Friday, May 30, 2014

The Defunct Panchsheel

Indian Staff in front of the Indian Trade Agency
in Yatung, Tibet (courtesy: Yuvraj Singh)
(At the end of this article, I have posted the Indian (PIB) and Chinese (Xinhua) communiques regarding the phone conversation between Prime Minister Modi and Premier Li Keqiang.
You can see that the Chinese side still speaks of the Five Principles, without mentioning that the Panchsheel Agreement was ONLY about Tibet.
If Beijing wants to revive the Panchsheel, a new life should be given NOT ONLY to the Spirit of Panchsheel, but also to the content of the Agreement. 
Let India and China reopen the Himalayan passes, the Consulate General in Lhasa, the Indian Trade Agencies in Yatung, Gartok and Gyantse!). 

Several foreign policy ‘experts’ have suggested that India should celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Panchsheel Agreement; I always wonder if these ‘experts’ even know the name of the agreement referred to as ‘Panchsheel’.
The Panchsheel Agreement is composed of two parts: the preamble (the Five Principles) and the content.
For Beijing, the title itself, 'Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet Region of China and India' was the raison-d’être of the accord; it was a grand victory for Beijing (and a crushing defeat for Nehru): for the first time in 2,000 years, India acknowledged that Tibet as a mere ‘Region of China’.
India had to pay dearly, and is still paying 60 years after the agreement for the idealist policy of her first prime minister, who advertised the preamble and ignored the content.
The only objective of the ‘Indo-Tibet’ Agreement was to regulate trade and pilgrimage between India and Tibet. It specified several points of entry into Tibet: “Traders and pilgrims of both countries may travel by the following passes and routes: Shipkila, Mana, Niti, Kungri Bingri, Darma and Lipulekh passes.” Apart from the first one located in Himachal Pradesh, the other passes lie in today’s Uttarakhand.
More interestingly, Article IV mentions: “Also, the customary route leading to Tashigong along the valley of the Indus River may continue to be traversed in accordance with custom.”
This refers to the Ladakh road, via Demchok, which for centuries was used by the Indian pilgrims wanting to visit the Kailash-Manasarovar area.
Today, the border post is closed.
Why is Beijing adamantly refusing to reopen this route? Probably because Demchok, for centuries the first Ladakhi village, is today occupied by China!
The Agreement lapsed in April 1962 and 6 months later, India and China fought a bitter war over Tibet, the object of the Agreement.
Some clauses of the 1954 Agreement were good: for example, “inhabitants of the border districts of the two countries who cross the border to carry on petty trade or to visit friends and relatives may proceed to the border districts of the other party …and shall not be required to hold passports, visas or permits.”
It was how the relations between the Himalayan region and Tibet had worked for centuries; India and Tibet were neighbours and friends.
But the spirit of the agreement was never implemented, with tragic consequences for India (and Tibet).
While ‘experts’ continue to lecture about the Grand Principles, the agreement expired 52 years ago.
One of the disastrous outcomes of the agreement is that the Indian Government did not use the occasion to bargain, against the relinquishment of India's rights in Tibet, for a proper delimitation of the border. Delhi considered these ‘privileges’ as an imperialist heritage to be spurned by a newly independent India.
I could quote literally hundreds of examples showing that the ‘Panchsheel’ resulted in the constant harassment for Indians: officials, traders and pilgrims in Tibet.
I shall mention a tragic-comic incident.
In May 1959, Swami Brahmachari Atma Chaitanya, an Indian pilgrim on his way to Kailash, was arrested and quizzed the Chinese border guards, as he crossed the Tibet border. A complaint letter from the MEA to Beijing explains why: “[The Swami] was harshly interrogated by the Chinese soldiers, his baggage searched, and some of his belongings confiscated. These included some homoeopathic medicines which he was accused of bringing with him with the intention of poisoning the people of Tibet.”
The Swamy was detained for five days, then he was allowed to proceed for his pilgrimage. When he crossed back to India, he was once again interrogated and the Chinese officials asked him to confess that he had brought ‘poison’ with him. He was courageous enough to refuse. His medicines were however confiscated.
This was followed by a lengthy exchange of notes between Delhi and Beijing.
A Chinese note says: “A laboratory test by the authorities concerned in Tibet already proved that the so-called ‘frequently required drugs for self use’ contained in ten odd bottles …were poisonous matters comprising such highly poisonous drugs like Arsenic Alb, Merc. Cor., Aconite, Phosphorus, Nux Vom and so on. No one with a little commonsense would think that such a big variety of highly poisonous matters being in the possession of a single person can become the frequently required drugs for self use.”
Hundreds of such notes or memoranda exist, not only on pilgrimage issues, but more importantly on the routine functioning of the Indian Trade Agencies in Gyantse, Gartok and Yatung as well as the Consulate General of India in Lhasa. Constant pestering and administrative hurdles hindered the reconstruction of the Indian Trade Agency in Gyantse which was washed away during flash floods in July 1954.
The agency was never rebuilt due to the petty attitude of the Chinese officials in Gyantse, Lhasa and Beijing. When the Agency was officially closed in June 1962, the Indian authorities were requested to take back to India the construction materials (gravel, wood, etc.) with them! Such was the Spirit of Panchsheel.
Indian traders were repeatedly victimized by the Chinese who imposed exorbitant taxes and new unilateral import or export restrictions.
One of the most targeted communities was the Khachis, the Kashmiri Muslims, who for centuries had been trading between Tibet, Kashmir and Central Asia. They suddenly become Chinese nationals and restricted to return to India. Those who did not agree were harassed and arrested.
The details of these 8 years are sordid. I have collected hundreds of these letters, notes, etc. all of them quoting the great ‘Panchsheel’ agreement. The situation was so bad that in June 1962, India decided not to renew the Agreement and close down its 3 Trade Agencies. The Consulate General was closed in December 1962; here again, amidst high drama, the Chinese accusing the Indian Consul General, Arvind Deo to have destroyed some of India’s own properties in Lhasa and Yatung.
The Panchsheel Agreement heralded nightmarish years for the foreign office officers posted in Tibet as well as the Indian traders and pilgrims. At the end, the age-old relations within the Indian Himalayas came to nil.
The Chinese Ambassador in India, Mr. Wei Wei stated after soon Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony: “We have every reason to believe that as long as China and India join hands to pursue common development, we will realise our beautiful dreams and make new positive contributions to peace, stability and prosperity in Asia, and the world at large.”
This is fine, but China and India should just forget the Panchsheel and let the two nations start on a clean slate. Too many bitter souvenirs are attached to the Panchsheel.
Common men in India would like to circumambulate Mt. Kailash and take a holy dip in the Manasarovar, why not reopen the Demchok road to start with?


