Asia in Review Archive 2020 (January – June)
Date of AiR edition
4 August 2020
Kashmir: First anniversary of status change sparks fears of violence
(ls) On the first anniversary of the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution on 5 August 2019, a curfew has been imposed throughout all districts for fears of separatist violence. A separate coronavirus lockdown was extended as well. Since the change of status, anger has been growing across the Muslim-majority population in Kashmir against India’s Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, particularly over the granting of rights to tens of thousands of people from outside of the region to buy land. [Hindustan Times] [Channel News Asia]
According to local police, Indian troops have killed 118 militants between January and July this year, as many as in the whole last year. On the other hand, militants killed a politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in early July and a local Congress leader in June. Critical observers therefore consider that the status change has created more problems than it has solved. [The Wire 1]
On 5 August 2019, the Indian government unilaterally abrogated the state’s special status, breaking it into two federal territories, one comprising the Hindu-dominated Jammu region and the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, known as Jammu & Kashmir, and the second being the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh.
Pakistan administers a section of Kashmir but claims it in full. China, which has been entangled in several border standoffs with India in recent weeks, claims Ladakh. Observers expect increasing Chinese support for Pakistan in the Kashmir question. [South China Morning Post]
The full text of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill 2019 can be found here: [The Wire 2]
4 August 2020
India: Restrictions limiting environmental and human rights activism
(ls) Indian authorities have blocked the website of Fridays for Future (FFF) India, the Indian branch of the student-led climate action movement. In addition, the Delhi police initially charged the group under an anti-terrorism law, before later shifting to charges under the Information Technology Act. The development followed a complaint by the Indian environment minister that he was getting too many e-mails from FFF about a controversial draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification the government was seeking public responses for. Two other environment collectives also found their websites blocked. [Straits Times]
In a separate development, the United Nations have joined international calls, along with Human Rights Watch and other NGOs, demanding the release of prominent rights activists, who were arrested two years ago under the terrorism law. The activists have been arrested for allegedly instigating violence in a protest in Maharaja state. Most of the eleven accused have yet to be criminally charged. While human rights activists have accused India’s ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) being behind the case, the BJP denies any political involvement. [Aljazeera]
4 August 2020
India: Construction of Hindu temple on disputed land in Ayodhya begins
(ls) Nine months after India’s Supreme Court decided that disputed land in the city of Ayodhya belonged to Hindu groups – and not to Muslims – the construction of a Hindu temple on the site is to begin this week. Back in November 2019, the Supreme Court also ordered authorities to provide land elsewhere for a new mosque. [AiR, No. 46, November/2019, 2]
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to attend the groundbreaking ceremony. His Bharatiya Janata Party has long advocated for a temple to be built on the spot where a Hindu mob, watched by some BJP leaders, demolished a more than 400-year-old mosque in 1992 sparking riots that left almost 2,000 dead. Hindu consider the site as the birthplace of their deity Rama. The BJP’s campaign for the temple reflects the current Indian government’s promotion of Hindu cultural nationalism, often limiting or even disregarding minority rights. [The Guardian] [Straits Times]
4 August 2020
India-China border tensions: India sends additional troops
(ls) India is positioning an additional 35,000 troops along its disputed Himalayan border with China. Though the two sides were disengaging in most locations after several rounds of high-level military talks, China had also increased its military presence with about 50,000 troops earlier. [AiR No. 30, July/2020, 4] The deployment comes as the Indian Army is already heavily committed, from protecting the disputed border with Pakistan, to counter insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and north eastern states and monitoring its border with China. [Bloomberg Quint]
Strengthening border defenses comes at huge cost and puts India’s military modernization program under pressure. In this regard, the first batch of five French-made Rafale fighter jets has arrived at an Indian Air Force base last week. The jets are part of a $9.4bn deal signed with France in 2016. India has become the world’s biggest arms importer. In early July, the government also approved the purchase of 21 Russian MiG-29 and 12 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter aircraft. [Al Jazeera]
A comparison of India’s capacities to China’s military aircraft power in the region can be found here: [Forbes]
28 July 2020
India: Continued political tensions in Rajasthan
(lf) On Monday, the High Court of India’s province Rajasthan heard and dismissed the petition of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker against the merger of six lawmaker of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with the ruling Congress party as well as against the Assembly Speaker’s “inaction” in not deciding on his plea seeking disqualification of the BSP legislators for their merger with the Congress. [Hindustan Times]
The case comes at a time when the Congress faces an internal crisis sparked by an internal split, which left the party under the leadership of Ashok Gehlot with 101 seats. The BJP, on the other hand, holds 75 seats, while the rebel faction under the leadership of former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot holds 22 seats. A tilt of six seats could tilt the political division in Rajasthan parliament. [last week’s report on the political crisis in Rajasthan AiR No. 29, July /2020, 3]
The BSP, which was founded 1984 represents people of the lower casts, as well as religious and social minorities. While the party doesn’t follow a specific political ideology it strongly opposes the cast system and voices outspoken criticism against the injustices created by the cast system. Core supporters of the BSP are mostly Dalits, people belonging to castes in India who have been subjected to untouchability. [Britannica]
28 July 2020
India and Indonesia agree on expanded security cooperation
(ls) India and Indonesia on Monday agreed to expand their strategic security cooperation in several areas, including the sharing of technology, on the occasion of a meeting of Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and his Indonesian counterpart General Prabowo Subianto in New Delhi. The two countries had signed a new defence cooperation agreement in 2018 during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia. The pact was aimed at reflecting the elevation of the relationship between the two countries to a comprehensive strategic partnership. [The Print]
Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) launched the Indonesian Maritime Information Center (IMIC) last week as part of efforts to support law enforcement at sea through exchanges of information to better fight smuggling, illegal fishing and other crimes at sea. The center is also meant to complement international maritime agencies operating in neighboring countries, such as the Information Fusion Center (IFC) in Singapore and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in Malaysia. [Benar News]
28 July 2020
Sri Lanka-India currency swap agreement signed
(cm) Last Friday, Rajapaksa sought monetary assistance from India through the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The president’s agreement was for the Reserve Bank of India to extend a 400-million-dollar currency swap to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) until November 2022. This would ultimately assist with CBSL balancing the country’s payment requirements. However, the agreement is a temporary ease to Sri Lanka’s public finances. [Colombo Page]
28 July 2020
Pakistan-India tension over case against Indian naval officer
(lf/lm) Last week, Asia in Review reported that Indian diplomats on July 16 had left an arranged meeting with former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who currently sits on death row in Pakistan, claiming that they had not been provided “unimpeded, unhindered and unconditional” consular access to Mr. Jadhav [see AiR No. 29, July /2020, 3]. In order to fulfill the 2019 ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ordered Islamabad to conduct an “effective review and reconsideration” of Mr. Jadhav’s conviction by “means of its own choosing”, Pakistan on Friday then offered third consular access to India. A day later, then, Islamabad unilaterally petitioned the Islamabad High Court, seeking appointment of a “legal representative” for Mr. Jadhav. [Times of India 1] [The Times of India]
Responding to Islamabad’s move, New Delhi on Thursday (July 23) accused Pakistan of being “non-serious in its approach”, adding that India was exploring available options in the matter. While New Delhi said it had appointed a Pakistani lawyer for Mr. Jadhav and approached the Islamabad High Court on July 18 to file a review petition challenging the death sentence, it still couldn’t file a petition “in the absence of power of attorney and supporting documents related to the case”. Pakistan last month had first announced that Mr. Jadhav had refused to lodge an appeal against his death sentence. In an immediate response, New Delhi had stated that Mr. Jadhav had been “obviously coerced” to forego his right to seek a “review and reconsideration” of his death sentence [see AiR No. 28, July/2020, 2] [Tribune], [Times of India]
The Pakistan government on Monday (July 27) tabled in Parliament the “International Court of Justice Review and Reconsideration Ordinance 2020”. Under the ordinance, which was enacted on May 20, a petition for the review of a military’s court decision can be made to the Islamabad High Court through an application within 60 days of its promulgation. Last week, a similar effort had been foiled by two major opposition parties – Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – which had staged a walkout from the assembly to protest against the government for “facilitating” the conviction of Mr. Jadhav. Speaking in the National Assembly on Friday, Pakistani Law Minister Farogh Naseem had then asked the opposition parties to “avoid politics” on the issue, saying that India would take the matter to the UN Security Council if the ICJ’s decision was not implemented. [Economic Times 2] [The Hindu]
28 July 2020
Pakistan, India relations further deteriorate over Kashmir
(lf/lm) With the first anniversary of India`s decision to revoke Article 370 of its Constitution, and to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories with a legislature looming [AiR No. 32, August/2019, 1], tension between the India and Pakistan continue to rise. The Indian army on Monday reportedly killed at least one Pakistani soldier and injured another eight in retaliatory fire along the Line of Control (LoC) that separates Pakistani and Indian-controlled Kashmir, after Pakistan allegedly resorted to unprovoked ceasefire violation in several areas of Jammu and Kashmir. [The Hindu]
Last week, Pakistan`s military had blamed India for an escalation in firing and shelling along the de facto border, accusing New Delhi of trying to distract from the unrest in the Indian administrated area of Kashmir. According to the commander of Pakistani troops in Kashmir, India has hitherto violated the ceasefire on almost 1,800 occasions in 2020, comparing to 3,500 incidents in 2019, when violations hit a more than decade-high peak. Fending off the allegations, New Delhi in response said that Pakistan’s military has violated the ceasefire on more than 2,500 occasions this year. [Reuters]
On Sunday, the Pakistani army said it had shot down another “spying quadcopter” after it had “intruded 200 meters inside Pakistan’s territory” along the LoC. This was the 10th quadcopter shot down by Pakistan’s army this year, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations, the armed forces’ media wing. [Anadolu Agency]
On Monday, Pakistan`s Senate unanimously passed a resolution lauding the “relentless” struggle of and conferring the country`s highest civilian award to Syed Ali Geelani, a veteran Kashmiri separatist, who has been under house arrest since August last year. Geelani also stepped down from the leadership of All Parties Hurriyat Conference last month, a conglomerate of several separatist parties in Jammu and Kashmir. The resolution, jointly moved by both the government and opposition benches, commended the ailing leader’s “unwavering commitment, dedication, perseverance and leadership,” and acknowledged his role in “exposing Indian atrocities, suppressive measures and human rights violations in Indian occupied Kashmir.” [Anadolu Agency] [Times of India]
The same day, India said it had lodged a strong protest with Pakistan over reports of attempts being made to convert a historic gurdwara – a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs – into a mosque. Pakistan was also called on to look after the safety, security and well-being of its minorities, including the protection of their religious rights and cultural heritage. Located in the eastern city of Lahore, Gurdwara Shahidi Asthan is a historical shrine built at the spot where prominent Sikh martyr Bhai Taru Singh sustained fatal injuries in 1745. [Hindustan Times] [The Indian Express]
28 July 2020
India-China relations: No more thinning out of troops in Eastern Ladakh region
(lf/lm) After last month’s clash in the Ladakh region’s Galwan Valley killed 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops [see e.g. AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1; AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2], the two countries are seemingly preparing for the long-haul on their disputed Himalayan frontier, despite reports of a disengagement at the site of their recent clash. After satellite images had captured the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deploying close to 50,000 troops in Aksai Chin, the Indian military on Monday responded in kind by also deploying additional weapons and troops to Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) to prevent any possible Chinese aggression from the north. [Hindustan Times]
After reviewing the situation in the border areas and the disengagement process in the Western sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), on Friday, China and India had originally agreed on an “early and complete disengagement” of troops to ensure the restoration of peace and smooth bilateral relations, according to the Indian government. Moreover, India said the two countries’ top military commanders were to meet again soon under the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) to “ensure expeditiously complete disengagement”. On Saturday, then, India`s northern army commander indicated that the situation along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh hasn`t returned to the status quo ante, saying that disengagement between Indian and Chinese soldiers deployed in forward positions at flashpoints along the de-facto border was a complex and intricate process that required diligent execution. [Reuters] [Hindustan Times]
In related news, the first five of 36 French Rafale fighter jets purchased by New Delhi in a controversial multibillion-dollar deal are expected to arrive in India this Wednesday, and are likely be deployed in the Ladakh sector by the second half of the next month. Contracted from France under a $9.4 billion Inter-Governmental Agreement signed in 2016, the deal has been shadowed by corruption allegations levelled by the opposition Congress party, though Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rejected the claims. Citing “critical operational requirements” along the country’s northern border, India earlier this month had announced the purchase of defence weapons and equipment worth around $40 million, in addition to the purchase of thirty-three Russian fighter jets. [AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5] [Al Jazeera] [The Hindu]
28 July 2020
India, Bangladesh tighten trade relations
(lf) India will hand over 10 railway locomotives to Bangladesh, as part of their neighbors first policy. This policy comes into place amidst the border standoff between China and India in Kashmir. Strengthen economic ties are supposed to work as a sort of bolster against China. The locomotives come after 50 containers containing fabric and food crossed to border to Bangladesh on Sunday. The railway initiative has a vital part in improving regional connectivity. [Hindustan Times]
21 July 2020
India: Rajasthan political crisis continues
(lf) Rajasthan’s political caused by a fight between the north-western state’s Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot, both from the Congress party, [AiR No. 28, July/ 2020, 2] continues. After Pilot, since removed as Deputy Chief Minister, and his supporters stayed absent from a party meeting last week, members of the Rajasthan Congress party have tried to remove him and other disloyal members from the legislature. [Times of India]
To this end, they attempted to lean on the 10th schedule of India’s constitution (para 2 (1)(a) and (b)) [MEA GOV], which specifies that a member of the legislature can be dismissed on grounds of defection – if either the member leaves voluntarily or decides to abstain or vote against a direction given by the party under what is commonly referred to as a “whip vote” (in which all members are asked to vote unanimously).
Congress argues that since those who decided not to be present in last week’s meeting – a crucial meeting on the party’s future by their own definition – gave up their membership voluntarily as they showed to no longer support the party and the state government it forms. Despite there not being a clear definition of what constitutes a member “voluntarily giving up membership”, some commentators see sufficient grounds here. [The Wire]
21 July 2020
India approves “urgent” arms purchases
(jk) The Indian Ministry of Defence announced last week that in addition to approving the purchase of thirty-three fighter jets from Russia earlier this month, the purchase of defence weapons and equipment for around $40 million has also been approved. The procurement is said to be needed in order to meet “critical operational requirements” due to the situation along the country’s northern borders. [Hindustan Times]
21 July 2020
India-Bhutan: New trade route opened
(ls) India and Bhutan have launched a new trade route between Jaigaon in West Bengal and Ahllay in Bhutan. It is aimed at facilitating the trade of goods and strengthening the sub-regional cooperation. Bhutan, which is in a border quarrel with China [AiR, No. 28, July/2020, 2], is a key buffer state between India and China and critical for India’s security in the region. [Economic Times]
21 July 2020
India-Bangladesh: Will border incidents harm relations?
(ls) Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister said that India’s Border Security Force should be cautious and use non-lethal weapons while guarding the common border. The comment came in response to a reported lynching of three Bangladesh citizens in India’s Assam state on Sunday. Police said that the three had come to steal cattle. Moreover, there have been several shooting incidents at the India-Bangladesh border over the course of recent years. [The Hindu]
At the same time, however, Bangladesh and India have upgraded their trade relations and concluded several cooperation agreements for some years. In October 2019, for instance, Standard Operating Procedures for the use of ports for movement of goods to and from India were concluded. In 2015, the two countries had signed an agreement on coastal shipping. [Economic Times]
For insights into recent Pakistani diplomatic efforts to push for a reset of relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan in the wake of uncertain India-Pakistan relations see [Tribune].
21 July 2020
India–Pakistan relations further strained by spying case
(lf) Indian diplomats left a meeting arranged by Pakistan with the former Indian naval officer Kulbhusan Jadhav who currently sits on death row in Pakistan for espionage. They claimed that they were not provided unhindered consular access. [Reuters]
Jadhav stated last week not to file a review of his case [see AiR No. 28, July/2020,2]. He had been arrested in 2016. India took the case to the International Court of Justice, which stalled the execution and asked Pakistan to review the death penalty while at the same time allowing India full consular access. Relations between India and Pakistan had already been tense since both countries expelled diplomatic staff over corruption allegations earlier this year. [see AiR No. 26/2020, 5]
21 July 2020
US Carrier Strike Group (CSG) exercises with Indian Navy amid prospects of Australian participation in Malabar exercise
(jk) Earlier this week, the US CSG lead by the USS Nimitz engaged in a number of military drills in cooperation with the Indian Navy “in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific” [US INDO PACOM]. The Nimitz CSG had just concluded dual CSG exercises (together with the USS Theodore Roosevelt) in the Philippine Sea last month [US Seventh Fleet], and has in previous years also taken part in India’s Malabar multilateral navy exercises.
