Global Review had the pleasure to have an interview with Indian General (ret.) Asthana about the geopolitical situation in Asia and the Greater Middle East. The author is a strategic and security analyst, a veteran Infantry General with40 years experience in national & international fields and UN. A globally acknowledged strategic & military writer/analyst authored over 350 publications. Interviewed by various National and International news channels/newspapers/organisations. Currently Chief Instructor, USI of India, the oldest Indian Think-tank in India. On Board/Governing Council CEE, IOED, IPC, ITVMNN and other UN Organisations. On Advisory Board of SWEDINT, member EPON. Former Additional DG Infantry. Awarded twice by President of India, United Nations, former Prime Minister Maldova and Governor of Haryana.
Global Review: General Asthana, the situation around Kashmir seems to be stabilized. In the global media at the moment there is no intensive reporting about it anymore as has been after the Kashmir abrogation law. The protests of Muslim countries seemed also to be limited. Did Pakistan´s and Chinas propaganda efforts not work? What are the positions of them and of the USA, the EU and Asian and Muslim countries about the Kashmir question? However, some claim that India had imprisoned 7 million Kashmiris in detention camps as China with the 1 million Uighurs in Xinjiang. Suzanna Arundhati Roy even speaks of Kashmir as a war zone with torture, human rights abuses and illegal killings. How would you portray the situation in Kashmir?
Major General S B Asthana: The abrogation of Article 370 and 35a (temporary article in the Constitution of India) and administrative reorganisation of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir was done for better governance of the region, through laid down democratic procedures, by more than two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament. This reform was long overdue, as it was seen that these Articles were hurting India and common people of J&K. These provisions were being misused by few local politicians, separatists, elite businessmen, terrorists and their supporters, at the cost of brewing inequality, depriving legal benefits, voting rights, welfare related rights to common people of Kashmir including labourers, daughters marrying outside and their children to forgo their rights, allowed forcibly pushing out some natives like Kashmiri Pundits with blatant abuse of power and left India helpless in mitigating their grievances. No investments were possible to create jobs, hence terror industry bloomed. The Bill reorganizes the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two separate Union Territories. Needless to say that the people enjoying such abuse of power will continue to cry foul, along with some more trying to gain political mileage out of it, but the fact is that this decision was backed by majority of the country; hence the situation is stabilising gradually.
These articles helped the hybrid warfare launched by Pakistan and its terror network in Kashmir. China is also a beneficiary of progressing its CPEC through sovereign territory of India and Pakistani export of terror indirectly leads to containment of India; hence it suited both countries to launch a information Warfare through false propaganda against India, which had to fizzle out as it lacked truth and substance. Chinese attempts to take it up with UNSC failed thrice as most countries realise that it is internal matter of India. Some countries from the West and Islamic world have been raising concerns regarding temporary clamp down on internet and mobiles, but the same was essential to save lives under the given circumstances at that time, when Pakistan and the terrorists supported by it were trying for igniting violence and shut down Kashmir through these mediums. This led to India with uncomfortable choice between providing right to internet or right to life to innocent people. India rightly chose the later option, and now most restrictions have been relaxed. Imprisonment of seven million Kashmiris in detention camps is a fake news. Kashmir today is much more peaceful than it had ever been in last few decades. Whenever such major decisions are taken by any democratic country, there are few people who have different opinions, and the author you mentioned in the question may have her view in a free democracy like India. I disagree with her view and so does the majority. Needless to say that in all democratic countries including India, the decisions are taken by majority view and not individual perceptions.
Global Review: After the Kashmir laws, Modi pushed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and a new citizen registration system which discriminates Muslims and other foreign religions as well as a military reform. At the same time the national hero Mahatma Ghandi is questioned by the BJP and the RSS, his assassin Godse even idealized and being portrayed as a real Hindu nationalist. Observers think that Modi wants to establish a Hindu nationalist dictatorship and that the military reforms serves as instrument to neutralize the military staging a possible coup d´etat for the constitutional identity of India as a secular, democratic state—similar to Erdogan in Turkey. How do you perceive Modi´s actions and military reforms? Is the Indian army the guardian of a secular, democratic India?