From Press Information Bureau 
PM Modi speaks to Premier Li Keqiang of China
May 29, 2014

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke on the telephone to H.E. Mr. Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China this afternoon at the latter’s initiative. Premier Li congratulated Prime Minister Modi on his victory in the recent general elections and conveyed the Chinese government’s desire to establish robust partnership with the new government of India for further development of relations between the two nations.
Prime Minister Modi thanked Premier Li for his message of felicitations. Noting that China was always a priority in India’s foreign policy, he underlined his government’s resolve to utilize the full potential of our Strategic and Cooperative Partnership with China and his keenness to work closely with the Chinese leadership to deal with any outstanding issues in our bilateral relations by proceeding from the strategic perspective of our developmental goals and long-term benefits to our peoples. He welcomed greater economic engagement between the two countries.
The two leaders agreed to maintain frequent high-level exchanges and communication. Prime Minister Modi extended through Premier Li an invitation to President Xi Jinping to pay a visit to India later this year.
Prime Minister Modi’s telephone conversation with Premier Li was his first with a foreign Head of Government since taking over as Prime Minister of India. 

From Xinhua News Agency
Chinese premier discusses bilateral ties with new Indian PM
May 29, 2014
BEIJING, May 29 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, in a telephone hook-up Thursday, told new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that China was willing to enhance mutual trust and regarded each other's development as opportunities.
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which was jointly initiated by China, India and Myanmar in 1954, Li said China was willing to further strengthen cooperation with India and jointly push ahead the construction of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor.
China was also willing to enhance exchanges in the humanistic field and other areas and look for more converging points of interest to jointly make contributions to the peace, stability and prosperity in the region and the world, Li said.
Li congratulated Modi's swearing-in as India's new prime minister, saying that, with concerted efforts by both sides, relations between China and India had developed significantly in recent years, and the two countries had jointly explored a way to relate to each other, in which cooperation was actively explored and differences were properly managed and controlled.
China and India were both countries with a long history of civilization, and they were also the two largest developing countries and most vigorous emerging economies in the world, the Chinese premier said, adding the two countries were natural cooperation partners.
The cooperation between and common development of China and India would not only benefit their peoples, but also make a major contribution to settling the issue of development of the entire mankind, Li said.
Modi said India and China were friendly neighbors and friendly exchanges between their peoples had a long history.
India was delighted with the achievements China had made in development, Modi said, adding developing relations with China was one of the important tasks of India's diplomacy.
India's new government attached great importance to India-China relations from a strategic high perspective, and was willing to work with China to advance bilateral cooperation in various fields, solve existing issues through dialogue, and achieve friendly and harmonious co-existence and common development, Modi said.
In 1954, China, India and Myanmar initiated the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which stand for mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.
Modi, the 63-year-old Hindu nationalist leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was sworn in Monday as India's new prime minister.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Practicing Repression in Tibet