With regard to those and last week’s news on Indian intentions to invite the Australian Navy to join the upcoming instalment of the exercises (Australia forms together with India, the US and Japan the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or “Quad”) [Asia in Review No. 28, July/2020, 2], a meeting of India’s Ministry of Defence further discussed the issue and, while still no formal decision was reached, the invitation appears increasingly likely. [The Hindu]
Notwithstanding Australia not participating in the exercises in previous years either due to their own withdrawal or lack of invitation, bilateral (including naval) cooperation between the two countries is very much ongoing (see for instance AUSINDEX naval exercise) and took another deepening step last month when the two signed an arrangement concerning “Mutual Logistics Support” which agreed on reciprocal access to each other’s military bases. [Asia Nikkei]
All Quad members share similar concepts and visions for a free and open Indo Pacific and its undergoing resurgence underpins ever growing apprehensions vis-à-vis a more assertive People’s Republic of China.
14 July 2020
UP launches judicial probe into criminal Vikas Dubey’s rise and alleged nexus with the police
(lm) The Uttar Pradesh government sets up a one-member judicial panel to probe the death of criminal Vikas Dubey. The inquiry by a retired High Court judge will also examine all aspects of the deaths of eight policemen in a shoot-out with Dubey`s gang in Kanpur earlier this month. Additionally, a Special Investigation Team is supposed to look into the said shoot-out. [The Indian Express] [The Times of India]
The top suspect in the ambush killings of eight police officers on July 2 and dozens of other crimes, Vikas Dubey last Thursday had given himself up, after he had been on the run for nearly a week. On Friday, then, he was fatally shot by police officers while allegedly trying to flee, after the police vehicle carrying him had overturned on a highway. As Dubey was believed to have links with state politicians and the police, the commission`s brief is to unearth how Dubey and his associates allegedly formed a nexus with police personnel and officials and other departments. In the wake of the shoot-out, two police officers were arrested for allegedly tipping Dubey off, and are being probed for links with the criminal. [SCMP] [BBC] [For more information on Vikas Dubey see: The Indian Express]
The killing of Vikas Dubey by the Uttar Pradesh Police is the latest in a string of events that have put the spotlight back on executive killings and deaths in police custody, after the deaths of son and father last month. [AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5] [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1]
14 July 2020
UN report on repressive COVID-19 responses: China, India, Cambodia, and Myanmar singled out as Asian examples for crackdown on free speech
(jn) The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, voiced serious concerns over new state measures restricting and punishing the free flow of information globally while presenting his latest report on freedom of expression and disease pandemics to the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Many states had used the pandemic as a front to crack down on journalism and silence criticism.
According to the Special Rapporteur states should address the following five challenges:
- “Reinforce access to information and share as much as possible about the course of the disease and the tools people should use to protect themselves and their communities.
- End the practice of internet shutdowns and other limitations on access to the internet.
- Refrain from all attacks on the media and release all journalists detained, […].
- Do not treat the so-called infodemic as a problem that criminalisation will solve. […].
- Ensure that any public health surveillance measures are consistent with fundamental legal standards of necessity and proportionality and are transparent, non-discriminatory, limited in duration and scope, subject to oversight, and never be used to criminalise individuals.”
Cambodia’s mission to the UN in Geneva immediately denounced the Kingdom’s mention as misleading and faulty. It said that Kaye failed to recognize that the government was simply intensifying its efforts in containing disinformation and fake news amid the pandemic. [Phnom Penh Post]
The Special Rapporteurs are the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system and part of the Special Procedures off the Human Rights Council which is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
For an interview with David Kaye on “COVID-19 and freedom of expression” see [Just Security].
14 July 2020
Cambodia on track to several new bilateral free trade agreements
(jn) Cambodia is on the verge of either initiating or concluding talks on bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) with three Asian nations:
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is scheduled to sign an FTA in Beijing on 12 August. The FTA is expected to further deepen relations between Cambodia and China, boosting agricultural trade and building on existing trade ties.
The deal can be seen as another sign of the intensifying relationship with China that has become the Kingdom’s largest investor and its geopolitical backer in contrast to the West and sometimes even ASEAN.
According to government figures, bilateral trade in 2018 was around $7.4 billion and heavily skewed towards China that accounted for more than 80 percent of trade. Cambodia exported around $800 million, mostly in agricultural products, and imported large quantities of raw materials for the manufacturing and construction sectors.
This FTA is Cambodia’s first bilateral trade agreement with a foreign country and was negotiated against the backdrop of growing Chinese influence and investments in Cambodia’s economy. It has thus sparked not only concerns about China bear-hugging Cambodia and benefiting disproportionately, but also that it would do nothing to raise labor and environmental standards.
At the same time, on said 12 August when the FTA with China is expected to be signed, Cambodia is likely to see its long-standing ties with the European Union further decline with the expected partial suspension of the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade privileges. In a press release in February, the European Commission announced that it had decided to withdraw part of the tariff preferences granted to Cambodia under the EU’s EBA trade scheme due to the serious and systematic violations of human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The withdrawal and replacement with the EU’s standard tariffs (“Most Favored Nation”) will affect selected garment and footwear products, travel goods and sugar. The goods in question amount to about one-fifth or €1 billion of annual exports to the EU. The new tariff regime will take effect unless the European Parliament or the Council object.
The Cambodian Minister of Commerce said that in a meeting with the Indian ambassador to Cambodia on Wednesday they had discussed the possibility of concluding a Cambodia-India bilateral FTA. They had agreed to strengthen bilateral trade relations by establishing a Cambodia-India Joint Trade and Investment Working Group to facilitate trade and investment between the two states.
According to data from the Indian embassy in Cambodia, the trade volume between the two countries reached almost $250 million in 2019, up by more than 10 per cent compared to 2018. Cambodia exported goods to India worth about $80 million last year, up about 70 per cent from 2018, while imports amounted to almost $170 million, down 5.8 per cent. India invests almost $20 million annually, being among the top ten foreign investors in Cambodia. [The Star]
Cambodia and South Korea agreed last Thursday to start official negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), with a first round of talks expected later this month.
A statement by the South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy said that amid the spread of Covid-19 it had become more important for South Korea to expand cooperation with Southeast Asian countries. He said that FTA negotiations with Cambodia could potentially make it a future hub of production and trade among the ASEAN nations. The two countries would make efforts to come up with a meaningful result within this year.
The countries’ bilateral trade volume was at $1 billion last year, a six per cent annual growth since 2018, according to the Korea International Trade Association. Cambodia exported $336 million worth of goods to South Korea last year and had imports as high as $700 million. [Phnom Penh Post]
14 July 2020
Sri Lanka reviews Colombo Port Deal amidst rising tensions between India and China
(lf) President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has recently issued examinations and reports from five designated committee members, within 45 days, that lays out maximum benefits towards Sri Lanka in regards to the East Container Terminal (ECT) at Colombo Port. The development of the ECT is an agreement between Japan, India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka wants guarantee of full control of the facility. The port customarily “handles more than 7 million twenty-foot equivalent units of cargo annually”.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka’s government is additionally reviewing an existing port deal that was signed between India and the Sirisena Government in the past. This could potentially hinder India relations as Sri Lanka is amidst the China and India tensions. Sri Lanka is currently under debt to China. Especially since China assisted Sri Lanka in many financial crises, one of them being COVID-19. [Nikkei Asia Review] [SCMP]
14 July 2020
India – EU: Talks about free trade deal
(lf) India and the EU have opened talks about a free trade deal. While the ultimate goal of the meeting is to come to a free trade deal between the EU and India, a preferential trade agreement is also acceptable according to the Indian ministry of trade. The last trade agreements stalled in 2013, and since then no trade agreement has been made between the two. Furthermore, the Ministry states it is looking at finding a free trade agreement with the UK. Since economic relations are strained with India´s neighbour China, due to the political tensions, India is looking at the EU to boosts its economy. [Times of India] [Reuters]
14 July 2020
Nepal-Indian relation further deteriorate
(lf/lm) Nepal’s diplomatic gap with India continued to widen over the course of last week, as New Delhi on June 24 sent a diplomatic note to Nepal to protest Kathmandu`s decision to unilaterally change the country`s map, showing the disputed territories of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani within its borders. [The Himalayan Times] [AiR No. 22, June/2020, 1], [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3]
On Thursday, then, Nepal Cable TV operators stopped airing Indian news channels, accusing them of airing reports hurting the country’s national sentiment. Nepal also sent a diplomatic note to India, urging New Delhi to take steps against the broadcast of materials what it called “fake, baseless and insensitive as well as abusive” to the country and its leadership by a section of the Indian media. [NY Times] [Al Jazeera]
In the light of most recent events, observers urge India not to burn all the bridges between Kathmandu and New Delhi, as the dispute already pushed Nepal closer to China. Over the past months, the Chinese Ambassador to Kathmandu, Hou Yanqi, has been going door-to-door, paying visits to leaders of Nepal`s ruling Communist Party (NCP) in order to prevent a split and save Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s job. [AiR No. 27, July/2020, 1] [Business Standard]
14 July 2020
Former India navy officer allegedly refuses to appeal spying death sentence in Pakistan
(lm) Former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who currently is on death row in Pakistan, has refused to lodge an appeal against his conviction, and instead chose to “follow-up” on his pending “mercy” petition. [The Straits Times]
In May 2017, India had approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with a request for immediate stay on the death sentence a Pakistani military court had handed down against Mr Jadhav on charges of “espionage and terrorism” in April 2017. Last year in July, then, the ICJ ruled that Islamabad had breached its obligations under the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations by denying consular access to Mr Jadhav. While it did not upheld India’s petition to annul the sentence, the ICJ found that Pakistan was under an obligation to conduct an “effective review and reconsideration” of Jadhav’s conviction by “means of its own choosing”. [ICJ] [The Wire 1]
In keeping with the ICJ`s decision, Islamabad reportedly offered Mr Jadhav on May 17 2020 to file an appeal in the Islamabad High Court, and enacted an Ordinance three days thereafter. The official also stated that Pakistan had “repeatedly written to the Indian High Commission to file a petition in the Islamabad High Court and to initiate the process of review and reconsideration of the sentence and conviction of Commander Jadhav before the deadline”, and had further “offered a second consular access to India”. In August 2019, Pakistan had allowed an Indian diplomat to meet with the incarcerated Mr Jadhav for the first time in three years. The meeting, however, was recorded and held in the presence of Pakistani officials. [The Hindu]
India`s response, in a statement issued on Wednesday night, did not comment on the second consular access offer, but outrightly dismissed Pakistan’s Ordinance saying that Mr Jadhav had “clearly been coerced” into not appealing against his 2017 conviction. Describing the Ordinance as violating the ICJ judgement, New Delhi further said Islamabad would continue to “to deny India free and unimpeded access” to Mr Jadhav. [The Wire 2] [read the full statement here: Hindustan Times]
14 July 2020
India to invite Australia for naval drill
(lm) Amid ongoing tensions with China, India is reportedly planning to invite Australia to join its annual Malabar naval exercises in the Bay of Bengal at the end of this year. The hitherto-trilateral exercise thus will for the first time ever bring together all four members of the regional grouping known as the Quad (India, Japan, Australia, USA) to engage at a military level. [The Straits Times] [SCMP]
A formal invitation is yet to be issued, but New Delhi is expected to clear the way this week following a final government clearance and consultations with the USA and Japan. In early June, both sides had already agreed to improve their defence cooperation at a virtual summit. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]
Considering the timing of the invitation, New Delhi seems willing to strengthen its relationship with other Asia-Pacific countries by putting away its defensiveness on choosing its partners for security cooperation. In June, within days of each other, two Quad member states – Australia and Japan – had already announced their intentions to boost defence spending and switch to a more aggressive footing. [The Indian Express] [Al Jazeera] [AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5]
The inclusion of the Australian navy would represent a significant step forward for both countries’ rapprochement in the framework of the ‘Quad’ after Australian navy sources informally expressed disappointment with not being invited in the past.
14 July 2020
South Korea-India relations: Defense ministers vow to beef up cooperation
(yo) The Defense Ministers of South Korea and India last week held pone talks and reassured to bolster ties and increase cooperation in combating non-traditional security threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and cyber threats. Both sides also discussed the possibility of other collaborative initiatives, including defence cooperation of the armed forces and defence technology. [Yonhap News] [DNA India]
14 July 2020
Indian Congress Party under stress in Rajasthan, removing Deputy Chief Minister
(lf/lm) India’s National Congress (INC) may see another major political setback, as the Congress-led state government in Rajasthan currently finds itself in the midst of a political crisis that bears resemblance to the situation that brought down the party`s government in Madhya Pradesh earlier this year. On Tuesday, the party removed hitherto-Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot from the State Cabinet as well as from the Pradesh Congress Committee President post, citing Pilot`s alleged attempts to topple the state government. [The Hindu] [AiR No. 11, March/2020, 3] [AiR No. 14, April/2020, 1]
The latest round of political uncertainty was triggered by a statement released by 20 Congress lawmakers on Friday, accusing the (state) opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of conspiring to overthrow the state government by “luring” Congress lawmakers to switch sides. Responding to the allegations, the BJP denied that it was involved in horse-trading. [The Wire]
Tensions between Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot had already been ripe ever since the Congress High Command gave Mr Gehlot a third shot at Chief Ministership in 2018, despite Mr Pilot heading the Rajasthan Congress since 2014, after it had suffered one of its worst defeats under Gehlot. The straw that broke the camel`s back came later on Friday, when Mr Pilot was summoned by the Rajasthan Anti-Terror Squad and the Special Operations Group, after Mr Gehlot had issued orders to question the Deputy Chief Minister in an investigation into the alleged attempts to topple the Congress-led state government. While Mr Gehlot later said that he too had received summons for questioning, lawmakers close to Mr Pilot called it a “joke” designed to “humiliate” the Deputy Chief Minister and to “undermine” his authority. [India Today] [Indian Express 1] [Indian Express 2]
While Chief Minister Gehlot on Sunday called for a Congress Legislature Party meeting at his residence in the state capital of Jaipur on Monday morning, Mr Pilot and a group of legislators loyal to him flew to Delhi. In a statement issued late on Sunday, his camp announced that the Gehlot-led government was in minority, after 30 legislators in the 200-member assembly had chosen to back the Deputy Chief Minister. At a press conference on Monday, however, All India Congress Committee (AICC) Secretary General Avinash Pande brushed off Mr Pilot`s assertions, saying that 109 MLAs were in support of the Gehlot-led state government, and further claiming that more legislators would follow. [Hindustan Times] [NDTV]
14 July 2020
India asks court to stymie potential challenge to Chinese app ban
(lm) India’s government filed a caveat at the State Court of Rajasthan to prevent a ruling in favour of the Chinese companies whose apps it recently outlawed. While none of the companies has hitherto mounted legal action, the filing suggests that New Delhi expects one or more of them to attempt to obtain an injunction to block the order. [Reuters] [AiR No. 26, June/2020, 5]
14 July 2020
India arrests 12 LG Polymer officials for gas leak at chemical plant
(lm) The Indian police last Tuesday arrested 12 LG Polymers officials, including its South Korean CEO, two months after toxic styrene gas has leaked from the company`s chemical plant in Visakhapatnam, leaving 15 dead and hundreds hospitalised. The arrests were made under cases of culpable homicide, filed against the company’s South Korean parent, LG Chem Ltd, in wake of the incident in May. [The Straits Times 1] [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2][The Straits Times 2] [The Indian Express] [BBC]
In June, India’s National Green Tribunal had already invoked a “strict liability” clause against LG Polymers and ordered the company to deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 crore, after finding the company liable for loss of life, negative effects on public health and ecological damage caused by the gas leak. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]
7 July 2020
India-Italy relations: Permanent Court of Arbitration clears Italians from criminal liability in India
(lf) The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague has passed the jurisdiction over the prosecution of two Italian navy officers from India to Italy. The two marines had been under prosecution in India for shooting two Indian fishermen in 2012. Italy claims that they shot the fishermen as they thought them to be pirates coming approaching the Italian oil tanker they were stationed on. In addition, they claim to have fired warning shots before shooting the fishermen.
While Italy claims jurisdiction due to the incident having happened in international waters, India argues that it occurred in Indian waters. Consequently, Italy field a case with the PCA in 2015. The PCA now ruled that both marines were immune from Indian jurisdiction. Nonetheless, the court ordered Italy to pay reparations to India.
The incident has caused tensions in India-Italy relations. The marines have spent years imprisoned in India without being charged before they could leave to Italy due to medical reasons. When India initially refused to release one of the marines when he got sick, Italy threatened to remove its ambassador in New Delhi. Italy has regarded the incident as a breach of the international law of the sea. However, both India and Italy stated they were open to meet for negotiations. [Deutsche Welle] [Aljazeera]
7 July 2020
India-China standoff: Economic consequences
(lf/ls) After India banned 59 Chinese apps last week, the first consequences are becoming visible. Not only will the Chinese-owned company which operates TikTok see losses up to $6 billion as India is one of the biggest markets for the app, with double the downloads in a recent month than the US. The ban has also already taken a direct effect on millions of Indian content creators who are unable to use the app, some of which used TikTok to generate income.
