth country to touch down anywhere on the lunar surface, and only the third nation to operate a robotic rover there. Nevertheless, the Chandrayaan-2 mission’s orbiter remains safely in lunar orbit, with a year-long scientific mission ahead of it. [National Geographic]

The US space agency Nasa, however, said it was “inspired” with the Chandrayaan-2 mission and that it was ready for a joint exploration of the solar system. Nasa’s contributed a laser reflector array on board Vikram which was meant to track the lander’s location and calculate the distance between Earth and Moon. [Times of India]

10 September 2019

Kashmir: Tensions remain high as tit-for-tat between India and Pakistan continues

(ls) Amid a growing crackdown across Kashmir, Indian authorities have imposed curfews in several parts of the territory which is contested by Pakistan. Authorities tightened restrictions after police clashed with Shiite mourners during a banned religious procession. The security situation has deteriorated since India withdrew Kashmir’s special autonomous status by revoking Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, deployed troops in the Kashmir valley, restricted movements and cut off communication. [DW]

In the continued tit-for-tat between the two South Asian nuclear states, Pakistan refused a request by India’s President Ram Nath Kovind to fly through its airspace due to New Delhi’s recent “behavior”. Such permissions are usually granted. In August, Islamabad had already downgraded its diplomatic ties with India, expelling the Indian envoy, suspending trade and calling back its ambassador. [Al Jazeera]

Earlier this week, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said, “We are prepared to give the enemy the fullest possible response. Failing, the world community will be responsible for the catastrophic aftermath.” [Reuters]

10 September 2019

China-India relations: Delhi to challenge Beijing in the South China Sea

(dql) China’s is to face growing challenge by India over the influence in the South China Sea after India and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding under which a new Indo-Pacific sea route will extend from the port city of Vladivostok, in Russia’s Far East, to Chennai, on the Bay of Bengal in eastern India with the shipping route partly traversing the South China Sea. The move marks a new era of cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region between the two countries. The MoU follows the New Delhi’s agreement to purchase Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and signals a further deepening of Indian-Russian relations. [South China Morning Post] [India Today] 

For an assessment of prospects and potentials of a third order centered on Indo-Russian line next to the US-led order and the China-led order see [The Diplomat]. 

Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Minister during his visit to Pakistan described the China-Pakistan relationship as ‘rock solid’ and re-affirmed China’s support in safeguarding Pakistan’s sovereignty and  territorial integrity and iterated opposition to any unilateral action as well as the measures, by India, that could further complicate the situation. [South China Morning Post 2]

10 September 2019

India: Another Congress leader arrested for money-laundering

(td) Last week, protests broke out in several parts of Karnataka in India following the arrest of senior Congress leader D K Shivakumar by the Enforcement Directorate in New Delhi in connection with a money laundering case. [The Hindu Business Line] [NDTV] Three weeks ago, investigators of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) already arrested Palaniappan Chidambaram, another key opposition Indian National Congress party leader and former finance minister, in a suspected money laundering case.

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: 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]