The role of the 'thug' is played by a Chinese
Some 'counter-terrorism' combat exercises were recently held in Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province.
The SWAT (an acronym for 'Special Weapons And Tactics', commonly used for paramilitary forces with military-style light weapons) held what Xinhua called 'simulation exercises' to repress 'thugs' (read Tibetans).
The paramilitary troops displayed their skills by simulating 'disposal of self-immolation', extreme behavior, illegal gatherings, violent demonstrations or sit-ins.
The Chinese SWATs used techniques such martial arts, wrestling capture, anti-hijacking drills and demonstrated the use of their latest 'counter-terrorism equipment'.
Tibet seems always ahead of Xinjiang is term of repressive 'technologies'.
A few months ago, I wrote on this blog: Security: Learn from Tibet
I mentioned that a delegation from Xinjiang's capital Urumqi visited Lhasa to learn the tricks of the trade to preserve 'security' and 'stability'. The delegation was taken around by Tibet's Security Czar, Deng Xiaogang who is also the Party's Deputy Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
I then wrote: "You can be sure that the delegation had not come for sight-seeing."
The China Daily then affirmed that the Party cadres from Urumqi were very impressed by the "effective grid management system, which arranges every five or 10 households into a group. They concluded that the Urumqi government should put more effort into improving community facilities and service, enhancing the management of its floating population, and maintaining community stability."
Will an 'effective' grid system be able to stop cars ramming into tourists on the Tiananmen Square or bombings in Urumqi's railway station?
Today, the leadership from Xinjiang believes that it can learn from Tibet.
All these issues may be discussed during the 6th Xinjiang Work Forum, sometimes next month in Beijing. The Forum will take 'policy decisions' regarding the future of the restive region inhabited by the Uyghurs.
In the meantime a couple of days back, the Politburo of the Communist Party held an urgent meeting.
It was decided that "National solidarity would be achieved in Xinjiang by promoting bilingual education, patriotic religious practices and interaction between ethnic groups."
It further called for 'religious harmony and elimination of extremism'.
Remember the Middle Path approach advocated by the Muslim leaders earlier this month.
According to the Politburo statement: "Employment would also be a priority, with the goal of ensuring that at least one person in each family has a job. And education levels of all schools across Xinjiang would be enhanced.
There should be more construction projects and greater development of natural resources for the benefit of locals."
Analysts believe that it marks a shift in the policy for the region. An earlier Politburo meeting (in November 2013) had put more emphasis on security issues.
It probably means that the forthcoming Xinjiang Work Forum will have a dual approach, education and promotion of religious harmony on one hand and strickter control of the 'religious extremism' and repressive control on the other.
During the recent Politburo, President Xi said that he wanted to achieve "long-term peace and ethnic unity by cracking down on terrorists and religious extremists".
He asserted that the Government policies were 'completely accurate', though the 'war on separatists was long term, complicated and urgent'.
According to the Politburo statement: "We must take the severe crackdown on terrorism as the focus of the current war and curb the spread of terrorist attacks and the filtration of extreme religious powers. We must be confident about our victory and be prepared for the long-term battle and soundly carry out work to maintain Xinjiang's long-term stability."
In the meantime, the security forces are practicing in Tibet.
Please note that the role of the Tibetans are played by Chinese soldiers.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Special Guest at the Swearing-in Ceremony

It was quite a pleasant surprise to see Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan Prime Minister in exile (known as the Sikyong) amongst the invitees at the Rashtrapati Bhavan for the swearing in ceremony of the Modi Government.
It must be first, which may not please the Chinese.
Though not connected, I recently came across an interesting letter sent by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India to the Chinese Government. It is 51 years old.
It refers to the Constitution of Tibet promulgated by the Dalai Lama.

Note given by the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, to the Embassy of China in India, 15 April 1963
The Ministry of External Affairs presents its compliments to the Embassy of the People's Republic of China and with reference to the Chinese Government's note dated 25th March, has the honour to state as follows:

The Government of India have repeatedly made clear to the Chinese Government that there is absolutely no question of the Government of Indian giving support to any subversive political activities whatsoever by Tibetans, who have left their homes and come as refugees to this country. Inspite of this, the Chinese Government have continued to make slanderous and unfounded allegations against the Indian Government, and have now again accused the Indian Government of having supported political activity by Tibetans in India. The Government of India firmly repudiate these utterly untenable and false allegations.
Basing itself upon a News despatch of a foreign press agency, the Chinese Government have slanderously alleged that the Spokesman of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has declared the publication of a draft Constitution of Tibet as an ‘exercise’. This is in keeping with the Chinese Government's practice of mischievously quoting statements out-of-context and even fabricating statements never made, so as to suit their own purposes. No press conference was held by the Spokesman of the Ministry about the Dalai Lama's proclamation of a new Constitution.
If there are any disturbances in Tibet, these are matters for the Chinese Government to deal with. It is absurd for the Government of China to blame the Government of India for any internal difficulties and to make the mischievous suggestion of the existence of an ‘Emigre Government’ in this country. Even the Foreign Press Report referred to in the Chinese note makes it clear that there is no change in Government of India's policy on this matter as will be seen from the following:
"Indian official spokesman dismissed as ‘imagination and fabrication’ Wednesday Chinese Communist allegation India fostering emigre Tibetan Government. There is no such Government and India has not changed her policy of not recognising any such Government', said spokesman for Ministry of External Affairs. He was commenting on Peking People's Daily editorial monitored in Tokyo."
The Government of India's policy in regard to India's relations with Tibet has been given in the Prime Minister of India's statement in Parliament as early as on April 27, 1959 where the Prime Minister stated that, the three main governing factors were:
(1)    the preservation of the security and integrity of India;
(2)    our desire to maintain friendly relations with China; and
(3)    our deep sympathy for the people of Tibet. That policy we shall continue to follow because we think that it is a correct policy not only for the present but even more so for the future. It would be a tragedy if the two great countries of Asia, India and China, which have been peaceful neighbours for ages past, should develop feelings of hostility against each other.
We for our part will follow this policy, but we hope that China also will do likewise and that nothing will be said or done which endangers the friendly relations of the two countries which are so important from the wider point of view of the peace of Asia and the world. The Five Principles have laid-down, inter alia, mutual respect for each other. Such mutual respect is gravely impaired if unfounded charges are made and the language of cold war used.
In regard to Tibetan refugees who had come to India, the Prime Minister then stated. “…we have also some Tibetan emigres in India. All of these deeply respect the Dalai Lama. Some of these have been exceedingly unhappy at developments in Tibet. No doubt they have anti-Chinese sentiments. We have made it clear to them that they will not be permitted to carry on any subversive activities in India and I should like to say that by and large they have acted in accordance with the directions of the Government of India".
This straight-forward and upright policy of the Government of India was spelt out once again in the statement of the Foreign Secretary to the Chinese Ambassador made on 23rd May, 1959, in reply to a statement by the Chinese Ambassador of 16th May, 1959, which had contained unwarranted attacks against the Government of India.
In the context of the above facts there can be no question of the Government of India having supported any form, of political activity directed against the People's Republic of China by the Tibetan population in India. The baseless and slanderous charges of ‘expansionism’ on the part of India are merely a Chinese pretext to carry on venomous anti-Indian propaganda for creating anti-Indian feelings and fomenting war hysteria among the people of the neighbouring Region of Tibet, with whom India has had a long-standing tradition of friendship and cultural affinity. The events since September 1962 show that far from India entertaining "expansionist dreams", it is China that has by her massive attacks and unwarranted aggression on Indian territory demonstrated her expansionist aims and inimical intentions against a friendly and peaceful neighbour who had done so much to assist and support her in various ways.
The Ministry of External Affairs avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the Embassy of the People's Republic of China the assurances its highest consideration.