The apps were banned under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act 2000. This allows the blocking to protect the security of the state, the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order. The decision to block is an executive procedure. A review committee can be called for appeal. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled the Section constitutional and clarified that blocking orders can be challenged in India’s High Courts. [The Print]
The ban sets a possible precedence for other countries to follow. US American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised the ban. Experts fear a separation of the internet into national units and a limit of the freedom of the Internet, consequently. [Wired] [Forbes]
The deadly clash between India and China which resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers has resulted in Indian calls to ban trade with China. Trade frictions can already be felt in India as imports from China undergo strict checks at Indian ports. A complete trade ban, however, seems unfeasible. The two nations are close trading partners and China is India’s biggest importer. A trade war between the countries would be costly for both countries, especially since the respective national economies are already experiencing a slowing in growth due to the economic crisis produced by Covid19. [Deutsche Welle] [Straits Times]
7 July 2020
India-China standoff: China pulls back troops as Modi visits the region
(lf/ls) Since tensions between India and China at the Line of Actual Control in disputed Ladakh had resulted in the deadliest clashes in decades, China has apparently begun to move troops away from the Galwan Valley. The Chinese foreign ministry stated that it hoped to ease the tensions with this move and meet India halfway in negotiations. After weeks of tight tensions between the two countries, this is the first sign of an easing. Both sides have agreed that the disengagement process should be done “expeditiously”. [Aljazeera] [Straits Times]
On Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to the Himalayan border region and met with troops, including soldiers who had been wounded in the clash. He said, “this is the age of development. Whenever a country has been consumed by expansionism, it has posed a threat to humanity and has destroyed the world. History is a witness that expansionist forces either lose or turn back.” [South China Morning Post]
Meanwhile, new details of the incident have emerged from Reuters journalists’ interviews with relatives of some of the 20 Indian soldiers who died in the latest clash in June. The brutalities described there, however, raise even more questions about the intentions and goals pursued on both sides. China and India continue to blame each other for the incident. [Reuters]
For reflections of the current India-China tensions at the United Nations see Devirupa Mitra at [The Wire] who describes India’s strategic behavior vis-à-vis the West and China in the context of the compilation of the Declaration of Commemoration of the United Nations’ 75th anniversary, where India joined the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand in successfully rejecting a version of the declaration which contained the words ‘’shared vision for a common future”, a reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s concept of the global order.
7 July 2020
Japan: Strengthening intelligence sharing with the United Kingdom, Australia, and India
(mp) In the light of China´s steady maneuvers in critical territories such as the East and the South China Sea, Japan expands its collaboration with intelligence services of partners like the United Kingdom, Australia, and India. The corporations aim to guarantee and encourage secure data exchange between the allies by setting up severe penalties for leaking classified secrets of military relevance. The measures will, for instance, facilitate the sharing of Chinese troop movements and hostile activities.
Japan further intends to involve the United Kingdom in future purchases of next-generation fighter jets. [Nikkei Asian Review]
7 July 2020
India: Five policemen arrested over deaths in custody
(lf) Last week, AiR reported on the growing protests in India over the death of a father and his son, shortly after they had been released from prison [AiR No 26, June/ 2020, 5]. This week, five policemen involved in the incident have been arrested and charged with murder by a local court. Several other members of the police station in the Indian state Tamil Nandu have been transferred and replaced with other officers. The family of the deceased had accused the police officers of torturing the father-son duo to death.
Police violence is a widespread phenomenon in India. According to a report under the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT), around five people a day have died in custody in India in 2019, amounting to a total number of 1,723. These deaths occur primarily due to torture. The report states that torture is used either as punishment or to gather information. [UNCAT Report] [BBC]
7 July 2020
Bangladesh-India border trade resumes after impasse
(yo) Bangladesh and India have agreed to resume cross-border trade. After a 2-month break due to COVID-19, trade was scheduled to continue on June 7th, but while Indian trucks crossed Bangladeshi borders, Bangladeshi trucks were blocked. Bangladesh responded with a lockdown and an embargo on Indian freight the past few weeks as a protest against India’s unilateral move. Now a consensus in has been reached and the two nations have agreed to resume trade. [Anadolu Agency]
30 June 2020
India bans Chinese-made apps, as tensions with Beijing further deteriorate
(lf/lm) Citing security concerns, the Indian government on Monday announced that it had blacklisted 59 apps, including popular platforms such as the messenger WeChat and the social media platform TikTok. Although the order did not explicitly mention China by name, it is only Chinese-made apps that have been blacklisted. The decision is therefore considered to be part of sweeping anti-China measures, after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the confrontation with Chinese troops along their disputed Himalayan border earlier this month. [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] [The Guardian] [Reuters]
Earlier, the Indian government had already announced plans to impose higher trade barriers and raise import duties on about 300 products from China, as well as entertained the idea to bar Chinese companies from bidding on 5G infrastructure projects in India. Further, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade is preparing a list of low-quality imports from China to be substituted with imports from other countries or manufactured locally, according to government officials. [The Economic Times 1] [The Wire]
Earlier last week, the Delhi Hotel and Restaurant Owners’ Association, which represents more than 3,000 establishments in the capital, announced that Chinese nationals will no longer be provided accommodation in hotels and guest houses owned by its members. [The Times of India] [hindustantimes]
For an analysis on the current standoff between China and India in the border dispute see Tanvi Madan at [Foreign Affairs] who concludes that the fatal clashes in mid-June has reflected a new quality of the Sino-Indian border conflict which makes an agreement only a “distant possibility”. In the meantime, India “will warily watch its mountainous northern border for any sign of Chinese aggression.”
30 June 2020
India asks Pakistan to cut embassy staff by half over spying charges
(lm) India last Tuesday summoned Pakistan’s Charge d’Affaires and asked him to halve the strength of Pakistan’s High Commission in Delhi within seven days, saying it would do the same in for the Indian mission in Islamabad. New Delhi justified the decision by accusing Indian diplomats of spying and dealing with terrorists, and further expressing concerns over the alleged torture of two Indian staffers working at India’s embassy to Pakistan who were arrested following an alleged hit-and-run in Islamabad last week. According to the Indian Foreign Ministry, the two men returned to India last Monday after they had been detained by Pakistani authorities, where they “provided graphic details of the barbaric treatment that they experienced”. [Al Jazeera] [The Tribune] [SCMP] [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3]
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry in a statement on Tuesday brushed aside the mistreatment allegations saying its staff in New Delhi had maintained compliance with diplomatic conventions and international law. On Thursday, then, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in an interview accused India of trying to divert attention at home after Indian troops got a “battering” at the hands of Chinese forces in a clash on their disputed Himalayan border. [The Straits Times] [Reuters] [SCMP]
30 June 2020
India asks Russia to speed up delivery of missile system, jets amid China border tensions
(lm) Amid worsening ties with China following the worst military face-off between the Asian nations in four decades, India is reportedly seeking an early supply of a Russian anti-aircraft missile defence system – currently set for December 2021 – and to speed up the purchase of Russian made fighter jets. Visiting Moscow to attend the 75thanniversary of the Victory Day Parade, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh also met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to ask Russia to speed up the delivery of the S-400 deal that was originally signed in 2018. [Bloomberg] [The Hindu]
30 June 2020
UN experts urge India to release protest leaders
(lm) A group of UN human rights experts on Friday called on India to release activists who had been arrested last February for protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). “These defenders, many of them students, appear to have been arrested simply because they exercised their right to denounce and protest against the CAA,” the press statement released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said.[UN]
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, passed into law by India’s federal parliament in December 2019, lays out a path to citizenship for people who came to India from one of the following three neighbouring countries while fleeing persecution: Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. However, citizenship can be granted provided that they had arrived before 2015, and that they are of any other religious community in those countries apart from the Muslim one. This last caveat triggered mass protests across India and resulted in a fierce police crackdown.
During the nationwide protests against the CAA, targeted violence against Muslims had erupted in February in capital New Delhi in which 53 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. Several anti-CAA activists were arrested in connection with the New Delhi violence and later charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), a stringent anti-terror law. [AiR No. 9, March/2020, 1]
30 June 2020
Nepal further stirs anti-Indianism with controversial Cross-Border Marriage Bill
(lm) Amidst ongoing border tensions with India, Nepal’s ruling Communist Party (NCP) on Sunday introduced a long-dormant Citizenship Bill to Parliament. The revised bill mandates foreign women married to Nepali men to wait seven years before becoming naturalized residents, while at the same time not granting Nepali women the right to similarly extend their citizenship to foreign husbands. The bill was recently approved by the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee and is now expected to pass in the lower and upper houses. [The EurAsian Times] [The Times of India]
As cross-border marriage is particularly prevalent along a southern plane known as the Terai region, pro-India opposition parties Nepali Congress (NC) and Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSP) issued a note of dissent, citing fears that an amended citizenship law would ultimately reduce the population of the Terai region and diminish the plane’s political sway. [The Himalayan Times]
30 June 2020
India: Workers’ rights under lockdown pressure
(dql) In this critical analysis at [IPS], Sanjay Karpor argues that Modi’s coronavirus lockdown has not only led to an economic disaster, but also to worker’s rights coming under attack with – among others – shifts having been increased from 8 to 12 hours, welfare schemes withdrawn and safety standards have been lowered.
30 June 2020
India: Outrage mounts over police custody deaths
(lm) The death of a father-son duo in police custody has sparked outrage and a debate on custodial deaths in India, with many drawing parallels with the killing of George Floyd in the United States.
According to a first information report, father and son were arrested on June 19 for allegedly keeping their store open past permitted hours in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which is still observing a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Both men died in hospital a few days later, with their family alleging in written complaints that they had been subjected to brutal torture and sexual abuse. The deaths in the small town of Sathankulam have generated waves of uproar on social media, and shops in Tamil Nadu were shut on Wednesday in protest. [Reuters] [SCMP] [DW]
The state government announced on Sunday that it had appealed to the Madras High Court to transfer the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). On Tuesday, then, citing the post-mortem report, the Madras High Court said it had sufficient grounds to press murder charges against three policemen allegedly involved in the incident. Another three officers will be facing contempt action for reportedly trying to obstruct the Judicial Magistrate’s inquiry by destroying evidence and attempting to intimidate the judicial team. [NDTV]
23 June 2020
Bangladesh: China offers tariff exemption of exports from Dhaka amid tensions with India
(yo) China has declared tariff exemption according to which 97% of Bangladesh’s products will receive tariff exemption, which is a significant trade boost for Bangladesh. The decision is expected to counter the economic impact that Bangladesh is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Asian African Conference, Xi Jinping announced China will provide duty free market access for 97% of exports within a year for the Least Developed Countries (LDC) that have ongoing diplomatic connections with Beijing. [Business Insider]
This development can be interpreted as a way to influence Bangladesh, which has been a strong regional ally of India. It needs to be noted that China reported this deal when there has been rising hostility between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh. [Times of India]
Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K Abdul Momen said that the Indian media was unjustly undermining Bangladesh by writing that China was using charity to buy Bangladesh on its side as tensions rise in Ladakh. However, Bangladesh’s cooperation with China has intensified in other areas, such as in health. China has said that Bangladesh would be considered with priority when an anti-COVID-19 vaccine is developed. [The Hindu]
23 June 2020
23 June 2020
India elected as non-permanent UN Security Council member
(ls) India has been elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for a two-year term, securing 184 of 192 votes. The term will begin on 1 January 2021. Along with India, Ireland, Mexico, Norway and Kenya were also elected. The terms of Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa are ending this year. [Firstpost]
India has long been criticizing the composition of the UN Security Council, demanding a permanent seat for the second most populous country of the world. The Diplomat looks at the impact that India’s membership may have on the conflict with Pakistan in Kashmir. [The Diplomat]
23 June 2020
India-China tensions: India changes rules of engagement after deadly clash with Chinese troops
(ls/lf) India has changed the rules of engagement for its troops that are deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan valley between China and India after deadly clashes between the two sides. The revised rules now allow soldiers to open fire in extraordinary circumstances, which departs from a 1998 agreement between India and China, titled Confidence-Building Measures (CBM) in the Military Field, which prohibits open fire within 2 kilometers of the LAC. [Straits Times]
Since the first casualties were reported last week [AiR No. 24, June/ 2020, 3], the number of deaths has risen. India’s government confirmed that at least 20 soldiers have died in the dispute. The Indian army had initially reported three deaths, but this rose after a further 17 succumbed to their injuries from the physical fight without guns fired. The number of fatalities on the Chinese side are yet unclear, but the Chinese foreign ministry confirmed deaths on both sides. [DW]
Chinese foreign Minister Zhao Lijian has accused Indian soldiers of provoking the incident by several crossings of soldiers at an already tense time. Furthermore, Zhao accused India of provoking the tensions by constructing roads and infrastructure projects in the disputed Galwan valley. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has blamed the construction of a barrier along LAC by the Chinese as reason for the escalation. [BBC 1] [BBC2]
Modi has been criticized at home for insisting that “nobody has intruded into our border, neither is anybody there now, nor have our posts been captured.” The opposition asked how the incident could occur despite satellite imagery apparently showing Chinese movements ahead of the clash. Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said that army generals had confirmed Chinese intrusions. [Hindustan Times] [Reuters]
Local trade groups and officials in India have demanded boycotts of Chinese-made products and urged new reviews of Chinese investment following the escalation. India just tightened its investment laws in April, introducing the necessity of government approvals. Significant procedural slowdowns due to the measures then led to partly revisions. [South China Morning Post]
16 June 2020
Nepal I: Lawmakers endorse map including disputed territory with India
(lm) Nepal’s parliament’s upper chamber on Sunday endorsed a proposal to consider a constitutional amendment to formalise and extend Kathmandu’s territorial claims over the Lipulekh Pass and other mountain territory claimed by both India and Nepal. The decision came a day after the Parliament’s lower house on Saturday had unanimously passed the constitutional amendment, paving the way for altering the Himalayan nation’s political map. Before it becomes part of the constitution, the revised map will also have to pass the National Assembly and be approved by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. [SCMP] [Reuter]
The cross-party endorsement of a new administrative map prompted an angry response from India. In a statement issued on Saturday, India’s foreign ministry spokesman denounced Kathmandu’s effort to lay claim to what New Delhi describes as “Indian territory”. [Financial Times]
Nepal decided to issue its revised political map in May after New Delhi earlier last month opened a new Himalayan link road connecting its northern Uttarakhand state with Lipulekh on the border with Tibet that passes through the disputed area of Kalapani. [AiR No. 20, May/2020, 3] [AiR No. 22, June/2020, 1]
16 June 2020
India II: Two Indian embassy staffers released in Islamabad after being detained over alleged hit-and-run incident
(lm) Two Indian staffers working at India’s embassy to Pakistan have been released on Monday evening after they were detained by Pakistani authorities in relation to an alleged hit-and-run vehicle-pedestrian accident earlier that day. [CNN]
Alarm was raised Monday morning when Indian media outlets reported that two Indian diplomatic officers had gone missing in Islamabad, further suggesting that the case was related to the recent expulsion by New Delhi of two Pakistani diplomatic officials accused of spying. [Times of India] [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]
According to a police report the duo – later identified as a driver and a security officer – was speeding, crashed into a pedestrian, and then caught trying to flee the scene of the incident. India later summoned Pakistan’s envoy in Delhi and issued a demarche to him over the reported arrest, and the two men were released later on Monday. [The Tribune] [BBC]
16 June 2020
India I: First fatalities in India-China tension, despite talks to further resolve border flare-up
(lm) Three Indian soldiers have been killed during a “violent face-off” with Chinese forces along the countries’ unmarked boundary in the Galwan area late Monday, Indian Army spokesman Col. Aman Anand said on Tuesday afternoon. According to the statement, the soldiers were not shot but were killed in hand-to-hand combat that involved stones and batons. Senior military officials from both sides were reportedly “meeting to defuse the situation”. [BBC] [Al Jazeera]
The sudden escalation on Monday night comes just days after Indian government officials had reported that both sides were making headway in follow-up dialogues to the meeting between senior military commanders on June 6. Earlier last week, Indian defence officials had reported that Chinese troops were observed to have “thinned” out in at least four stand-off points, a confidence-building gesture which was reciprocated by India. These reports had also indicated that both sides had agreed to continue engaging at the level of local military officials to resolve the dispute throughout the week. [Reuters]
Although India’s initial readout following the Sino-Indian talks on June 6 had not given any indication of an agreement on a gradual dis-engagement, defence sources by the end of the week indicated through leaks to media that at the Galwan area, the disengagement had happened earlier and in Gogra and at Patrolling Points 15 and 17A, the limited “de-induction” was already underway. [The Hindu]
Media readouts following the high-level military and diplomatic talks, however, have noted that there has been no change in status at Finger 4, the mountain spur Pangong Tso, where Chinese troops have intruded India’s side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and that no joint statement was released after the series of Sino-Indian ground talks on Saturday. [The Wire]
Despite the ongoing series of bilateral consultations, India reportedly is looking to complete the construction of its strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulet Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road until years-end. Running almost parallel to the LAC, the DSDBO is an all-weather artery that provides a reduction in time of travel for Indian security forces moving from Leh to Daulat Beg Oldi, the northernmost corner of Indian territory. Among possible triggers cited for the most recent military contention, diverging apprehensions on border infrastructure along the unmarked boundary seems to be the most consequential. [India Today]
Indian opposition leaders in the meantime have needled Indian Prime Minister Modi on the topic, with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday taking on Twitter allegations that the Prime Minister had “vanished from the scene” in the face of “Chinese aggression”. While more Sino-India ground level talks are expected to take place, Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi are scheduled to meet at a virtual Russia-India-China trilateral on June 22. [National Herald] [The Times of India]
9 June 2020
India-China border tensions
(lf/ls/dql) The People´s Liberation Army of China has held a large-scale drill at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh. This came after talks between India and China over the weekend had resulted in an agreement to not let the tensions escalate into a dispute. India reportedly aimed to demand from China that the two militaries would go back to the positions that they had held before the stand-off commenced in late April [Asia in Review No 20 /2020, 3] and for the Chinese side to not make any new territorial claims. The removal of new constructions along the border was another issue to be discussed. The outcome of the meeting has apparently been limited to reaching a better understanding of each other’s positions. [Hindustan Times] [South China Morning Post]
The LAC is the demarcation line separating Chinese controlled Kashmir from Indian controlled Kashmir and is about 2,000 km (according to China) to 3,488 km (according to India) long. [Indian Express]
Prior to the talks on the weekend, China has appointed Lieutenant General Xu Qiling as new army commander for its Western Theatre Command ground forces which is responsible for the Sino-India border. Prior to this post, Xu – handpicked by President Xi – was Commander of the Eastern Theater Command Ground Force, Deputy Commander of the Central Command and Commander of the 79th Group Army. The latter is part of the Northern Theater Command, tasked with countering the threat of Soviet armor in the Far East and said to be provided the best equipment and training available in the PLA. Xu was also chief of staff at the former 54th Army Corps, known as an elite PLA fighting force involved in the crackdown on a Tibetan uprising in 1959 and the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. [Economic Times] [India TV News]
Reflecting the heightened tensions, a write-up in Chinese state-run media outlet Global Times blamed biased Indian media for considerably contributing to misunderstandings between the two Asian powers and urged them to “shake off Western influence and think independently so that they can best maintain India’s interests.” [Global Times]
9 June 2020
India’s candidature to the UNSC
(dql) India last week laid out the priorities of its campaign to secure election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Speaking on the occasion of the launch of the campaign brochure Minister for External Affairs Jaishankar identified those priorities for the next two-years term 2021-2022 as “new opportunities for progress, an effective response to international terrorism, reforming the multilateral system, comprehensive approach to international peace and security, and promoting technology with a human touch as a driver of solutions” and presented the “five S’s” guiding the Indian approach to the international community – “Samman (Respect), Samvad (Dialogue), Sahyog (Cooperation), and Shanti (Peace), to create conditions for universal Samriddhi (Prosperity).”