Major General S B Asthana: Your question has few assumptions emanating from the propaganda/misperception campaign of those who are not comfortable with rising India, or have not understood the details of the events/acts/regulations. India is and will remain a secular country. The CAA is an act to fast track giving citizenship to persecuted people in few neighbouring countries, who do not have any alternative to go other than India, and have been staying in India without citizenship. It does not affect citizenship rights of anyone else in India. Every country in the world formulates rules for its citizenship and counts its citizens for better governance, as per its national requirement and India is no exception. The Citizenship Amendment Act has been adopted through laid down democratic process with proper majority in both houses of Parliament. India also has enough rules and provisions for any person of any country or religion to apply for Indian citizenship and it can be granted to him/her on case to case basis like any other country in the world. In a free democratic country like India, some people can have different views and protest in peaceful manner or seek legal remedy, when they have different point of view on some government decision. This actually defines healthy matured democracy. India is a stable democracy and capable of handling all dissent by itself. The Government of the day is duty bound to control violence in such protests and continues to do so. Presently most protests are peaceful, however India has vibrant media and practices freedom of expression; hence at times the negative news and protests hog much more limelight than the majority acceptance. Politics during elections over such issues is also quite common in most democratic countries and the communal angle indicated in your question is more related to election rhetoric than any truth. Being an old United Nations official, I can tell you that such things happen in most democratic countries during elections/for vote politics and India is no exception. These issues are internal issues of India and no outside agency is need to be concerned about it.
Indian Defence Forces are apolitical, totally secular, democratic, hold allegiance to the Constitution of India and will remain so. The major military reform in recent past has been the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff, which is very much needed for single point military advice to the Government and integration of forces. This was conceived over two decades back and has been implemented for improving the jointness and effectiveness of Indian military. I am fully in agreement with it. Reforms pertaining to military and police capacity building were also much needed, considering our unsettled borders with two neighbours.
Global Review: After Trump cancelled the talks with the Taliban, the USA is now restarting the talks and the Taliban thinks that a breakthrough could be achieved next time. In this context, the Indian foreign minister was embarrassed about the Paris meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on September 23rd when the USA, France, Germany, Japan and other member countries sided with Pakistan and China. After the USA and other countries sanctioned Pakistan for the support of terrorism. Is the context that Pakistan has an influence on the Taliban and therefore on a possible peace agreement and post-war order in Afghanistan?
Major General S B Asthana: Pakistan so far continues on the Grey List of FATF and will remain so, if it does not show convincing progress on laid down parameters. It continues to be an embarrassment for Pakistan and not India. Logically Pakistan should be declared black by FATF, but being a strategic analyst, I know that China and few others, who do not want Pakistan to sink, will continue to save it and make attempt to pull it out from Grey list, because it strategically suits them, despite knowing that Pakistan will continue to support its terror industry as its strategic asset.
Regarding US talks with Taliban, in my opinion Taliban is playing games with USA, as the later wants to move out from there. Taliban shows no inclination of Intra-Afghan dialogue and continues to attack US and Afghan troops. Notwithstanding what their leaders say, Taliban cadres want full control of Afghanistan and sharia law. Pakistan did protect Taliban leadership in past, but do not have any credible control over Taliban. Pakistani gestures to play mediatory role to please US, which is finding itself in ‘No Go’ situation, may soften US stance towards them and perhaps earn some concessions, but in the long run US will find itself cheated once again by Pakistan, which would continue enjoying the perks/money of US, despite being incapable of doing anything significant. I must point out that when Taliban was in power in Afghanistan, it made no concession to Pakistan on Durand line. TTP continues to attack Pakistan Army. Some countries are over assessing Pakistan’s control over Taliban.
Global Review: China is pushing the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and now also wants to integrate the Iranian port of Chabahar that till now was an Indian choke point into its New Silk Road. What roles do you think India, China and Pakistan take in the US-Iranian conflict? Will India side with Saudi Arabia and the USA while China sides with Iran? The Iranian Navy even had joint maritime drills with the Chinese and Russian navy? How do you think the US-Iranian conflict will develop and which positions will India, China and Pakistan take in this development?
Major General S B Asthana: India continues to object to CPEC passing through its sovereign territory of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir in the form it acceded to us in 1948. India has not joined BRI and never attended Belt and Road Forum as CPEC forms part of it. India will continue to be proactive in Chabahar having made substantial investment. I do not visualise a conventional conflict between US and Iran, but US will continue with sanctions and Iran will continue with irregular warfare actions. Some posturing and limited actions between the two cannot be ruled out. China and Russia are likely to favour Iran in any future show down. Pakistan and India may not be keen to get involved in it for their own reasons.
Global Review: In a Global Times article a Chinese strategist criticised the Indian foreign policy as some sort of balance of power approach which tried to balance between China and the USA. According to the author this approach was outdated, an old British colonialist model of the 19th century and that India in the future had to decide to side with China and Asia or with the USA as an escalation of the Sino-American conflict, even to a Sino-American war was probable. Do you think the Indian approach is feasible in the future or what could be the alternatives? And in the case that China expands its military activities in the Indo Pacific and the US is responding with a sea blockade war following the Offshore strategy of TX Hammes which side would India choose?