India has not spoken her last creative word

My article in NitiCentral about the new government.

Here is the link...

Let me say a few ‘personal’ things.
It was perhaps a coincidence or my good ‘karma’, but traveling from France to India in 1972, I kept a pocketbook in my backpack: the French translation of The Life Divine, Sri Aurobindo’s philosophical magnum opus. I have to admit that I was not able to not decipher much about the Master’s philosophical vision. It was, however, to greatly influence my life and answer my fundamental question: should the ‘outside world’ be transformed into something ‘beautiful’ in the image of the Divine or should the material world be abandoned and all life devoted to reaching ‘higher’ realms?
I had serious reservations about the latter. Traveling in India in the early 1970s was a shock; the dirt, the chaos in the big cities, the lack of ‘modern’ facilities, the blaring loudspeakers, the crowds, the crowds everywhere, everything was a constant reminder that things were not so bad in Europe where trains ran on time, towns were clean, information was easily available to the public, civic cleanliness a way of life.
At the beginning of the 20th century Sri Aurobindo wrote these words which changed my life: “India of the ages is not dead nor has she spoken her last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human peoples. And that which must seek now to awake is not an anglicised oriental people, docile pupil of the West and doomed to repeat the cycle of the occident's success and failure, but still the ancient immemorable Shakti recovering her deepest self, lifting her head higher towards the supreme source of light and strength and turning to discover the complete meaning and a vaster form of her Dharma.”
It touched me so deeply that I decided to settle in India. It was 40 years ago.
The recent years have been rather depressing; India seemed to have gone into a deep lethargy, to say the least.
Can the new set up in Delhi makes us dream again of India of the Ages? During the first months of Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure in 1984, we lived similar hope; it did not last long as ‘the power-brokers’ soon took over the government machinery. 2004 witnessed another era of expectation, but due to the constraints of a coalition government, optimism quickly faded away.
This time around, hundreds of millions are expecting real, concrete changes; in apparently small details too.
An example, some 10 days ago, a well-known and popular Lama from Arunachal Pradesh passed away in tragic circumstances. Since then, I have been trying to phone a friend in Tawang to offer my condolences. Each time, I dial his mobile number, I get a message ‘this number can’t receive in-coming calls’. Can’t you believe it?
Successive governments at the Centre have been unable to provide proper infrastructure (roads, communications, etc.) to India’s border areas; sixty-seven years after independence, it is a shame. I think Modi Sarkar can make a difference in this field, like in many others and hopefully, the ministries dealing with the Himalayan frontiers will immediately and ruthlessly be taken to task. 
Now take India’s relations with China and particularly the border issue, here too, the Modi Sarkar should make a difference.
I am convinced that one of the main issues which hinders any significant progress is the fact that the history of the border areas has been kept under wraps for political purpose.
Everyone has heard about the cause célèbre, the Henderson-Brooks-Bhagat Report on the 1962 debacle in NEFA and Ladakh. For more than 50 years, the report was kept secret only to protect a few.
What is worse, the defence minister lied in the Parliament; he mentioned the Report’s ‘operational value’ as a pretext to keep it secret; this was just a bogus excuse as we can see now.
This particular report is the tiny tip of a massive iceberg; the Indian public is today not allowed to know India’s history, (even after the legal 25-year gap has elapsed). No proper rules have even been framed for declassification of archives (or if the rules exist, they are kept secret).
Take the Aksai Chin dispute, for years the Nehru government knew about the construction of the road across northern Ladakh, but the common man and the Parliament were kept in the dark. The Lok Sabha got to know ‘by chance’ in December 1959. Fifty-five years after the event, there is not a single declassified file on the subject.
Because Modi is a strong leader with a good majority, I believe that he will not hesitate to look at the past with an open-mind, and to take the necessary hard decisions. Only a strong government will be able to stand up to the Chinese, and eventually acknowledge Indian past mistakes, if any. 
The Modi Sarkar can change the relations with China for the best; Beijing will undoubtedly understand better a straight-speaking leader than back-bending ones.
Former Foreign Secretary A.P. Venkateshwaran, who was posted as Indian Ambassador in Beijing in the early 80’s, often recounted this anecdote demonstrating that the ‘pacifist’ Indian leaders were not understood by the Chinese leadership. One day he was requested by the Party’s Politburo for a subtitled copy of the movie ‘Gandhi.’ It was loaned by the Embassy for a private screening for the Party leadership and when the Chinese official returned the copy to the Embassy, the Ambassador asked him how it was received. The official thanked the Government of India for its generosity and “replied enigmatically that it was a splendid and moving account of Gandhi’s life. But no one had been able to understand what his non-violence is about!”
A recent Global Times commentary showed that Beijing perfectly grasped the meaning of Modi’s statement in Arunachal: “Times have changed… Expansionist mindset won’t be acceptable. China too will have to give up this mindset. Only the mindset of development will be in currency.” The then Gujarat CM added: “No power can snatch it from us”.
Modi rightly stated in Arunachal: “the clarion call of Jai Hind reverberates in the land.”
Another factor is bound to play a vital role in case of tensions. While the situation on China’s borders is extremely unstable (see, for example, the bomb blast which killed some 30 people in Urumqi), the Indian electorate (an unknown concept in China) has massively voted for Modi and the BJP in the Himalayan belt. From Ladakh (1/1) to Himachal (4/4), Uttarakhand (5/5) and Arunachal (1/2), 10 out of 12 Lok Sabha seats have gone to the BJP. As the local populations become more and more restive in Tibet and Xinjiang; often violently opposing Beijing’s rule, the Himalayans in India have massively voted for Modi and shown their strong patriotic fabric. One can easily imagine that it is a game changer in case of a conflict.
The Modi Sarkar means that these things and many others can change in the Land of Bharat. Hopefully, India has not spoken her last creative word.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Will the wind blow from the East?