Ten years after the India’s last election to the UN Security Council, this year’s candidature is expected to succeed without problems as India is the only endorsed candidate of the Asia-Pacific Group. The election is scheduled for June 17. It would be India’s eighth term on the UN Security Council. [Telegraph India]
9 June 2020
India: Environmental court finds LG liable for gas leak deaths – No proper EIAs during corona crisis
(ls) India’s National Green Tribunal has found LG Polymers India liable for loss of life, negative effects on public health and ecological damage caused by the gas leak at a plant in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in early May. The court ordered the company to reimburse the compensation paid by the state government and cover medical costs. The plant operated without the necessary environmental clearances. The court therefore also directed the state government to identify those who allowed this to happen. In an earlier interim decision, the court had already imposed a fine of 500 million rupees ($6.6 million) on the company. This is also to be spent on compensation to the victims and the restoration of the environment. [NDTV] [Straits Times 1]
Meanwhile, at least ten people were killed, and dozens injured on 3 June in an explosion at a pesticides factory in Gujarat state. Many factories are currently resuming operations as India’s coronavirus lockdown is eased. [Indian Express]
At the same time, Indian authorities, in particular the Ministry of Environment, have been approving almost 50 large industrial projects such as highways and hydropower projects that could have substantial environmental effects via online video calls, without taking the proper procedural steps. This worries local populations, who normally need to get involved, and environmental protection organizations due to the incalculable risk that may come with the approvals. Examining environmental impact assessments, reviewing concerns raised by affected people and assessing mitigation plans properly usually require field visits and extensive consultation. [Straits Times 2]
9 June 2020
India and Australia sign defense pact and supply chain agreements
(ls) Australia and India have launched their Comprehensive Strategic Partnership by signing two defense agreements as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a virtual meeting last week. A Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement grants reciprocal access to military bases and aims at enhancing military interoperability. A Science and Technology Implementing Arrangement shall improve the collaboration between defense science and technology research organizations of the two countries. [Defence Connect]
In addition, the two countries agreed to develop new supply chains in key industries, such as rare earths and minerals. This development comes at a time when China has imposed an 80 percent tariff on Australian barley and reduced meat imports. This was largely viewed as a retaliation for the Australian government’s demand for an independent international inquiry into the origins and spread of the coronavirus. [South China Morning Post]
However, the supply chain agreement has also been criticized due to broad and under-enforced labor laws in India. Critics say that Australia should insist on better enforcement of international labor standards before entering into such form of agreements to reduce what is often referred to as modern slavery. [The Conversation]
9 June 2020
India-USA relations: US investigation into Indian digital service tax
(dql) In a move expected to complicate Indian-US trade relations, US President Trump has initiated investigations into digital services taxes (DST) that have been either adopted or are being considered by ten trading partners of the USA including India.
Trump’s move comes as the Indian government in April imposed a new tax of 2% on digital services rendered in India against payments collected abroad. The levy is restricted to non-resident companies and targets mainly American digital services giants.
The investigations into the impact of this tax on the US economy could end up in retaliatory trade actions as they are conducted under Section 301 of the Trade Act, 1974, the same provision that the Trump administration used to impose an additional 25% tariff on 50 billion USD worth of imports from China in 2018. [Hindustan Times]
9 June 2020
New espionage charges between India and Pakistan
(lf) Two men have been arrested for espionage in the Indian province of Rajastan. They are accused of sharing classified information about the Indian army with Pakistan. [Economic Times]. This comes after last week’s expulsion of two officials working for the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi on the base of espionage. [Asia in Review No. 22, June/ 2020]
9 June 2020
India-Pakistan: Protests in Kashmir
(lf/ls) In India, protests continue in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir after Indian forces killed at least nine rebels, including three commanders. Several hundred people clashed with Indian security forces as they tried to march to the area of fighting.
The situation in Kashmir has been very tense in recent months, as daily fights along the Line of Control between Pakistan and Indian controlled Kashmir have been reported. India has accused Pakistan to arm and train Anti-Indian rebels, which has been denied by Pakistan. In turn, Pakistan condemned the killing of the nine Kashmiri rebels, referring to it as an act of “state terrorism”. [Aljazeera] [Dawn]
The territory has been contested since both countries gained independence from India in 1947. Since 1989, the conflict has caused the deaths of more than 70,000 people of which the majority have been civilians. Tensions have been especially high since protest arose in Kashmir after Prime Minister Modi renounced the autonomy of the region.
2 June 2020
Myanmar trying to find its footing amid power struggle between China and India
(jn) The Myanmar military flew detained members of Indian insurgent groups from the northwestern region of Sagaing to the Indian state Assam in mid-May to surrender them to Indian authorities, which now has become public. Indian insurgents have sought shelter in western Myanmar since the late 1960s from where they used to launch offensives into eastern Indian states. This was mostly condoned or denied by Myanmar authorities, whose resources were tied up in other seditious regions of the country, until February 2019 when the army raided a headquarter that was shared between a faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) and rebels from India.
The recent repatriation and last year’s raid fit the greater pattern of a geostrategic (re-)alignment that Myanmar seeks in a regional rivalry between China in the north and India in the west. Before the political reforms and state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to power in the last decade, the country had deep ties with China. The latter has never linked its investments and arms sales to Myanmar’s human rights record unlike the West. The revival of diplomatic relations between Myanmar and the West, however, came to an abrupt halt with the violent crackdown against Rohingyas and the ensuing refugee crisis in 2017.
In recent years the Myanmar leadership has pivoted to several other countries, first and foremost again to China, which is eager to further integrate Myanmar in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aiming at strengthening the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) as an exclusive access to the Indian Ocean and vast natural resources. However, rifts have appeared between Suu Kyi, who is working towards ever closer ties with Beijing, and the military’s top brass, who are increasingly seeing themselves as their country’s guardian against an anticipated loss of sovereignty under Chinese dominance.
This comes as a remarkable reversal of the previous role allocation, because Suu Kyi as an internationally revered political pro-democracy and human right activist, formerly married to a Tibetologist, was not the obvious go-to-person for China. But with her reputation in tatters on the world stage since the Rohingya refugee crisis, Suu Kyi has looked north to tap into economic support which she needs to successfully weather the upcoming national election this November.
Fittingly, in January, Xi Jinping became the first Chinese president to visit Myanmar in 20 years with 33 bilateral agreements in tow. The Tatmadaw’s stance on China, however, has become increasingly frosty given China’s economic advancement with large infrastructure projects, and its double game on the issue of ethnic conflicts in Myanmar, acting both as conflict mediator and secret arms supplier to rebel groups. Tensions have also led the military’s top brass to suspend two major Chinese infrastructure projects.
The Tatmadaw have thus turned to India that is equally indifferent about the human rights situation. Since 2017, the military cooperation has been taken to a new level, including joint military training and exercises in the Bay of Bengal were India is keen to contain China’s encroachment. India is concerned about Chinese influence and arms trafficking to insurgents in its unruly north eastern border regions.
In its effort to diversify its security alliances, Myanmar has also turned to Russia that sold it six Sukhoi Su-30M fighter jets and graced it with a visit by the defense minister in January 2018 during which a deeper military cooperation was agreed upon. [Asia Times 1] [Asia Times 2]
2 June 2020
India-China military standoff: Tensions are rising
(lm) Amidst its latest border flare-up with China, India has sidestepped U.S. President Donald Trump’s offer to mediate. The Indian Foreign Ministry on Thursday said that India was determined to settle the row and had already engaged in talks with China. [The Straits Times]
Despite their insistence on being committed to peacefully resolve the confrontation, in recent days both armies have rushed in thousands of reinforcements and started to dug in defences. [Reuters]
Since early May, an escalating build-up has caused Indian and Chinese soldiers to engage in a military standoff on the disputed border in the remote Ladakh region in the Himalayas, accusing each other of trespassing. [Asia in Review, No. 19, May/2020, 2] [bbc]
2 June 2020
India and Australia scheduled to hold maiden virtual bilateral summit
(lf) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modhi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison will be holding the first virtual bilateral summit on June 4, after Morrison had to postpone his visit to India due to the bush fires in Australia. The initial meeting was scheduled for January and was set to strengthen strategic ties between India and Australian on matters of security cooperation.Therefore, the main topics of the virtual summit will be regarding maritime security and safety. [abc]
2 June 2020
India-Pakistan relations II: Kashmir tensions
(lf) Pakistan has reached out to the UN Security Council; it urges the UN to facilitate a peaceful resolve of the conflict in the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan. Pakistan especially calls to the UN to stop extrajudicial killing in the Indian occupied territories of Kashmir. [The Nation]
India has been repeatedly criticized for not upholding rights in the contested regions. The Indian controlled part of Kashmir and Jammu has been largely under lockdown since August, when a decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modhi to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy was met with protest. [Human Rights Watch].
The relations between India and Pakistan, as well as with China, which also claims part of the region have been extremely strained in recent month over the situation. [for more information on India – China and the Kashmir situation bbc] [For more information on the tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir Global Conflict Tracker].
2 June 2020
India-Pakistan relations I: Pakistan embassy officials expelled over espionage charges
(lf/lm) India’s foreign ministry on Sunday leveled espionage charges against Pakistan declaring two officials that worked at Pakistan’s high commission in New Delhi “persona non grata”. In a statement, the ministry said the pair had engaged in “activities incompatible with their status as members of a diplomatic mission” and was asked to leave the country “within 24 hours”.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry condemned the expulsion rejecting the charges of espionage against the staffers of its mission and further claiming that the two had been detained and tortured by Indian authorities.
The move is likely to further strain the already tense ties between the neighboring countries, who have a long-running dispute over the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir. [Deutsche Welle] [The Guardian] [Reuters]
2 June 2020
India: High-profile terrorist arrested
(dql) The Special Task Force of Kolkata Police arrested Abdul Karim alias Boro Abdul Karim, the commander of the Bangladesh-based terror group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). He is considered the second highest leader in the JMB in India after JMB chief Salauddin Salehin.
JMB is allegedly involved in several terror-related incidents in the country including the Burdwan bomb blast in 2014 which killed two suspected terrorists as well as a series of bomb blasts in Gaya in 2013 in which several monks and visitors were injured. [Zeenews]
26 May 2020
India’s new leadership and counterbalance against China in the WHO?
(ls) India has been able to increase its influence in the World Health Organization (WHO) in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. Harsh Vardhan, India’s minister of health and family welfare, became the chairman of the WHO’s Executive Board last week. India also occupies the positions of external auditor, which oversees the WHO’s spending, and chief scientist. India’s increased engagement in international organizations appears to make the country a potential partner for Western countries seeking to counter China’s growing influence in global fora. A piece in The Diplomat looks at the prospects of India’s potential. [The Diplomat]
26 May 2020
New episode in China-India border tensions
(ls) The continued tensions at the border between China and India in the Galwan region in the western Himalayas [Asia in Review, No. 19, May/2020, 2] has seen another episode. Last week, the Indian foreign ministry said that Chinese troops had stood in the way of regular Indian patrols along their disputed border. China did not comment on the events directly. [Reuters]
26 May 2020
India–Pakistan II: Cooperation to fight the locust plague?
(ls) Despite longstanding animosity and recent tensions, India and Pakistan may cooperate on fighting the current locust plague threatening the agricultural sectors of both countries. India has proposed a trilateral response in partnership with Iran. Pakistan has not yet officially responded to the plan. There is already an ongoing wider regional cooperation in place under the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in Southwest Asia (SWAC), which was established in 1964 with Afghanistan, India, Iran and Pakistan as its members. [Voice of America]
In India, small swarms of desert locusts, in the past weeks, have already arrived from Pakistan, moving east into Rajasthan, and reaching Jodhpur. Locust streams could travel over a land corridor passing over Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and India. Another stream could pass over the Indian Ocean, reaching India and Bangladesh. [The Hindu]
Farmers across Pakistan are already suffering the worst plague of locusts in recent history, which has caused billions of dollars in damage and led to fears of long-term food shortages. The government declared a national emergency earlier this year. The impact could be economically devastating as agriculture accounts for 20% of Pakistan’s GDP and 65% of the population live and work in agricultural areas. [The Guardian]
26 May 2020
India–Pakistan I: Tension in Kashmir
(lf/ls) The head of the Pakistani army has warned India that any change to the disputed status of what Pakistan considers Indian-controlled Pakistan will be met with full military force. The army chief cautioned India no to endanger the fragile stability in the South Asia region [Andalou Agency]. The statement came after new anti-India riots in Kashmir [Asia in Review No. 20, May/2020, 3].
The status of Kashmir, which is separated into the Indian, Pakistani and Chinese Kashmir has been contested for decades. Since August 2019, Kashmir had been under lockdown after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the removal of the status as special administrative region, which was met with protests [Time, October 2019]. Kashmir experienced one of the longest lockdowns observed, and after initial opening [Time, May 2020], movement had been strongly limited due to the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, health experts warn that communications blackouts imposed by India’s government as part of an effort to limit political turmoil and armed conflict in Kashmir are making the fight against the coronavirus more difficult. During recent blackouts, doctors and other health professionals were unable to consult with colleagues about coronavirus cases. Kashmir is among the Indian regions the worst hit by Covid-19, with confirmed cases increasing sharply. [Reuters]
26 May 2020
Bangladesh: Cyclone Amphan kills dozens, destroys homes in India, Bangladesh
(yo) Cyclone Amphan, a powerful cyclone that just struck India and Bangladesh, has killed dozens, destroyed thousands of homes and left millions without power. The UN office in Bangladesh estimates that about 10 million people were impacted, with 500,000 people left homeless. 5 million do not have power and authorities expect to lose at least $1bn due to alleviating the disaster. The coastal villages heavily relied on shrimp farms and other forms of aquaculture, but most croplands and fisheries were also torn apart.
Bangladesh’s junior minister for disaster management says there are 2.4 million people and more than half a million livestocks being kept in shelters while different interest groups and authorities carry out relief efforts. The mass evacuations were organized beforehand, but Covid-19 toughened the evacuation process due to fears of the pandemic spreading through crowded shelters. Authorities supplied these spaces with masks and sanitizers, but maintaining physical distancing for families that have been packed into several buildings will remain a challenge for the time being. [Aljazeera]
UN Secretary General commended the Indian and Bangladesh governments for their effective preparation of the disaster and relief effort. At the time of writing, 25 have been reported to have died in Bangladesh and 70 in India. Some Rohingya refugee camps were impacted as well and a couple hundred refugees were also evacuated along with other victims. The Bangladesh government replaced 2 million people before the cyclone hit, to more than 12,000 cyclone shelters that had been provided with Covid-19 prevention equipment including masks, sanitizers, soap, and handwashing facilities. [UN News]
26 May 2020
India: Critique against PM over Gujarat and economic status
(lf) The opposition has voiced critique against Prime Minister Modi and India’s Home Minister, over the situation in their home state Gujarat previously often praised for its “Gujarat Model”. [Indian Express] The oppositional Congress described the situation in Gujarat as a complete mismanagement of the pandemic with practices of profiteering and attempts to hide scams. The High Court has asked for a report from the regional government on the management of the crisis [National Herald India].