Major General S B Asthana: Strategic balancing is the new normal in modern interlinked world. I do not agree with Global Times view which you mentioned in the question. China’s closest ally Pakistan has been doing strategic balancing between China and US. ASEAN countries have also been doing strategic balancing. India has been a leader of non-aligned movement, and now a country strong enough to act in its own national interest. I do not think any one country can dictate India’s strategic choices. India’s relations with US, Russia and China are on bilateral terms, and it is likely to act in Indian interest in each case. The Sino-US conventional conflict has very less probability, because it is cost-prohibitive for both, but the cold war, economic war, military posturing, strategic and technological competition and possibly a cyber war has much greater probability. In case of Chinese expansionism in Indian Ocean and or obstruction in freedom of navigation and flights in Indo – Pacific, India is likely to protect its sovereign rights and go along with friendly navies.
Global Review: China wants an Eurasian/ Asian security architecture and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) should be a part of it as BRICS the SCO. While India and Pakistan joined the SCO as full members, India refused to join the RCEP for economic reasons and the fear that China will dominate India and Asia economically.
Major General S B Asthana: India is a responsible member of BRICS and SCO and shall continue to be so. India wanted to join RCEP, but the agreement in current form does not meet the trade interest and economic security of India. The negotiations will be on and the window is still open for India to join, if Indian concerns are addressed.
Global Review: Russia thinks that it could also become part of an Eurasian security architecture. SCO, BRICS and the Primakov model of BRI as well as Russian foreign minister Lavrov’s proposal for a UN reform that brings India in the UN Security Council and therefore would be an Eurasian counterweight to the US and Western influence are examples for this. Do you think that the Russian-Chinese Eurasia plans are feasible and realistic? And what do you think about an UN reform?
Major General S B Asthana: Russian thoughts of Eurasia security architecture brings an apprehension of Chinese domination, due to its strategic closeness with China and the orientation of the architecture against US led block. The potential countries for this architecture also have some members of NATO/ close to it. There may be differences amongst NATO members, but it is neither dead organisation nor is it going to die. So long Russia and China nexus remains, NATO members will remain together as a security compulsion. What makes this idea of Eurasian security architecture relevant is the threat from the growing southern arc of terrorists including growing pangs of ISIS, Taliban, al-Qaeda and other terror groups including North Africa. Due to pulls and pressures of commonality of members in overlapping organisations, I do not see this architecture emerging as an exclusive one, but issue based cooperations could be a reality.
UN Reforms are overdue and UNSC needs an overhaul. Bulk of P-5 members were victors of World War II and interestingly Chinese inclusion was supported by India. The global realities have changed. The strategic clout of countries like UK has reduced and the representation of developing countries in P5 is lacking; hence India is a natural contender for it, along with few more countries. An expansion of permanent members or some other model of UNSC needs to be worked out. The veto power with its members and competing interests of West and East in UNSC has led to a situation where all major military interventions in last two decades like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya have taken place without UNSC sanction, because all P5 do not agree on most issues. There is need of more nations to be part of it to have an equitable representation and a balancing effect for a stable world.
Global Review: The USA and India introduced the term Indo-Pacific in their national security strategies. Russia and China think the term is an exclusive concept that wants to exclude and contain China. The German Defense Minister Annegret Karrenbauer also spoke of the Indo-pacific and proposed that Germany and the Europeans also should send their navies in this area. Russia also tries to join maritime drills with the Indian Navy in the Indo-Pacific and the USA also had a drill with the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal. Does India see the Indio-Pacific as an exclusive concept against China and is interested that even European navies should join its effort Or is the idea of a participation of European, Russian and other navies not more a joke?
Major General S B Asthana: In my opinion the term Indo- Pacific comes from a common water body comprising of Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean joined by various choke points like Malacca Strait, through which maximum shipping traffic in the world sails. The freedom of navigation and flight, seamless movement, and use of global commons in this region is of global concern. By definition, it is not directed against any specific country, but if any country takes actions like converting features into islands to increase its EEZ at the cost of other countries, defies rulings of UNCLOS and does military posturing to give a message of expansionism based on its unilateral interpretation of history, it will find a resistance from most of the other global users of the same water body and will itself start feeling that Indo-Pacific is directed against it. India has been conducting exercises with Quad members, other European navies and Russians to increase inter-operability and maritime domain awareness against piracy and disaster relief, which are maritime challenges. These water bodies are global sea lanes of communication and all countries need to join to ensure that the freedom of navigation remains protected against any hegemonic design.
(The views expressed are personal views of Major General S B Asthana, who retains the copy right). He can be reached at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, @asthana_shashi on twitter, and personnel sitehttps://asthanawrites.org/email email@example.comLinkedIn Profilewww.linkedin.com/in/shashi-asthana-4b3801a6Youtube linkShashi Asthana