The tides are changing.
As Narendra Modi takes oath as the new Prime Minister of India, Asia is fast becoming the center of the world.
Agence France-Presse reported that China and Russia signed in Shanghai “a long-awaited natural gas supply deal, securing the world’s top energy user a major new source of the clean-burning fuel and opening a market to Moscow as Europeans look elsewhere for their energy”. A big big deal!
For Reuters, it represents a triumph for Putin “as he seeks to forge new markets in Asia as European countries reduce their reliance on Russian gas in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.”
Xi Jinping, the Chinese President and his visiting Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said in a statement: “This is another major milestone achievement in China-Russia energy strategic cooperation.”
According to the terms of the deal between the Russian state-controlled company Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), the Russian company will supply 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas to CNPC each year for 30 years; a contract of more than 400 billion US dollars.
The gas will be transported along a new pipeline linking Siberian gas fields to China’s main industrial centres in southern China.
This comes at a time when a strong leader comes to the helm in India.
No doubt that the new occupant in the Minister’s room in South Block will have to take into account this new development.
The economic accord happened on the sideline of the 4th Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). This not well-known grouping wants to be ‘a multi-national forum for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia.’
Behind the words and the string of ‘Confidence Building Measures’ to fight against new threats, one can see Beijing’s and Moscow’s will to counter the US presence in Asia.
President Xi Jinping urged the participants (mainly from Central Asia) “to settle differences and disputes through consultation and negotiation.”
This was good to hear after watching for months Chinese expansionism in the South China and East China Seas. How it will translate on the ground (or in the seas) is another question.
Xi also said: "We need to innovate in our security concept, establish a new regional security cooperation architecture, and jointly build a shared and win-win road for Asian security."
The South China Morning Post quotes Li Lifan, an expert in Russian affairs at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences who analyses: "The suspicions towards the US have pushed China and Russia to move closer, forming a 'sub-alliance' relationship that sees both sharing a common stance."
There is no doubt against whom the new ‘sub-alliance’ is directed: the US and Europe which ‘dared’ to slap sanctions against Putin after the developments in Ukraine.
Xi noted that Asia enjoys a rising status in the international landscape and the continent will “play an increasingly important role in promoting a multi-polar world and democracy in international relations.”
Promoting ‘democracy’ in China will make many observers smile. Interestingly for Delhi, Xi warned against “the establishment of military alliances in Asia and called for a new regional security co-operation mechanism.” Xi was probably delighted by Modi’s return call to Obama.
The new Chinese stance means that, while Beijing is ready to go for a alliance with Moscow and some of other Central Asian ‘friends’, India should not think to share its security concerns with Vietnam or Japan.
But what are the views on Modi in China?
Soon before the results of the Indian elections were announced, The Global Times, the English mouthpiece of the Communist Party said that Beijing expected ‘a tougher [Indian] stance on political disputes [i.e. the border, more particularly the disputed LAC], but [that Modi will] take a more flexible economic policy toward China.”
The Global Times asserted that “Modi, 63, who serves as chief minister of Gujarat in western India, is famed for his pro-business approach, and has made four trips to China to woo Chinese investment.”
Quoting The Economist, Gujarat was described as ‘India's Guangdong’, with “the state accounted for 5 % of India's population but 16 % of its industrial output and 22 % of its exports.”
After the announcement of the results, Liu Zongyi, a research fellow of Shanghai Institute for International Studies, admitted in the columns of the same newspaper: “This is a turning point in Indian politics because no party has managed to get a simple majority since 1984 when the Congress party won over 400 seats riding.”
The Chinese scholar affirmed: “This is Modi's victory. The prime minister-elect has won a thumping endorsement from Indian industrial and commercial circles, middle class, young people and the ‘low castes’ due to his resolute governance style, clean image, outstanding record, as well as his low caste background, which sharply contrast with his counterparts from the Congress.”
Where Liu is probably wrong, (like his US and Western colleagues) is when he said: “it's possible that he may fan religious conflicts”, though he acknowledged: “The narrow-minded and extreme nationalist stand of the BJP has changed and the major task facing Modi is to create a stable domestic and neighboring environment to revive the ailing economy.”
Liu believed that “some Western media are fomenting discord between China and India. They portrayed Modi as ‘India's Abe’ who will take a tough stance against China,” however, Liu predicted that “Modi is unlikely to act as vehemently as Abe, as it would be of no benefit to India's economy at all.”
Many observers in China see the border issue as the main obstacle to a smooth bilateral relationship. However, according to Liu: “China and India have established a spectrum of effective cooperation and communication mechanisms including China-India strategic dialogue, special representatives meet on border problem and trilateral talks among Russia, India and China.”
The new government is advised to “reflect on its relationship with the US over the past decade in which India has only been a chess piece of the US to contain China.”
Modi does not really need China’s advice.
There is however another important, not often mentioned, factor which is bound to play a role in case of tensions. While the situation on China’s borders (see the new bomb blast which killed some 30 people in Urumqi yesterday) is extremely instable, the Indian electorate (an unknown concept in China) has massively voted for Modi and the BJP in the Himalayan belt. From Ladakh (1/1) to Himachal (4/4), Uttarakhand (5/5) and Arunachal (1/2), 10 out of 12 Lok Sabha seats have gone to the BJP (Sikkim has voted for the Sikkim Democratic Front). As the local populations become more and more restive in Tibet and Xinjiang and often violently oppose Beijing’s rule, the Himalayans in India have massively voted for Modi and shown their strong patriotic fabric. One can easily imagine that it is a game changer in case of a conflict.
It will certainly play a crucial role if, in the months to come, China continues with its expansionist policies. The tide has changed here too.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Terror in Urumqi