Additionally, the opposition has raised concerns about the country’s economic situation in the absence of any plan from the government on how to ease the impact of the economic situation due to the pandemic. [National Herald India 2]
26 May 2020
India: Arrest of anti-CAA activists
(lf) Two women were arrested this weekend for participation in a sit-in before the start of the eventually deadly riots against the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) at the end of last year. The two women arrested are founders of the student organisation Pinjira Tod, which aims to reclaim public space for women. They face serious criminal charges including attempted murder.
Since the coronavirus lockdown in India in March, several activists have been arrested. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of using the pandemic to quieten regime critics who voiced their disagreement against the CAA. Critics see the CAA as highly discriminatory and anti-Muslim. [BBC] [Indian Express]
19 May 2020
Continuation of India’s territorial and border disputes with Nepal
(jk) Last week, Asia in Review highlighted the story of the Indian Defence Minister inaugurating an link road through the Lipulekh pass, a territory disputed between India and Nepal and currently under control of Indian security forces. We also noted that Nepal has formally protested the unilateral move [Asia in Review No. 19, May/2020, 2], and since deployed members of its Armed Policy Force to patrol the area. [The Wire]
Over the week, the dispute has not died down and Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has claimed that a number of contested territories, including Lipulekh, belong to them. The cabinet endorsed a new map of the country this week including those territories in a clear sign of claiming sovereignty. [Zee News]
Observers in India have pointed out what they believe to be a distinct “China angle” in the developments as well, especially considering how close the pass is to the Line of Actual control (LAC) and after India’s Army Chief publicly stated that Nepal’s protest was at ‘someone else’s behest’, leaving little doubt he was referring to the PRC. [The Indian Express] Growing Chinese influence in Nepal is of course a concern for India and was only very recently highlighted by the actions of the Chinese ambassador to Nepal amid a serious government crisis as we highlighted then. [Asia in Review No. 18, May/2020, 1]
19 May 2020
India: Bad news for RCEP? Modi addresses nation and announces “self-reliant” India
(jk) India’s PM Modi has addressed the nation last week and promised an economic stimulus package including for example protection and support for local businesses and favourable loans to the tune of around 10% of the nation’s GDP. [Hindustan Times] Critical business leaders and economists have voiced doubts however and questioned the government’s capacity to implement the policies and really do enough. [Economic Times]
Modi also stated this would be part of the campaign to create a “self-reliant” India. The Finance Minister qualified a day later when she gave more details on the stimulus package that “self-reliance” does not mean India would shut itself off from the world. [Livemint]
Indeed, the details the Finance Minister shared at a press conference included news that in order to boost India’s national defence industry, India would ease restrictions on foreign ownership in joint defence ventures, allowing foreign investors to own up to 74% up from the current 49% limit. The move is aimed at reducing the arms import bill as well as strengthening local manufacturing and making big investments in India more likely. [Defense News] [ORF]
Regardless, the term has led to some confusion among analysts and some were wondering if this could also signal India’s hardening stance over its participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Later last week, such concerns were felt even stronger when India let a deadline for a response to a new attempt of India re-joining negotiations on the trade deal pass. It was indicated that China’s behaviour during the Covid crisis strengthened India’s opposition to joining as well as insufficient protection of its agricultural and other sectors in the deal. [The Hindu]
19 May 2020
India: Riots in Kashmir after Indian Army shoots Kashmiri man
(jk) Indian soldiers shot and killed a Kashmiri man at a checkpoint last week after he allegedly refused to stop his car. His death caused anti-India protests with “hundreds” shouting slogans urging India to retreat from the region before Indian forces entered the village and quelled the protests. [South China Morning Post]
12 May 2020
Pakistan-India: Tensions over occupied parts of Jammu and Kashmir
(hg) The Chief Executive Officer of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir – its ‘Prime Minister’ – urged Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to militarily attack India since the Indian Meteorological Department’s regional weather center has included Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in its weather reports. In Pakistan Occupied Kashmir – that part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir which was invaded by Pakistan in 1947 and is effectively controlled by it since then – this was seen as the latest Indian assertion that the territories are an inseparable and integral part of India. [Times Now] [Mumbai Mirror]
As a retribution, Radio Pakistan has included parts of what it calls “Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir” in its own daily weather bulletin. The initial Indian move, however, followed a decision of Pakistan’s Supreme Court to allow Islamabad to hold elections in the disputed territories occupied by Pakistan last month which prompted India to lodge a “strong protest”. [Livemint]
12 May 2020
India’s territorial and border disputes with Nepal, China and in Kashmir flaring up
(ls) Several incidents have put India’s disputes with neighboring countries and in Kashmir in the spotlight. Last week, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80 km link road through the Lipu Lekh pass, which is a territory disputed between India and Nepal but currently under control of Indian border security forces. Nepal protested against the move and announced to increase the number of security outposts and deploy more armed personnel to the border with India.
Nepal’s interests have suffered several setbacks in recent years. Back in 2015, India and China agreed to include the Lipu Lekh Pass as a bilateral trade route, without consulting with Nepal. And in 2019, India released a new political map including the disputed territories, which led to Nepal’s protest. [Kathmandu Post] [Economic Times] [The Hindu]
At the border between India and China, two small-scale violent incidents in Ladakh and Sikkim occurred between troops of the two countries. Soldiers brawled and threw stones at each other. The acts have led both India and China to send additional troop reinforcements to the area, while at the same time officials played the incidents down. The last major violent clash between the Indian and Chinese troops took place along the Pangong Lake situated between Ladakh (India) and Ngari (China) in September 2019. In 2017, there was a brawl between Chinese and Indian soldiers near Ladakh and the standoff in Bhutan’s Doklam in the same year. [South China Morning Post] [Times of India]
Turning to another hotspot, Kashmir, where Indian troops have intensified operations amid India’s nationwide lockdown. Indian troops killed four militants in gun battles, including Riyaz Naikoo, the commander of the biggest separatist group, Hizbul Mujahideen. News of the operation triggered clashes across the region in which dozens were injured. Authorities disabled mobile internet across the Kashmir region. [Reuters]
12 May 2020
India: Modi announces gradual easing of lockdown as tracing app faces criticism
(ls) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced to gradually lift the strict lockdown measures that have been in place for several weeks now; however, without giving specific details. India’s railway is partially starting operations again. Political parties, businesses and citizens say the containment measures have destroyed the livelihoods of millions that rely on daily wages to sustain their lives. [Reuters]
Meanwhile, a Covid-19 tracing app for smartphones that has been designed by the Ministry of Information Technology in collaboration with the private sector is facing criticism for apparent data security issues. The government made downloading the app, which is called “Aarogya Setu”, mandatory for all public and private sector employees. Though the app was inspired by Singapore’s “TraceTogether”, the latter is voluntary, and a comparison shows that the Indian version is demanding considerably more data. A useful comparative graph can be found at the [Straits Times].
12 May 2020
India: Controversial labor law flexibilization to tackle economic fallout of Covid-19
(ls) A number of Indian state governments last week decided to remove several labor law safeguards to stimulate an economic rebound after the corona-related slowdown. The most significant changes were announced in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, which are all governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). However, also states ruled by the Congress (Rajasthan and Punjab) have agreed to liberalize. Uttar Pradesh suspended the application of almost all labor laws, including the Act on minimum wages, for the next three years. Critics expect that employment will increasingly turn informal, bringing down the wages. [Indian Express]
In response, ten major trade unions said they were considering lodging a complaint with the International Labor Organization (ILO). The unions referred, in particular, to violations of the freedom of association, rights to collective bargaining and the norm of an eight hours working day. [The Hindu]
5 May 2020
Kashmir: More fighting and deaths in the India-Pakistan border region
(jk) Once again this past weekend saw gun battles and fatalities among Indian security forces and militants in Indian-administrated Kashmir. India regularly accuses Pakistan of training and sending militants across the border to launch attacks and support a Kashmiri separatist movements. India’s army chief reiterated that Pakistan is still following an agenda of pushing terrorists into Kashmir and that India will respond appropriately and with “precision” to any acts of cross-border misadventure after this weekend’s fights. [India Today] In a recent article in a research journal of the Pakistan Army, a Pakistani General firmly lies the fault of the tensions at India’s feet and describes Kashmir as a “nuclear flashpoint”. [WION]
More than 30 militants and several Indian security forces have died alone since the start of the lockdown from late March in “near-daily cross-border firing between India and Pakistan”. [The Straits Times] April has been the deadliest month in Kashmir since August last year when article 370 was abrogated. [The Print]
In J&K itself, many of the “security measures” initially imposed after scrapping Article 370 from the constitution, such as restrictions on internet services and detention of senior mainstream political leaders continue unabated. Last week, the J&K administration extended the restriction on high-speed internet “to curb uploading, downloading and circulation of provocative videos, guard against rumour-mongering/fake news, prevent the use of encrypted messaging and VOIP services for infiltration and coordinating terror activities.” [Observer Research Foundation]
5 May 2020
India: Religious freedom of “particular concern” according to US Commission
(jk) The US Commission on International Religious Freedom observing religious freedom across the world is urging the U.S. State Department to designate India as a “country of particular concern.” It released an annual report pointing towards India’s poor record of treatment of religious minorities, which is echoed by a growing number of countries and organisations from the Middle East. [Al Jazeera]
India’s Ministry of External Affairs called the commission’s work “biased and tendentious”. [The New York Times]
28 April 2020
The U.S.-Afghan peace deal questions India’s role in the region
(ls) Nearly 20 years after a U.S.-led coalition overthrew the Afghan Taliban regime in 2001, the U.S.-Afghan peace deal signed at the end of February this year could become a mounting diplomatic challenge for India. This may be so as the Taliban, with whom India has never been on good terms, appear to be making a comeback. For years now, India has backed Afghanistan’s democratic system and developed strong relationships with successive Afghan governments, investing heavily in the country’s development and infrastructure. Much of India’s Afghan outreach such as developmental aid or people to people contact, however, relied on the security cover provided by the US and its allies. Now, the country will need to find its place in the post-peace geopolitics of the region. At the same time, observers consider that the Taliban’s relationship with Pakistan and militant groups in the region will have an important impact on the future of India in Afghanistan. Pakistan played an important role in the U.S.-Taliban negotiations even though it has in the past been accused of supporting militants. [Al Jazeera]
28 April 2020
India opens another access point to disputed border with China
(ls) India has opened a new bridge in Arunachal Pradesh in the northeast to enable faster movement of troops and artillery. The bridge is located in the region, parts of which are claimed by China and which witnessed a months-long military stand-off in 2017 over the Doklam plateau, claimed by China and Bhutan, India’s ally. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is upgrading its infrastructure along the border, having already completed 74 strategic roads. [South China Morning Post]
28 April 2020
After last week’s restrictions, India now promises to fast-track Chinese investment proposals
(ls) After India introduced stricter governmental vetting procedures for foreign investments from neighboring countries, among which the most important source of investment is China [see Asia in Review, No. 16, April/2020, 3], the government now tries to ease possible negative impacts on pending investment proposals by fast-tracking them. According to government sources, New Delhi will thus try to approve any investment proposal in a non-sensitive sector within 15 days when the stake being bought is not significant. While the fast-track mechanism would be open to all India’s neighbors with a land border, China would be the main beneficiary. It has major existing and planned investments in India. The development exemplifies the dependence of parts of the Indian economy on Chinese investment, particularly during the Covid-19 crisis. [Reuters]
28 April 2020
India: Mapping of rural lands could disadvantage lower castes
(ls) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week unveiled a new Ownership Scheme (“Swamitva Yojana”) to map rural residential land for the first time in many Indian states, using drones and other technologies. The initiative follows practical needs: As India’s population has expanded, more and more land has been used for farming and building roads and airports. As a consequence, disputes over land ownership have increased, with about two-thirds of civil court cases related to land and property. However, it is currently still unclear whether, under the new scheme, customary titles that do not have a written record, such as those held by indigenous people, will be recognized. In addition, the digitization of records could exclude lower-caste communities due to a lack of access to technology. [Reuters]
28 April 2020
India: How the corona crisis could affect Indian politics
(ls) As the corona crisis remains the dominating news in South Asia, commentators continue to speculate about the impact it could have on Indian politics. It appears that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature projects will receive much less coverage in the months to come. These are, in particular, the constitutional and administrative changes in Jammu and Kashmir, the construction of the Ram Mandir temple in Ayodhya and the various laws that threaten to strip Indian Muslims of their citizenship. In turn, the new key issues – response to the pandemic, the health infrastructure at large, and the state of the Indian economy – can be opportunities for the opposition to sharpen their profile. According to some observers, the opposition’s critique in the crisis has been largely constructive. [The Print]
In addition, attention has been called to the multilayered political communication from all levels during the crisis and a change in tone which could both be factors to decrease the central government’s grip on political narratives. This appears plausible as the outbreak of the pandemic has witnessed the rise of the regional leaders in the respective states as primary communicators. At the same time, the crisis demanded a message underlining a conciliatory and united response between Center and the states. [Observer Research Foundation]
An analysis of India’s emergency measures from the perspective of constitutional law can be found at [Verfassungsblog].
Meanwhile, attacks on Muslims, including farmers driven out of villages and others beaten by angry mobs, have been reported across the country. In turn, many are afraid to self-report which could unnecessarily aggravate the virus spread. In what appears to stand in stark contrast to pre-Covid government messages for Indian Muslims, Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said, “India is heaven for minorities and Muslims; their social, religious and economic rights are secured in India more than any other country.” [Straits Times]
21 April 2020
India’s defence exports rise over 5 times in 4 years
(jk) According to data provided by the Ministry of Defence’s Department of Defence Production India increased its export of military equipment by more than a factor of five over the past four years. While remaining a major importer of defence equipment, India has issued several policies under Modi’s “Made in India” campaign that have bolstered the defence industry and its exports. [Zeenews]
21 April 2020
India carrying out targeted strikes on terror launch pads along LoC
(jk) Continuing the violence of the past weeks [e.g. Asia in Review No. 11, March/2020, 3] [Asia in Review No. 12, March/2020, 4] along the Line of Control, the Indian Defence Minister has said the army is carrying out targeted strikes against “infiltrators” and “terror launch pads” from Pakistan. [Economic Times] Ceasefire violations in the area have increased since India’s announcement to abolish the special status of Jammu and Kashmir last year.
21 April 2020
US-India: US proposes additional anti-ship missile sales to India
(jk) In addition to the MK 54 Lightweight Torpedoes which provide capabilities to conduct anti-submarine warfare missions reported on last week [Asia in Review No. 15, April/2020, 2], the US Congress has also been notified that the US wants to sell Boing-manufactured Harpoon air-launched anti-ship missiles, taking the anti-ship missile package proposed for India to US$ 155 million.
The sale is intended to increase India’s deterrent capabilities “against regional threats and to bolster its homeland defence”. The sale was initiated after a request for these type of weapons by the Indian government but is not yet approved by Congress. [Economic Times]
While anti-ship capabilities are mostly directed at China, Pakistan was quick to condemn the sale of advanced weapon systems to India which in their words regularly “violate[s] the ceasefire agreement”. The sale, Pakistani officials hold, would destabilize the already volatile situation in South Asia. [Arynews]
21 April 2020
India: Tablighi Jamaat leader charged with homicide over coronavirus cases
(jk) In a latest development regarding the Islamic missionary organization Tablighi Jamaat which held a large gathering responsible for a significant rise in coronavirus cases in India, and the ensuing anti-Muslim actions expressed by government officials and parts of Indian society on social media and elsewhere [Asia in Review No. 14, April/2020, 1] [Asia in Review No. 15, April/2020, 2], Indian police now says charges of culpable homicide against the chief of the organisation have been added. The charges carry a maximum punishment of 10-years in prison. [Straits Times]
21 April 2020
India: Government amends Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy, including China in tougher investment scrutiny
(jk) The Government of India has reviewed its current Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy regarding takeovers and acquisitions of Indian companies by foreign investors. Now, all neighbouring countries need approval from India’s government for investments, a policy previously only applied to Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The regulations are particularly relevant for China which has already invested heavily in India. Earlier this year for instance, the People’s Bank of China has raised its stake in India’s largest non-banking mortgage provider HDFC despite “sliding shares” – a warning sign for many observers regarding Chinese influence in India. [India Today]
China is seen by many to be looking to increase their investments and take-overs amid the Covid-19 crisis when many businesses are desperate, struggle and are open to cheap take-overs and investments. The revised FDI regulations are supposed to mitigate this. [Tech Crunch]
14 April 2020
US approves possible sale of Mk 54 torpedoes to India
(hg) The U.S. Department of State has approved a possible sale of 16 Mk 54 lightweight torpedoes and related equipment to India worth USD 63 million. The Mark 54 Lightweight Hybrid Torpedo is developed by Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems and a standard anti-submarine warfare torpedo that is supposed to be used on India’s P-8I patrol aircraft. [Defense Post]
14 April 2020
Kashmir: Artillery fire between Indian and Pakistani forces
(ls) Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged heavy artillery fire in Kashmir along the Line of Control that divides the Indian and Pakistani controlled parts. At least four civilians were killed, including a two-year-old boy, and several more injured. Both sides accused each other with violating the 2003 ceasefire. The weekend before, five Indian special operation forces and five rebels were killed in fights along the frontier. [ABC News] [Al Jazeera]
Pakistan’s foreign ministry had summoned an Indian official to lodge a protest over the incident, also blaming India of hundreds of ceasefire violations this year alone. India accuses Pakistan of training and sending militants across the border to launch attacks and support a Kashmiri separatist movement against Indian rule. [Reuters]
14 April 2020
India extends nationwide corona lockdown with uncertain economic and political costs
(ls) The Indian government has decided to extend its nationwide lockdown until 3 May. Several states had urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to extend it, even as concerns have risen that the shutdown has put millions of poor people out of work and forced an exodus of migrant workers from cities to villages. [Reuters]
In addition, India’s government is likely to divide the country into red, orange and green zones, depending on the number of registered Covid-19 cases. Whereas no activity would be allowed in red zones, activities such as limited opening of public transport would be allowed in orange zones. The green zones, where no cases of have been reported, would allow the widest range of activities. [Straits Times]
In a video interview with The Wire, political strategist Prashant Kishor discusses the government’s crisis management efforts so far and projects how the crisis could affect Indian politics in the future. [The Wire]
The Interpreter assesses how South Asian countries might get through the crisis, arguing that several factors, in particular the region’s demography, may shield them from the worst impacts. [The Interpreter]
14 April 2020
India: Anti-Muslim violence over virus spreading allegations
(hg) After the Indian government’s crackdown on Kashmir, and the new citizenship law, India’s 200 million Muslims face another challenge over allegations of a “Muslim virus” and “Corona-jihad”.
Like in many other countries such as Malaysia, Pakistan, or South Korea, religious gatherings have accelerated the spread of the virus also in India where a single Islamic missionary organization, Tablighi Jamaat, held a gathering that was attended by about 8,000 people and seems to have been responsible for a significant share of India’s coronavirus cases.
Since, officials and privates blame Muslim for spreading the coronavirus with India’s health ministry speaking of “human bombs” and “corona jihad” and the spread of social virus of religious hatred and violence across the country. Muslims have been attacked in mosques, beaten up and nearly lynched. The ugliness of this is well reflected by the assault on a young Muslim who passed out food to the poor suffering from the general lockdown. The leader of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, a far-right nationalist party, even called on the public to shoot Tablighi Jamaat members. [New York Times]
For a fair, shorter take on the development see [The Guardian].
A personal perspective on the broader context of the spreading intolerance and religious hatred in India is provided in [The Atlantic] where the author gives a long-term view on India’s transitioning away from its secular tenets to a state of the country in which “India is no longer India” as the essay is titled.
7 April 2020
In the entry of last week’s AiR issue on the Moaist attack on security forces in India, an incorrect date of the attack was given. The correct date is 21 March instead of 22 March.
7 April 2020
India – Pakistan: Five army commandos and 5 alleged intruders killed in LoC battle
(jk) Five Indian special forces soldiers and five alleged terrorists were killed during an encounter near the Line of Control after the army intercepted a group of heavily armed men who tried to infiltrate Indian territory of Jammu and Kashmir. [Hindustan Times] Pakistani media reports on the death of five insurgents in addition to a second gun battle 24 hours earlier in which another four people died. [Geo News]
7 April 2020
Indian Senior Advocate launches UNHRC complaint blaming China for Covid-19 ‘conspiracy’
(jk) A [complaint] to the United Nations Human Rights Council seeking compensation from China for “surreptitiously developing a biological weapon capable of mass destruction”, has been filed on behalf of the London-based International Council of Jurists [ICJ] and the All India Bar Association. The complaint was written by and Indian advocate who is the Bar Association’s chairman and ICJ President. He is also former vice-chairman of the Bar Council of India, the Supreme Court Bar Association, as well as the chairman of the Bar Council of Delhi. In the allegation, he states China “aimed at catapulting itself to the position of a superpower of the world and undermining other countries through biological warfare”. [The Print]
7 April 2020
India’s army now largest ground force
(jk) Amid Chinese PLA modernisation, meaning a reduction in ground forces and a focus on navy, air force and new technologies, India’s army, with approximately 1.4 million personnel, has become the world’s largest ground force, ahead of North Korea and China. [The Print]
7 April 2020
Pakistan: Pharma industry begins shut down due to shortage of raw materials while India lifts export restrictions
(jk) The pharmaceutical industry in Pakistan has begun shutting down some of its production due to a shortage of raw material, a majority of which is imported from China and India. In addition, fears over the coronavirus have led to hoarding of medicine stocks. [The Express Tribune]
Meanwhile, India has lifted restrictions on the export of some pharmaceutical ingredients and medicines, according to a government statement, allegedly due to pressure from the US after a phone call between Modi and Trump on the weekend. [Straits Times] [CNBC TV 18]
7 April 2020
India: Ruling BJP takes back state assembly leadership in Madhya Pradesh
(jk) After Congress leader’s resignation from the post of Madhya Pradesh chief minister [Asia in Review No. 11, March/2020, 3], ending the rule of the party in the state, PM Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has again taken over the leadership in the state and picked a new CM. It is the same minister who initially stepped down after the Congress won a narrow majority in the December 2018 Assembly elections. He, and the BJP, is back in the leadership position after 15 months in opposition. [Livemint]
7 April 2020
India: New domicile rules for Jammu and Kashmir
(jk) The Indian government has released new domicile rules of the new Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir which open up the eligibility criteria for becoming permanent residents there. The new rules mark a change in the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, which previously restricted the availability of local government jobs, scholarships and properties for Indian’s from other parts of the country. [The Print]
7 April 2020
India: Corona fears and Anti-Muslim sentiments reinforced by Hindu nationalist government
(jk) After authorities in India had found a cluster of COVID-19 cases in a Muslim group that held a conference in Delhi in early March, fears over the Coronavirus and ever-increasing intolerance towards Muslims continue to reinforce each other. The issue is going as far as creating a narrative over a so-called “Corona Jihad”, suggesting Muslims were purposely spreading the virus. [Time]
Exacerbating the growing sentiments, Indian police said last week that some members of the group would be charged under India’s Epidemic Disease Act over their religious gathering [NDTV 1], and then, the government announced further charges to be brought forward against these “enemies of humanity” under India’s National Security Act for violating quarantine and lockdown regulations. [NDTV 2]
While some allegations of violations of the acts may be warranted, the handling of the situation indicates a clear continuation of the trend of a Hindu nationalist government that seeks to target Muslims on many fronts and works towards turning India into a more explicitly Hindu state and Muslims into foreigners.
31 March 2020
China-India relations: Mutual distrust runs deep
(dql) 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of China-India relations. Yun Sun at [War on the Rock] provides a historical account of Sino-Indian ties and concludes that mutual distrust between Beijing and New Delhi runs deep suggesting that with both countries pursuing incompatible interests on a number of key issues amid great-power rivalry and domestic populism, the chance of reconciling those differences is not foreseeable in the near future.
31 March 2020
India: Maoist commit major attack against security forces
(hg) In the deadliest attack since 2017, Maoist rebels have killed 17 Indian security forces in an ambush in the central state of Chhattisgarh on March 22, when more than 300 armed rebels attacked a police commando patrol in the jungles. In April 2017, 25 police commandos were killed in an attack in the same district.
Before last year’s elections, 16 police commandos were killed in a bomb attack in the state of Maharashtra, allegedly also committed by Maoists rebels. The latter have been fighting in eastern, central and southern forest areas of the subcontinent since the 1960s. In the protracted conflict, especially indigenous people in mineral-rich regions have become the victims of the conflict between Maoists and government forces with thousands of mostly tribal people having been killed. The government has deployed more than 100,000 troops – a third of them paramilitary forces from India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – to root out the rebellion in Chhattisgarh alone which has killed more than 2,000 people there since 1995. In the theater, security forces have been accused of committing severe rights abuses including extrajudicial killings of innocent indigenous people. Moreover, also human rights activists and journalists have been targeted by security forces for reporting on abuse and unlawful killings. [Aljazeera 1]
The Maoist are often denoted Naxals derived from the first Maoist uprising in 1967 in the remote Naxalbari village in West Bengal that triggered a first wave of struggle that was brought down by the government by 1972. For the next two decades, the Maoist struggle remained rather subdued and localized. Yet, after the government begun to granting mining licences to private and multinational corporations as part of the liberalization and privatization policies of the 1990s, violence surged again. The current phase of Maoist armed engagement begun in 2004, when two Maoist groups merged: the 1976-formed People’s War Group (PWG) having been active especially in the state of Andhra Pradesh and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) having been mainly active in the state of Bihar. PWG and MCC now formed the Communist Party of India (Maoist) or CPI (Maoist) which is officially banned. A splinter group is the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) based in the mineral rich state of Jharkhand and commanding about 500 cadres. The Maoists are especially active in the so-called “Red Corridor” – spread across the states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh – but are also operating in other states. [Aljazeera 2]
In the endless story of violence, an elected local self-government official has been killed yesterday by Maoists in the state of Maharashtra. [India Today]
31 March 2020
India: Modi orders country-wide curfew
(ls) India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered a 21-day curfew (until 15 April) to prevent the spreading of Covid-19. It is the world’s largest lockdown as it affects a population of about 1.3 billion people. Under the order, there are specified times to go buy essential goods, and people could face up to two years in jail and a financial penalty if they violate the rules. Prior to the curfew order, the government had already banned incoming international flights, grounded domestic flights and shut sea and river ports. Indian Railways had cancelled all services except suburban and goods trains. [South China Morning Post]
The vast shutdown has triggered hundreds of thousands of poor migrant laborers employed in big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai to head to their homes in the countryside on foot after losing their jobs. In some parts of India, migrant workers clashed violently with the police. [Reuters 1]
The strict measures have been strongly criticized. [The Atlantic]
The longest-running protest against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act in New Delhi has also been dispersed. The police referred to the ban on public gatherings because of the coronavirus outbreak. Many of the protesters have been at the site since December. Already before the coronavirus epidemic, there had been calls by hardline Hindu groups linked to Modi’s government alliance and residents in the area to clear it out. [Reuters 2]
Constitutional experts have argued that an invocation of emergency rule would not be permitted by any of the three existing grounds (war, external aggression, armed rebellion) in Article 352 of the Indian Constitution. This provision permits the Central government to declare an emergency and suspend fundamental rights. In the current corona situation, the applicable laws are rather the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (EDA) and the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA). However, it may appear doubtful whether the current measures sufficiently respect the right to life, in particular of migrant workers. [The Wire]
24 March 2020
Indian ruling party MP demands to scrap “socialism’ from constitution
(hg) An Upper House member of India’s Parliament for the governing Bharatiya Janata Party introduced a resolution urging the government to bring an amendment to drop the reference to “socialism” from the Preamble to the Constitution. [Hindustan Times]
The term ‘socialism’ was inserted in the Constitution only by the 42nd constitutional amendment act in 1976 during the Indira Gandhi-imposed Emergency, – one of the most important amendments in Indian constitutional history that also introduced the term ‘secularism’ in the preamble. Indian constitutional politics and development policies have been, however, shaped by notions of democratic socialism since independence.
It will be interesting now to see if the debate about the constitutional reference to socialism will turn out to be a flash in the pan or develop into a more fundamental discourse. After all, the push to drop ‘socialism’ comes in a time in which not only ‘secularism’ is already fiercely debated but in which a generally weak Indian economy finds itself now ahead of a looming global economic crisis. Whether this will heat up the debate remains to be seen.
24 March 2020
India: Former Chief Justice accepts seat in Parliament
(jk) A former Indian Chief Justice has accepted an offer of a seat in the country’s Parliament under an arrangement that allows for MPs to be selected by the government as a specialist rather than elected. [The Print]
The move has raised eyebrows not just with other former judges, who have for instance commented that the appointment destroys the idea of an impartial judicative separate from the executive power. It does not help that the former judge, who retired four months ago, has raised suspicions that he was making decisions supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party government which has now appointed him. [The Straits Times]
24 March 2020
India: Execution of four in 2012 bus gang rape case
(jk) Last week, India executed four prisoners convicted for the rape and murder of a woman on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. The case, in which six men were convicted – one has since died and another who was a minor at the time has been released – led to huge public protests across India and highlighted the high rates of violence against women in the country. As a response, India passed new laws against sexual violence, including the death penalty for rape under certain circumstances. [India Today]
The executions, carried out by hanging, were among the few cases of the death penalty in India that were executed in recent memory despite a legislative increase in capital punishment. The most recent execution before this one took place in 2015.
24 March 2020
Modi’s SAARC mobilization against Covid-19 bears fruits
(hg) After India’s Prime Minister Modi came up with the initiative to create a Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund in the framework of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka – all SAARC member states but Pakistan – have pledged financial support to the fund. Even if the amounts announced by the respective governments are not breathtaking, the development has some symbolic value for Indian attempts to join China’s public diplomacy efforts in wake of the Covid-19 crisis. Modi’s plan had been discussed previously in a video conference of SAARC leaders on March 15. [Livemint]
24 March 2020
India and France conduct joint patrols from Reunion Island
(jk) India and France have conducted joint patrols from Reunion Island for the first time in the two navy’s history last month. India, according to the source, shows here its intent to “engage with friendly foreign partners in expanding its footprint in the Indian Ocean, focusing on the stretch between the East African coastline and the Malacca straits.” [The Hindu]
17 March 2020
Does the Corona crisis revive SAARC?
(ls) Last weekend, leaders and representatives of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) members held a video conference to discuss ways to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. Whereas seven countries were represented by their presidents or prime ministers, for Pakistan the Prime Minister’s special advisor on health took part in the session. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed an emergency fund to fight the pandemic, with an initial offer of $10 million from India. Displaying the difficulties of the SAARC format, Pakistan’s representative raised a different topic when he sought the removal of all remaining restrictions in Kashmir. [The Wire]
Conversely, other news outlets such as [Defenseworld] report that Indonesia is still negotiating a deal to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia and has not abandoned it under pressure from the United States.
17 March 2020
India releases prominent Kashmir politician as fights continue
(ls) Indian authorities have released Kashmir’s most prominent politician, Farooq Abdullah. The former chief minister is one of dozens of leaders detained or put under house arrest since the federal government withdrew the region’s autonomy in August last year. [Reuters]
Meanwhile, four militants were killed in a gunfight with Indian forces in Kashmir during a counter-militancy operation. Interestingly, the number of such operations has increased after a communication blockade has been lifted from the region. According to observers, the state’s security tracking system was also hit by the blockade. [AA]
17 March 2020
India: Congress loses MPs in two state assemblies
(ls) In a setback for the Indian Congress Party, one of its prominent politicians in Madhya Pradesh state joined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last week. Other legislators loyal to him are expected to follow. If the move leads to the state government’s collapse, it provides the chance for the BJP to take over a Hindi heartland state. On the federal level, the Congress lost general elections both in 2014 and last year seeing its political influence waning across India. [Straits Times]
In addition, the exit had spillover effects to neighboring Gujarat state, where five Congress legislative assembly members submitted their resignation. This reduces the Congress’s strength in the state’s assembly to 68, which is short of the required number to win two seats in the biennial Rajya Sabha (India’s upper house of parliament) election. [India Today]
17 March 2020
India: Citizenship Amendment Act sent to Supreme Court by another state government
(ls) Following the state of Kerala some weeks ago, the Congress government in Rajasthan has also called upon India’s Supreme Court to rule on the validity of the disputed Citizenship (Amendment) Act. The state government said that the law violates the principle of secularism, which is part of the basic structure of the Constitution, and the fundamental rights of equality and life. Under Article 131 of the Constitution, a state is empowered to request the Supreme Court to rule in cases of a dispute with the Centre. [Business Standard]
17 March 2020
Pakistan: Impacts of the deepening US-Indian relations
(dql) AiR reported in [AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4] about the agreement on the expansion of US-Indian security cooperation and the purchase of more than US$ 3 billion of American military equipment during President Trump’s recent visit to India.
Sher Bano at [Modern Diplomacy] informs about the impact of deepening US-Indian security relations on Pakistan and argues that Pakistan, facing an increasing asymmetry in conventional weapons against its neighbor, needs an improvement of its overall conventional capabilities in order to counter the conventional imbalance, along with superior strategy and training as well as stronger ties with China while remaining strategically relevant to the US
17 March 2020
India: Additional purchase of 400 Russian T-90S battle tanks
(dql) Signaling deepening military cooperation between with Russia, India’s Armed Forces announce its decision to buy additional 400 Russian T-90S battle tanks.