While the Pakistani Prime Minister was pondering about obeying or not, his Army Chief, who was not keen on the Pakistani PM visiting Delhi to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi, the situation dramatically worsen on Pakistan's northern borders.
I have reported on this blog the visit of President Xi Jingping to Xinjiang.
Xi was then accompanied by 5 other members of the CCP's Politburo.
I have also mentioned that Meng Jianzhu, member of the Politburo responsible for Law and Order was not in attendance in Kashgar and Urumqi.
As far as I know, so far nobody has explained why.
The terrorist attack in the Urumqi's railway station (at the end of Xi's visit) and the more recent one in the streets of Urumqui demonstrated that there are serious law and order issues in the restive region.
Let us not forget that Meng Jianzhu is the secretary of Central Politics and Law Commission of the Communist Party of China.
Wang Zhengwei, who heads the State Ethnic Affairs Commission as well as the Office of the Xinjiang Work Coordination Small Group, was also missing, although he is supposed to be one of the officials directly responsible in the restive province’s affairs.
On the day of the terrorist attack in Urumqi, which left 31 people dead and a large number of injured, President Xi met with Mamnoon Hussain, the President of the Pakistani Senate.
During their encounter, the two leaders agreed "to strengthen their cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts."
Xi stated that "China backs Pakistan in practicing a counter-terrorism strategy based on its national conditions and is willing to enhance bilateral security cooperation to safeguard the peace and stability of the two countries and the region."
This is a clear reference to Xinjiang.
Was President Xi informed of the attack in Urumqi when he met Hussain?
It is not clear.
A day later, Zhang Chunxian, Xinjiang Communist Party secretary, urged security personal to carry out the 'spirit' of President Xi Jinping's anti-terrorism campaign, which "will make full use of political and legal forces, army and armed police in Xinjiang," said Xinhua. Zhang added that the objective was to "focus on terrorists and religious extremist groups, gun and explosive manufacturing dens and terrorist training camps".
During his meeting with the Chinese President, Hussain affirmed that "the 'East Turkistan' terrorism forces are a common enemy of Pakistan and China and vowed to make joint efforts with China to combat the terrorists".
Hussain promised that "Pakistan will take effective measures to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens and projects in the country."
But when one sees that the Prime Minister of Pakistan does not even have the power of decide of his visit abroad, one can doubt if the Senate President can deliver the goods.
More importantly for Beijing, it was an occasion to send a strong message to China's all-weather friend. Xi hailed the development of China-Pakistan relations; he told Hussain that he is willing "to pay a state visit to Pakistan at a proper time to push bilateral strategic coordination and pragmatic cooperation to a new stage."
Hussain answered something which may surprise Washington: "the Pakistani-Chinese friendship is the foundation of Pakistani foreign relations."
The President of the Senate reiterated that Pakistan appreciates China's long-term support.
Xi said that Chine was keen to "promote the construction of the China-Pakistan economic corridor, an important part of the Silk Road economic belt and the 21st century maritime Silk Road."
At the same, the two sides will take joint projects such Pakistan's Gwadar port and Lahore Metro.
Hussain approved of the Economic Corridor and added that Pakistan was willing to create good conditions for these projects.
Hussain had come to China to attend the fourth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
This does not explain the terrorist attack in Urumqi the same day.
Soon after the incident, Xi pledged to 'severely punish violent terrorists', and 'crack down on them with a heavy fist', Beijing blames 'Islamists and separatists' for the worsening violence.
At her daily news briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said "Judging from the many terrorist attacks that have taken place and the relevant perpetrators, they have received support from terrorist groups outside China's borders."
From Pakistan? Probably?
According to The South China Morning Post: "Assailants in two vehicles ploughed into shoppers and traders and threw explosives at a street market. One of the vehicles exploded and more than 90 people were injured."
Without identifying the source of its information, The Global Times reported that five people carried out the bombing. The official Partys' mouthpiece said authorities "are investigating whether there were other accomplices".
We may probably never know the details.  But if the support has come from 'outside China', Pakistan may be in trouble with Beijing.
It is worth watching closely.
And what about the attack against the Indian Consulate in Herat?
From where the terrorists came from?