According to a British international affairs-think tank more than 1,000 T-90S tanks are currently operational in the Indian Army. [TASS]
10 March 2020
India: a small win for media freedom
(jk) In a development related to media freedom in India and pertaining to the recent Delhi riots, the government has overturned a 48-hour broadcasting ban on two media channels over their reporting of the riots. The two TV channels were taken off the air over allegedly “biased” reporting on the issue, but the ban was overturned after protests against it, including by the channels who called the ban “a blatant attack on free and fair reporting”. [The Straits Times]
10 March 2020
India: UNHRC approaches Indian Supreme Court concerning the CAA
(tk) UN Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHRC) Michelle Bachelet has filed an application urging the Indian Supreme Court to make the UN body a third party in a petition filed by a former civil servant against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
India’s Ministry of External Affairs defended the CAA as internal matter. A spokesman said that they “strongly believe that no foreign party has any locus standi [rights] on issues pertaining to India’s sovereignty” of making laws. However, it is expected that the Supreme Court will hear the UNHRC application, since India as a UN member is obligated to uphold fundamental freedoms of all people and the discrimination based on religion might damage India’s reputation. [Al Jazeera]
10 March 2020
India: New Developments in Jammu and Kashmir
(tk/jk) Seven months after the Indian government enforced a total communications blackout, authorities in India on Wednesday temporarily restored full internet access in Kashmir for two weeks, until March 17. In January, authorities already partly restored low speed internet access to 301 government approved websites, excluding social media. [Asia in Review No. 4, January/2020]
During this time, Kashmiris have been using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blacklisted sites and started posting updates on social media. [Asia in Review No. 8, February/2020] Now, social media is accessible to Kashmiris, but internet access over mobile devices will remain restricted to low speeds. While many welcomed the government’s move, some are concerned that now it would be easier for the government to trace the IP addresses of the users which creates fear to express political thoughts about the situation on social media. [Al Jazeera]
On Sunday, former lawmakers from three major pro-India parties formed a new political party “Apni Party”, which is the first major political development since last August, when India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and jailed nearly the entire pro-India and pro-freedom leadership. The party aims for the restoration of statehood and seeks guarantees from the Indian government that land and government jobs will stay with region’s residents only.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, stated that the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was final and advised pro-India parties to confine their politics to a demand for statehood. Several pro-India politicians have been released from detention only after signing agreements that they would not speak against the removal of autonomy. [AA]
10 March 2020
Sri Lanka and India score highest on “inclusive internet index” for South Asia
(jk) The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) ‘Inclusive Internet Index’, commissioned by Facebook, rates countries on the “internet’s availability, affordability, relevance and the readiness of people to use it.” In South Asia, India ranked highest (46th out of 100), followed by Sri Lanka (56th). Pakistan ranked the lowest (76th), Bangladesh at 70th place. Both India and Pakistan did particularly bad in the “availability” category, examining the quality and breadth of available infrastructure required for access and levels of internet usage in relation to the other three categories. [EIU]
3 March 2020
Myanmar: Strengthening ties with India
(tk) During the visit of Myanmar’s president U Win Myint to India from Wednesday to Saturday, Myanmar and India signed 10 memorandums of understanding ranging from infrastructure and wildlife protection to humanitarian assistance. Four of them aim to boost the development of Rakhine state to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees. Further, the two sides also announced measures to improve connectivity and people-to-people contacts. [Hindustan Times] [New Straits Times]
3 March 2020
India: Data protection bill in the spotlight over violence in New Delhi
(ls) Reports of persons who targeted Muslim-owned vehicles for arson in New Delhi by first looking up their license plate numbers on an online government database have sparked new discussions about the currently debated data protection bill. The draft law contains, for example, a provision allowing the government to exempt any of its agencies from following the law for reasons including “the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India” and “friendly relations with foreign states”. Companies and activists also fear that while companies have to hand over “anonymized” personal data to the government when asked, there are not enough protections against possible leaks, creation of super-databases or possible surveillance. [Straits Times]
3 March 2020
Pakistani and Indian reactions to the U.S.-Afghan Taliban peace agreement
(ls/ew) As the United States and the Afghan Taliban have concluded a peace agreement last week, government representatives and observers in Pakistan and India have raised their concerns. The agreement signed on Saturday in the Qatari capital, Doha, creates a framework for the U.S. and NATO to withdraw all foreign troops from Afghanistan over 14 months, pending the meeting of certain criteria. United States secretary of state Mike Pompeo cautiously commented on the peace agreement as the first step towards a meaningful and peaceful withdrawal of U.S. troops and the end of an era of conflict [Politico].
Pakistan facilitated the direct talks between the United States and Afghan Taliban since they began in 2018. However, the country has also long been accused by the U.S. and the Afghan government of providing safe havens to leaders of the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the U.S. must be wary of “spoilers” who could derail the process, without elaborating. Commentators said he might have referred to the continued presence of other groups such as ISIS and Al Qaida that are not interested in peace. [Al Jazeera]
India has so far been a development and civilian reconstruction partner of Afghanistan, based on the provision of security by the United States. According to analysts, a withdrawal of U.S. forces and connected substantial security uncertainties could put India in a similar precarious position it was in when the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988/89. In prospect, however, India and China are now expected to compete for the Afghan government’s friendship so as to improve their domestic economies and to strengthen their geopolitical hold in the region (in this regard, see also the Background Reading below). [Deccan Herald]
3 March 2020
India: New Delhi’s worst sectarian violence in decades
(tk/ls) Since the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) brought in by Modi’s government in December, widespread deadly protests have continued until today. Despite assurance from government and police officials that the situation was under control, the death toll continued to rise sharply and reached at least 47 deaths. More than 350 people have been injured. [Al Jazeera] The majority of them are Muslims, though several Hindus – including members of the security services – are among them as well. [CBS News]
The latest clashes started in Delhi on Sunday, the eve of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India. [Asia in Review No. 8, February/2020] Since that day, gangs of Hindus and Muslims have clashed with crude weapons and homemade guns. Numerous homes, shops and cars have been set aflame. [The New York Times]
India’s Prime Minster Narendra Modi, who hosted President Trump’s visit, has been criticized for not acting on time, and the police has been accused of failing to stop those aggression against Muslims, while, according to India’s Supreme Court, they could have saved lives. The U.S. government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) urged the Indian government to “take serious efforts to protect Muslims and other targeted by mob violence.” [CBS News] [Al Jazeera]
This situation even led to large protests in Bangladesh, where thousands of Muslims on Friday protested against Bangladesh Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina’s plan to invite India’s Prime Minister Modi to a commemoration next month on the 100th birth anniversary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president of the nation who is called the father of Bangladesh. [OpIndia]
Also, Indonesia urged India to protect Muslims and not harm them over differences in faith. Indonesian Minister or Religion Affairs condemned the recent attacks as “inhumane and contrary to religious values”. [AA]
Observers have described the incidents as targeted violence against Muslims, led by Hindu nationalists, rather than mere rioting or communal violence, and view Modi’s hardline politics as a main source of the climate of violence. [The Guardian]
3 March 2020
An analysis of India’s and China’s Eurasian strategies
(ls) A paper published by the Observer Research Foundation analyzes the trajectory of India’s and China’s Eurasian aspirations. In recent years, both India and China have developed different strategies to strengthen their respective ties with the resource-rich economies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, collectively called the Central Asian Republics. The paper argues that India’s “Connect Central Asia” approach is constructivist, while China’s Belt and Road Initiative is hegemonic. It also outlines recommendations for India’s Connect Central Asia policy. [Observer Research Foundation]
25 February 2020
Indian authorities have filed a case against social media users in Kashmir
(tk) Indian authorities have filed a first information report against unnamed social media users in Kashmir under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Section 66-A(b) of the Indian Information Technology (IT) Act, which can lead to detention for months without bail.
After a complete internet blackout for six months since the government had revoked Kashmir’s special status, authorities restored low speed 2G internet on January 24 for 301 websites approved by the administration, which excluded social media [Asia in Review No. 4, January/2020]. Thus, Kashmiris have been using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access blacklisted sites and started posting updates on social media.
The police case aims to take actions against those who misused social media sites for propagating “secessionist ideology and promoting unlawful activities”. According to an official, “anyone found using social media and posting any anti-national material can be called for questioning.” This action created panic amongst Kashmiris, seeing it as a step to ‘criminalize everyone’. A university student said, “I did not use the social media to post any political update, but I am really panicked and have now deleted the VPN and deactivated my social media accounts. It means the can now arrest anyone.”
The IT Act, on which the first information files are based on, was struck down by India’s top court in March 2015 as it violated free speech. Thus, an independent researcher calls the move “unconstitutional” and says that “this is a clear violation of digital rights of people. Today it is being implemented in Kashmir and tomorrow it can become a general practice in India.” [Al Jazeera]
25 February 2020
India-US relations: Trump visits India with defense deals in focus
(jk) After a day of mega events and great fanfare amid US President Trump’s visit to India, the second day of the visit focused more on policy issues and details about the future relationship.
The two leaders signed MoUs and discussed defense, security, energy strategic partnership, trade and people to people ties. As was expected, Trump declared the two countries expanded defense cooperation with agreements for India to purchase more than US$ 3 billion of American military equipment, including helicopters for the navy, air-defense radars and missiles, rifles and other equipment. [The Straits Times] India has previously signaled that it will continue to spend big on defense equipment and will remain among the world’s biggest arms-importers. [Nikkei]
It has also been announced that in discussion on a major trade deal that have now begun, both side made “tremendous progress”, however, there is currently no timeline for the talks. [Indian Express]
Parallel to the visit, in the capital on Monday, at least seven people were killed and over 150 injured during protests over the new citizenship law. [Channel News Asia]
18 February 2020
Pakistan & India: Governments adopt strict social media regulations, provoking criticism
(fs/ls) The Pakistani Government passed a regulation concerning social media platforms. Although the cabinet had already approved the “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020” [Copy of the Regulation] on January 28, this has only now become publicly known through a leak. Only recently, public allegations came up that the government around Prime Minister Imran Khan and the military were already censoring the media and trying to silence the opposition. [RadioFreeEuropeRadioLiberty]
As per the new regulation, social media companies will now be obliged to disclose any information or data demanded by any designated investigation agency, whenever asked. Failing to abide by this will attract fine of up to Rs 500 million (3.2 million USD). It also enables the government to ask social media platforms to remove content deemed “unlawful” within 24 hours, in emergency cases six hours. Furthermore, social media companies are required to establish offices with a physical address in Islamabad during the next three months. [Al Jazeera]
The minister of Information Technology Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqi, said that the law is necessary to preserve “the integrity, decency and respect of individuals and the sanctity of institutions” and would help to “identify and weed out unwanted and slanderous online content.” The opposition Pakistan People Party believes that this is about restricting freedom of expression. [The New York Times]
The Committee to Protect Journalists is also asking the government to change course, fearing the restricting of reporting since journalists could no longer protect sources and contacts. [Committee to Protect Journalists]
Digital rights activists worry that the new rules will give authorities unlimited power to restrict social media. Digital Rights Foundation speaker Nighat Dad gave a statement saying “the worrying part for is that the definition around extremism, religion or culture is so wide and ambiguous and that means they have these unfettered power to call any online content illegal or extremist or anti-state”. [Reuters]
The Indian government introduced new rules for social media companies and messaging apps, too. They are expected to be published later this month. The new guidelines go further than most other countries’ by requiring blanket cooperation with government inquiries, as no warrant or judicial order will be required. [Bloomberg]
Meanwhile, the Modi administration is currently seeking bids from companies to help set up a National Automated Facial Recognition System. It would match photos captured from CCTV with existing databases, with policing a key potential use for such technology. Critics equate the project with the far larger-scale surveillance system in China. [DW]
18 February 2020
India: Political parties ordered (again) to publish criminal history of their candidates
(ls) The Indian Supreme Court has ordered political parties to publish the criminal history of their candidates for Assembly (i.e. state parliaments) and Lok Sabha (central parliament) elections along with explanations in case they fielded suspected criminals. The information will need to be published in traditional as well as social media. According to data cited in the judgment, in 2004, 24% of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them; in 2009, that went up to 30%; in 2014 to 34%; and in 2019 as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them. The decision confirms a 2018 Supreme Court ruling, which, however, has widely been ignored. [The Hindu] [Jurist with link to the decision]
18 February 2020
India: Modi’s BJB loses also New Delhi elections
(ls) In last week’s elections in India’s capital New Delhi, the incumbent chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party (“common man” party) were able to defend their seats in the state assembly. They won 62 of the 70 assembly seats, whereas Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increased its seats only from three to eight. The result is widely seen as a defeat for the BJB, the latest in a string of setbacks for Modi’s party in regional elections over the past two years. It is also interpreted as a backlash against the government’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act. [South China Morning Post]
Nonetheless, Kejriwal said that he intended to work closely with the Central government to develop Delhi in his third term, which has been seen as quite unlike the confrontation that marked his second term in office. He had even invited Modi for the swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, but the Prime Minister could not attend. [The Hindu]
Kejriwal is a former bureaucrat and tax inspector who helped launch the AAP in 2012 to rid the Indian political system and government of corruption and inefficiency. He has pushed pro-poor policies, fixed state-run schools and provided free healthcare and utilities services. His popularity in New Delhi’s teeming slums therefore rivals that of Modi. [Al Jazeera]
However, an opinion piece in the New York Times argues that while Modi and his party might have lost an election, they won the ideological battle by setting the terms of electoral politics. For electoral success in India, the article argues, it is no longer acceptable to speak about equal citizenship and political rights of India’s Muslims or speak out against the violence and hostility they encounter. [New York Times]
18 February 2020
U.S. classifies India as a developed country, cutting support
(tk) The Trump administration has declared India a developed country, as it has a share of 0.5% or more of world trade. In 2018, India’s share in global exports was 1.67% and in global imports 2.57%. [The Economic Times]
This decision means, India will lose all the benefits it used to receive under the Generalized System of Preference Scheme (GSP). Under the GSP, duties on thousands of products imported from emerging countries like India were eliminated. Until 2018, India received benefits worth up to $260 million, which helped it grow exports at a rapid pace. Without the benefits, Indian companies will be at a severe disadvantage, and exports to the U.S. as its largest importer will come down.
Not only the Indian economy is likely to be damaged by the Trump administration’s decision. It could also harm Modi’s reelection probability, because he might not be able to achieve his plan to turn India into a $5 trillion economy by 2024.
During President Trump’s visit on February 24, India was planning to finalize a limited trade agreement with the U.S. which now stands in question. [CCN]
18 February 2020
India under mounting diplomatic pressure over Kashmir situation
(ls/tk) India is facing increased scrutiny over its handling of the situation Jammu and Kashmir, but maintains that it is a domestic affair. The Modi government rejected a mediation offer from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, saying the focus instead should be on making Pakistan vacate the territories that it has “illegally and forcibly occupied”. According to the External Affairs Ministry, “India hoped that the UN secretary general would stress on the imperative for Pakistan to put an end to cross-border terrorism against India, which threatens the most fundamental human rights – the right to life of the people of India, including in Jammu and Kashmir.” [NDTV]
Guterres expressed “deep concern” at the heightened tensions, demanding India to respect “human rights and fundamental freedoms” when dealing with discontent in the territory. He also called for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on Kashmir, which date back to 1948, calling for a plebiscite to be held among Kashmiri residents on whether they would join India or Pakistan. [Al Jazeera]
India also sent a diplomatic note to Turkey over President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks on the Kashmir crisis. Erdoğan said the Indian government’s “unilateral steps” in the region over the years have accelerated the suffering of the Kashmiri people, aggravating the current situation and revoking their freedom and rights. [Daily Sabah]
Meanwhile, Debbie Abrahams, a Labour MP from the United Kingdom was denied entry to India. Abrahams has been an outspoken critic of the Indian government for stripping Kashmir of its semi-autonomy last August, demoting it from a state to a federal territory, saying the action betrayed the trust of the people of Kashmir. [The Guardian]
11 February 2020
India-USA relations: Tightening relationships to counter China as global power
(tk/jk) President Trump is expected to visit India in late February and sign a limited trade deal with Modi which will be a significant rapprochement after more than a year of escalating tariffs and counter-tariffs. The premise of this relationship is to balance the offensive emergence of China seeking to expand its global reach.
For President Trump, who has been facing an impeachment trial and is beginning his re-election campaign, even a modest deal with India would allow him to tell voters that his tough talk on trade is working. For Modi, it could help to counter India’s economic slowdown and ease perceptions that his nationalist government is hostile to foreign companies.
Some protestors in India fear an intensification of Modi’s Hindu nationalism as a threat to India’s secular democracy by close relations to President Trump who appeared sympathetic to Modi after he revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and passed a controversial citizenship law that excludes Muslims. At the recent “Howdy Modi” event in the US, Trump said: “India and the United States understand that to keep our communities safe, we must protect our borders.” [The New York Times] [AXIOS]
India already made the first step in this relationship by giving final approval to a $2.6bn deal to buy military helicopters from a United States defense firm. Those helicopters are meant to help the Indian navy track submarines in the Indian Ocean, where China is rapidly expanding its presence. [Al Jazeera]
On a related, yet more domestic note, India has disappointed observers of its defense posturing when India’s finance minister presented the country’s budget earlier in February. The country’s defense budget increased by 5% from last year, but considering inflation observers call this “a cut in real terms” and nowhere near enough to even attempt to address the structural challenges that are there.
In addition, with an eye on naval competition in the Indian Ocean, the allocations for the various military services remain concerning. The army has received 56, the air force 23, and the navy only 15 percent of the budget. At any rate, at only 1.5 % of GDP overall, India won’t be making any major strides towards modernization of its military any time soon. [Asia Times] [Observer Research Foundation]
11 February 2020
Pakistan: Plea for Kashmir discussion at IOC denied
(fs) Saudi Arabia again turned down Pakistan’s immediate request to convene a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) on the current situation in Kashmir. Prime Minister Imran Khan criticized the division between the Islamic countries and stressed the urgency to clear up the issue. He has been lobbying for an OIC foreign ministers’ meeting since India revoked the special status of Kashmir in August last year [The Hindu].
4 February 2020
Is “insurgent constitutionalism” the new form of Indian constitutionalism?
(ls) In an interesting opinion piece published by The Wire, the author argues that, for the first time in the history of the Indian republic, it is not jurists and lawyers who are interpreting the constitution, but street protests. He argues that popular struggle on the streets, campuses, squares, towns and cities, tea shops, clubs and assemblies has found novel ways to bring back the question of justice. The author terms this form of constitutionalism “insurgent constitutionalism”. [The Wire]
4 February 2020
India: Abortion legislation to be eased
(ls) The Indian government has approved extending the legal abortion deadline to 24 weeks from 20. The measure still needs to be approved by parliament. Under current law, terminations after 20 weeks are not allowed unless a mother’s life is in danger. However, many women and girls, including high-profile child rape victims, have sought court permission for later abortions. [Reuters]
Despite government awareness campaigns, contraceptive use in India is not very popular. According to studies, 50% of pregnancies in six of the larger Indian states — Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh — are unintended. Responding to these numbers, the proposed law accepts failure of contraception as a valid reason for abortion not just in married but also in unmarried women. [Indian Express]
4 February 2020
India: Political functionaries released from six months detention
(tk) After nine political functionaries had been released from detention in Srinagar last month, the Jammu and Kashmir administration released four more political functionaries of the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on Sunday, after almost six months of detention. Over three dozen former Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) were among the political activists and office-bearers of various parties who have been detained in August when the government revoked the erstwhile state’s special status of the region. Still, 17 political functionaries remain detained. [The Times of India]
4 February 2020
India: Violence against anti-CAA protesters
(ls) In the continued protests against India’s new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), some incidents have turned violent. In New Delhi, a man fired gunshots at a protest against the law outside Jamia Millia Islamia University. The incident raises concerns that people siding with the government may try to take the law into their own hands to crush any dissent. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has rejected the protests and described the protesters as anti-nationals. Finance minister Anurag Thakur had encouraged supporters at a rally in New Delhi to chant slogans calling for traitors to be shot. [Reuters]
There have been at least three shooting attacks in New Delhi. The new law seeks to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants of all faiths from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan except Muslims. Thousands, especially students, have hit the streets since Parliament approved the law in December. [Bloomberg]
28 January 2020
On the importance of female workers for India’s future economic growth
(dql) Against the background of a lowest growth rate of India’s economy for 11 years expected for 2020 and unprecedented unemployment levels, Ankita Shree underscores the need for an increase in the female workforce as a pre-condition of an economic recovery in India, where women currently contribute to 17% of the national GDP, compared with the global average of 40%. [Asia Dilaogue]
28 January 2020
India: Partly restoration of internet access in Kashmir
(tk) In response to the Indian Constitutional Court’s ruling from January 10, in which it declared the long-term internet shutdown in Kashmir as illegal, low-speed mobile internet was restored on Saturday in Kashmir. Eight million people were suffering from this internet suspension nearly for six months after the Centre decided on August 5 last year to revoke Article 370 provisions that gave the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir special status. [Asia in Review No. 2, January 2020]
The restoration applied to 301 websites approved by the administration including search engines and those associated with banking, education, news, travel, utilities and employment. However, people could not access most of the websites due to the 2G data limitation. Affected people are frustrated and call the restauration “a joke”. They say, “it is just a game to tell people we have restored internet services, but on the ground, it doesn’t work and is of no use”. [The Hindu] [The New York Times]
The partial restauration of internet access was then again interrupted on Saturday evening as a precautionary measure for Republic Day on Sunday. [The Hindu] Officials said, low speed internet service was restored on Sunday evening. [Hindustan Times]
28 January 2020
India announces shortlisted cooperation partners for its submarine acquisition program
(jk) India announced a shortlist of domestic and foreign defence companies for the eventual domestic construction of six diesel-electric submarines worth over US$7 billion. In addition to the domestic companies, original equipment, knowledge and technology-providing companies considered are from Russia, France, Spain, Germany and South Korea. The final selection is not expected to be made before 2022. [Defense News]
28 January 2020
India: Supreme Court refuses to put CAA on hold as protests continue on Republic Day
(tk/jk) The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that it will not put the disputed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed last month and the exercise of the National Population Register (NPR) on hold. It granted the Government four weeks to respond to the 143 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law. [The Hindu Business Line] The three-judge bench also decided to refer the petitions to a five-judge constitution bench. [India Today 1]
Petitioners are disappointed by the suspension of the decision. To them “justice delayed is justice denied”. In their opinion, the government should demonstrate willingness to seek a judicial closure in the matter that had led to brutal violence throughout the country. [Al Jazeera] [Asia in Review, December/2019, 5]
On January 26, the Indian Republic Day, which Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro attended as chief guest [India Today 2], hundred thousands of protesters across India used that day to enter the streets and to express their strong will to continue their protests until the CAA is withdrawn. [India Today 3]
Meanwhile, the Indian government is increasingly refusing the right to emergency health care for some. Medical establishments have confirmed that the police told them not to admit wounded protesters, alleging others would attack ambulances trying to reach victims and block doctors from treating protesters. The approach of the police has support from some hospital owners: “The police were right – a whole mob would have followed the injured people into our hospital if we treated them. It was better for us to send them off.” Art. 18 of the fourth Geneva Convention bars the targeting of medical facilities even in time of war. [OZY]
21 January 2020
UNSC views Kashmir issue as “bilateral”
(tk) Another attempt by China to discuss the issue of Kashmir internationally failed at the UNSC on Wednesday. All other 14 members of the UNSC were of the view that this was not a matter that needed discussion at this point. France, Estonia and the UK called this a “bilateral” issue between India and Pakistan, to which Russia agreed. [India Today]
21 January 2020
India and Sri Lanka to intensify security cooperation
(ls) India and Sri Lanka are in negotiations to enhance their existing security cooperation. India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met with recently elected Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and discussed setting up a maritime research coordination center as well as intensifying military and coastguard cooperation. Sri Lanka has traditionally been allied to India, but China invested and loaned large amounts to the island nation during the decade-long (2005-2015) reign of Gotabaya’s elder brother, Mahinda. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was tilted significantly towards China under Mahinda. In December, Gotabaya said that Sri Lanka would need more financial assistance from China if other countries, particular India and EU countries, do not invest. [Al Jazeera]
Meanwhile, Indian concerns over Chinese ties with Myanmar are growing. Through the construction of the Kyaukpyu port, China will be making its presence felt on India’s eastern flank. India is already wary of China’s presence at Gwadar in Pakistan (in the west) and Hambantota in Sri Lanka (in the south). Though India and Myanmar have conducted several joint military operations along their borders, with China moving in with economic and other incentives, there could be pressures on the India-Myanmar relationship, according to observers. Chinese President Xi Jinping just visited Myanmar over the weekend. [Livemint]
An often-overlooked organization in this region is the Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec). Its member states are Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. These countries have been negotiating on and off since 2004 for a free trade agreement (FTA) but differences between India and Thailand over market access remain a major problem. However, in 2017 India made a commitment to hold more regular and high-level meetings. While China is physically disconnected from the Bay of Bengal, Chinese investment has poured into Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where Beijing has made its presence felt. A piece in the Bangkok Post discusses Bimstec’s challenges and chances. [Bangkok Post]
21 January 2020
India: Major differences among UN members over India’s permanent membership in UNSC
(tk) On Thursday, China countered Russia’s backing for India and Brazil’s entry into the UN Security Council (UNSC) as permanent members. From Russia’s point of view, the trend of the global development is the formation of new centers of economic might, financial power and political influence, to which India belongs. China on the other hand, which has veto power in the UNSC being one of its five permanent members, has been opposed to India becoming a permanent member for years. Even though the other four permanent members (US, UK, France and Russia) have backed the reform, China states that “all parties have major differences and we do not have broad consensus on the reform”. In China’s eyes, the reform should enhance the representation and say of developing countries, so that also smaller countries can be part of the decision-making process of the UNSC. [Times of India][Financial Express]
21 January 2020
Japan-India relations: Joint coast guards drill
(dql) Signaling efforts to strengthen military cooperation between Japan and India, the coast guards of both countries last week took part in a joint anti-piracy exercise off the Chennai coast. It was the 18th exercise of this kind between the two nations and comes amid China’s expanding maritime presence in waters near India. [Japan Times]
21 January 2020
India: New BJP president
(ls) India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) elected Jagat Prakash Nadda, a veteran lawmaker and long-time associate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to become its president. He replaces Amit Shah. One of Nadda’s main tasks will be to increase the party’s profile in several states ahead of a string of elections. Since late 2018, the BJP has lost control of the western states of Rajasthan and Maharashtra, Jharkhand in the east and Chhattisgarh in central India. Since its national election victory last year, Modi’s government has made a number of controversial decisions, removing special provisions on the disputed Kashmir region, gaining legal approval for building a temple at a contested site in the northern city of Ayodhya, and introducing the new citizenship law. [Reuters] [Hindustan Times]
21 January 2020
India: State of Kerala challenges citizenship law in Supreme Court
(ls/tk) In the ongoing tensions about India’s recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), the southern state of Kerala has filed a petition with the Supreme Court, asking to review the constitutionality of the Act. The Kerala government argues that the Act violates the secular nature of the Indian constitution and accused the central government of dividing the nation on religious lines. A number of Indian states have already said that they will not implement the law. Besides Kerala, these include West Bengal, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh as well as Maharashtra. [Al Jazeera]
Kerala’s petition has been filed under Article 131 of the Indian Constitution which empowers the Supreme Court to hear disputes between the government of India and one or more states. The petition states that the CAA violates the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution, the right to life under Article 21 and the freedom to practice a religion under Article 25. 60 petitions filed by individuals and political parties challenging the validity of CAA are already pending before the Supreme Court. [Hindustan Times]
An analysis published on the Lawfare blog establishes a connection between the CAA and another important and related piece of legislation, the 2003 amendment of the Citizenship Act, aiming to create a National Register of Citizens (NRC). The NRC will require every individual across India to demonstrate that they are Indian citizens through certain specified documents, which will be difficult for certain poor and marginalized groups. The author argues that the new CAA might be strategically used to protect (presumably Indian) individuals from six non-Muslim religions who may be excluded from Indian citizenship under the NRC. Thus, a loophole would be created for individuals who are from one of the six non-Muslim religions and have been designated as noncitizens under the NRC process. They could then seek citizenship through the recently passed CAA. [Lawfare]
For another recent analysis of the CAA’s legal and political consequences, see also [The Diplomat].
21 January 2020
Bangladesh: Death toll rising on the India-Bangladesh border
(tk) Even though Dhaka and New Delhi agreed on a “zero deaths” policy along the India-Bangladesh border, in 2019 at least 43 Bangladeshi citizens were killed by Indians, which is a threefold increase from the previous year. A Bangladeshi human rights activist explained that no internationally accepted border protocols allow the shoot-to-kill policy that India has been pursuing. A report from the US-based Human Rights Watch said: “Some Indian officials endorse shooting people who attempt to cross the border illegally, even if they are unarmed.”
Many international media and rights organizations have termed this border as the deadliest. This issue is becoming even more relevant since India passed its new religion-based citizenship law that excludes Muslims as immigrants from a new fast-track procedure. Thus, a high number of Muslims emigrating from India to Bangladesh can be expected. [Asia Times]
14 January 2020
India begins implementation of Citizen Amendment Act
(lf) In Uttar Pradesh, the government has started identifying illegal immigrants who might be eligible for citizenship under the Citizen Amendment Act. Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, has experienced extremely violent protests with 30 deaths. Uttar Pradesh has a large Muslim population, who fear the CAA will marginalise them [BBC].
14 January 2020
India: Court rules on internet shut-down in Kashmir
(lf) Last Friday, the Indian constitutional court has ruled the over 150 days long internet shut down illegal in Kashmir. The court’s ruling states an internet shut down can only be temporary and has ordered the Indian government to review the shutdown immediately. [Reuters 1]
India has also opened Kashmir´s doors for foreign diplomats for the first time since August. 15 countries have followed the invitation of a two days organised trip to the region, which lost its autonomy last August and has since then been under lockdown. The Indian government had been highly criticised previously by several foreign governments for blocking diplomats from the US, UK and Germany from entering the region. While the US has been part of the visit of the delegation to Kashmir, several countries including from the EU have declined an invitation and called the visit orchestrated, as it didn’t allow for free movement of the diplomats. [Reuters 2]
14 January 2020
India urges boycott of Malaysian palm oil after diplomatic tensions
(ls/tk) The Indian government as informally pressured Indian palm oil importers to effectively stop all purchases from top supplier Malaysia, following Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir’s criticism of India’s actions in Kashmir and its new citizenship law. India is the world’s largest importer of palm oil, buying more than 9 million tons annually, mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia. The block of imports could push up the country’s palm oil inventories and put pressure on its prices, which set the global benchmark for the oil. [Reuters]
Mahathir said at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in October that India “invaded and occupied” Kashmir. And regarding the new Citizenship Amendment Act, which critics say undermines the country’s secular foundations, he said India was stoking unrest. [Economic Times]
Under Prime Minister Mahatir, Malaysia has been increasingly engaged with Pakistan, while criticizing India’s treatment of Muslims. According to observers, the case is a vivid demonstration that Mahathir’s moralistic rhetoric can have actual costs for Malaysia’s economy. India, however, is reminded that its approach to Kashmir poses complications not only for its domestic politics or alignments with Western countries, but also for select Muslim-majority countries in Asia. [The Diplomat]
14 January 2020
Bangladesh: Deputy foreign minister cancels visit to India
(lf/jk) While the Foreign Ministry has announced the cancellation has nothing to do with the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) or the issue of National Register of Citizens (NRC), the Deputy Foreign Minister is the fourth senior official to cancel a visit to India since the protests started.
The CAA addresses minority religion refugees – who are not Muslim- that have experienced religious discrimination in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. While the Indian government has clarified that persecution in Bangladesh occurred prior to the rule of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hassani, Bangladesh has made clear that it is not happy with the characterisation of a country that discriminates against religious minorities.
It has also voiced concern over India deporting those deemed “illegal” to Bangladesh and with that putting further strain on bilateral relations. Bangladesh is worried both the NRC and CAA could lead to dramatic increases in refugee flows to the country. [The Hindu] [The Print]
7 January 2020
2019: A year of Internet shutdowns in South Asia
(lf/jk) As the protest in India continues against the CAA, the police and government have shut down the internet in several provinces. The most recent shut downs have affected the Province of Uttar Pradesh and Assam, where protests have been especially violent and large in scale. As mentioned previously, this is not the first time authorities in India have used this practice and India remains the country with the highest shutdown rates. [Asia in Review, No. 52, December/2019, 4]
Earlier this year, the Indian government shut down the internet in the provinces of Jammu and Kashmir, resulting in one of the longest consecutive internet shutdowns in a democracy, lasting since early August [Aljazeera]. India is not the only country in South Asia however that has used internet shut downs. Bangladesh, in the past week, shut down internet access in its border region to India [Businessinsider] [Reuters], and has previously done so in the Rohingya refugee camps where the internet has been cut since early last year [Washington Post].
Pakistan, ranking low on Freedom House’s freedom of the net index, [Freedomhouse Pakistan], also has a history of shutting down the internet, as does Sri Lanka. There, officials had cut down social media access to reduce the spread of misinformation after the Easter Bombings last year [CNBC]. Southeast Asian neighbour Myanmar is also known for its internet shutdowns in various states [The ASEAN Post].
Reducing the freedom of the internet and shutting it down altogether to silence oppositional voices is a worrying trend in the region. Overall, 2019 has seen unprecedented lows in internet freedom all across Asia, with several countries seeing their internet freedom decrease [Freedom House].
7 January 2020
Continued protests in India
(lf) As expected, protest in India continue into the new year. One recent clash took place at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, where several masked men attacked students and teachers. Left and right-leaning student groups at the University blame each other but there is a fear that the BJP wants to silence the anti-government voices within the traditionally left-leaning University.
While protests at JNU mostly evolved around University fees, and not specifically against the CAA, they are part of larger anti-BJP protests and exemplify fears of escalating violence and lawlessness in the capital, as well as the silencing of opposing views to the ruling party. [BBC1] [The Guardian 1] [BBC2].
In Hyderabad (a city with 40% Muslim population) 100,000 people gathered in peaceful protest against the new law. [The Guardian 2]
7 January 2020
India: BJP loses another State Assembly
(jk) Despite Modi’s sweeping victory in the federal elections, the BJP has been removed from several state governments since. Among the key states that have been lost more recently was Maharashtra, a particularly important state due to its elevated economic and financial status. [Asia in Review, No. 49, December/2019, 1]
Last week, the ruling BJP lost yet another state assembly poll in central Jharkhand State. The BJP’s 25 out of 81 seats were not enough against a tri-party opposition alliance including the main opposition party Congress. [Livemint]