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Common man snubs the commentariat

My article Common man snubs the commentariat appeared in today's Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link... 
Every possible insult has been used by experts, both Indian and foreign, to demonise Narendra Modi. The country’s electorate has resoundingly ignored them all and put the talking heads in their place

China often criticises democracy, particularly the ‘Indian system’, as not being a system which ‘works’. It has been partly true. In many fields, such as infrastructure development or defence preparedness, India is nowhere near China. Beijing believes that the faultline lies in the democratic process which, most of the times, delivers fractured results, ending up in ill-assorted coalitions, which, in the process, invariably forget national interests.
Fortunately, it is not always the case; this time the Narendra Modi Government will hopefully be in a position to deliver the goods; this should be a lesson for China which, in recent times, seems to live in fear, due to the lack of stability inherent in its authoritarian system.
During the two-month lively campaign, what has deeply shocked many is the relentless, incessant, insidious attacks by some educated people against Mr Modi, who was the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Every possible insult has been used by Indian and foreign ‘experts’ to show Mr Modi as the worst person on earth, and warn the common men of India of dire consequences, if such a person was to be elected to the helm of the country.
Having closely followed the reactions in the French Press, I was shocked by the number of articles on the ‘butcher of Gujarat’, the ‘Indian Hitler’ (always reminding the readers that Hitler too first came to power through an election), the fate of the ‘minorities’ soon to be massacred etc.
In France, the chef d'orchestre (the conductor of the orchestra) is a self-styled expert on India. For years, this gentleman has been advising successive Governments in Paris (he does not anymore). He hates the ‘saffron brigade’ which he compares to neo-fascist groups in France (it shows his poor knowledge of India). For years, he spoke of Hindu Nationalism as a fascist movement and warned Indians not to follow a path which would automatically lead to the destruction of the famous Indian fabric. There has always been a lot of condescension towards Indians, who, nonetheless, keep inviting him to talk on India to share his ‘knowledgeable’ analysis.
This is an archetype of a number of foreign scholars and researchers, who like to warn India against the approaching Goebbelsian days. Their analysis is usually based on a pathologic obsession with caste and religion.
The reality is different: For the first time since the Mandalisation of Indian politics, caste and religious factors did not play a major role in the recent election. India decided for good governance and development.
I still remember, several years ago, I visited one of these French ‘knowledgeable scholars’ in Paris. As I entered his office, he asked me to which caste my wife belonged. I told him that I did not care; I had chosen her for other reasons. It, however, showed his narrow comprehension of India. To me, one of the most positive developments, is that the experts (and the foreign Governments that they been advising) will have to review their textbooks on India. Though it is not the case anymore, for years the French Government has been influenced by some of these ‘India experts’. So have other Western countries.
As the results poured in, President François Hollande congratulated the people and authorities of India on the outstanding conduct of the legislative election. He expressed the wish to work with Mr Modi “to carry the strategic partnership between India and France to an ever higher level of trust and cooperation”; concluding “India can count on France’s steadfast friendship.”
For the US, a reset call from President Barack Obama to Mr Modi helped to start the relations afresh! The Times of India commented: “A single phone call that went out from the White House to Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi close to midnight on Friday erased nearly a decade of stigma that Washington had heaped on the BJP leader.” The issue of visa was buried in a few seconds; Mr Obama invited Mr Modi to visit the White House “to advance bilateral ties between the two countries”, the US President now looks “to working closely with Modi to fulfill the ‘extraordinary promise’ of the US-India strategic partnership.”
The past is past in Washington, DC, but the fact remains that richly-endowed US think-tanks had got it completely wrong; for years, they considered Mr Modi as a pariah who would never make it. Ms Nancy Powell, the US Ambassador to India, lost her job for discovering too late the pulse of the country. Some Indian intellectuals in the US have also played their role in ostracising the BJP and its leaders. Just two years ago, the ‘eminent’ TIME journalist Fareed Zakaria ‘enthralled’ an Indian public by telling them, why “it (Mr Modi as Prime Minister) is never going to happen”. In fact, he then saw “a U-turn in the high-flying Modi’s fortunes”. It did not happen that way.
Now, what will this ‘educated elite’ do? They will write open letters to Mr Modi to tell him that, though they still don’t like him much, they are ready to accept him as a Prime Minister as they are ‘democrats’ and respect (though regrettably on this particular occasion) India’s first-past-the-post rule.
To “redeem the trust of those who have not supported you”, one of these gentlemen suggested: “When you [Modi] reconstitute the Minorities Commission, ask the Opposition to give you all the names and accept them without change. And do the same for the panels on Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and Linguistic Minorities. And when it comes to choosing the next Chief Information Commissioner, the next CAG, CVC, go sportingly by the recommendation of the non-Government members on the selection committee, as long as it is not partisan.”
In other words, ask ‘experts’ to make all important appointments. Amazing! And who will be responsible if it goes wrong? Certainly not the Leader of the Opposition' (who technically does not even exist, as the Congress could not gather the required 10 per cent of the seats) or even the ‘experts’.
In the days and weeks to come, Mr Modi will receive plenty of open letters from well-wishers wanting to advise what he should do to fix the economy, foreign affairs, defence, the fight against Maoist terror, infrastructure and education. I hope Mr Modi will just say “thank you” and do what he thinks is fit for India. It is not the well-wishers who have been elected to run the country, but he and his team.
I don’t want to do the same as our ‘experts’, but I will suggest to Mr Modi to look at China for one the rare positive steps taken by President Xi Jinping in the fight again the corrupted “flies and tigers”. Were Mr Modi to recover some of the Indian money in Swiss vaults or elsewhere, India would be a much richer and more respectable nation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

In Chinese blood, there is no DNA for aggression or hegemony?

General Xu Qiliang signing a defence agreement in Colombo
The day after Chinese nationals were violently attacked in Vietnam, President Xi Jinping stated: "In Chinese blood, there is no DNA for aggression or hegemony."
That is nice to hear.
Xi was addressing a function marking the 60th anniversary of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
Analysts related his remarks to the dispute with Hanoi regarding the setting up of an oil rig in the South China Sea.
But China’s DNA is not unicolour.
At the same time, General Fang Fenghui, the PLA’s Chief used a threatening tone during a press conference with his US counterpart General Martin Dempsey in Washington; he affirmed: “the US Asia pivot had inflamed tensions in the South China Sea”, adding that “some neighbouring countries were using the [US] policy as a pretext for provocations.”
Though President Xi had just explained: “Chinese people do not accept the logic that a strong country must also be hegemonic,” General Fang vowed that China would never ‘lose an inch of its territory’.
Does Fang have different DNA than Xi?
No, Xi and Fang's remarks belong to one single Chinese DNA!
It is called the Chinese Art of Diplomacy …and War.
A few days later, Hua Chunying, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman expressed China's willingness to work with India's new government to promote the two countries' bilateral partnership. That’s the ‘good’ DNA!
She said: “China has always attached great importance to ties with India. …China and India are friendly neighbors, and the current relations between the two countries are maintaining a good momentum.”
A day earlier, one of the senior most PLA officers, General Xu Qiliang, a member of the Communist Party’s Politburo and vice chairman of the all-powerful Central Military Commission left for a tour of three Asian countries, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Interestingly, for his visit to India’s two strategic neighbours, General Xu was accompanied by Maj. Gen. Diao Guoxin, the political commissar of the PLA Tibet Military Command.
What was General Diao, whose troops face India in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, doing in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka?
In Dacca, reported that the Chinese delegation signed four military agreements with Bangladesh ‘to enhance Dhaka’s defence capabilities’.
Under these agreements signed with the Bangladesh Armed Forces and the Bangladesh University of Professionals, China will provide military support to Bangladesh’s armed forces and train its military personnel. Beijing will also help setting up a language laboratory. And of course, all these will be free of charge.
General Xu Qiliang in Bangladesh
Bangladesh top defence brass, including Maj. Gen. Tarique Ahmed Siddique, the Prime Minister’s Security Adviser; General Iqbal Karim Bhuiyan, the Army Chief, Admiral M. Farid Habib, the Naval Chief; Air Marshal Muhammad Enamul Bari, the Air Force Chief attended the function.
Tarique explained that Bangladesh and China have similar history, culture and traditions, adding that the two countries have had close cooperation and exchanges in the fields of politics, economy and culture.
The Security Adviser hoped that the two militaries could consolidate and deepen pragmatic exchanges and cooperation in all fields.
General Xu Qiliang asserted that China and Bangladesh are friendly neighbors (is not India in between??), and the people of the two countries have had a history of friendly contacts for thousands of years; a fact which may surprise you, if you still believe that Bangladesh was born in 1971.
The fact that the Chinese delegation appreciated Dacca’s firm support to Beijing’s policy vis-à-vis Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet, probably explains Maj. Gen. Diao Guoxin’s presence.
Let us not forget that according to the Sweden-based think-tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), during the last five years, China has been the largest supplier of arms to Bangladesh.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently announced that two Chinese submarines would be inducted in the Bangladesh Navy by 2015, while two new frigates (Abu Bakar and Ali Haider) also from China were commissioned in March this year.
The visit to Sri Lanka was more discreet, probably because the results of the Indian elections were going to be out by the time General Xu left Dacca.
It is certainly an indirect Chinese reaction to Modi’s election as Prime Minister of India. For three days, not a word about the Sri Lanka’s visit in the Chinese press, including specialized publications like The PLA’s Daily.
A friend of mine joked: ‘here is a new Flight 370 affair’; Xu seems to have disappeared from the radar from the time he left Dacca. Has Xu (the first Air Force officer to make it as a vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission) crashed in the Bay of Bengal?
Now, finally on May 19, Beijing announced that the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had met with Xu Qiliang on May 16. But it is a clear indicator that Beijing did not want to negatively attract the attention the new Government in Delhi. For sure, Beijing will thread more carefully with Modi’s government than with the Congress’.
The Sri Lankan President expressed Sri Lanka’s gratitude to China for its long-term strong support and help and assured Xu that Sri Lanka will adhere to the friendly policy towards China, firmly upholding the ‘One-China’ policy.
According to a communique from Colombo, Xu also met Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary in the Ministry of Defence on the same day and three important ‘agreements of mutual cooperation’ were signed. Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressed Sri Lanka’s sincere appreciation for the financial and material support extended by the Chinese Government for several projects under the Defence portfolio.
General Xu Qiliang answered that the "sincere mutual assistance and friendship from generation to generation is the reality of the bilateral ties between China and Sri Lanka”. He noted that the challenges faced by Sri Lanka were due to the strategic concerns of other nations rather than the actual human rights situation of the island.
But that is not all in India’s neighbourhood.
General Chang Wanquan, China’s defense minister paid a visit Laos and Myanmar around the same dates. In Myanmar, the ‘goodwill’ visit was at the invitation of Wai Lwin, the Burmese defense minister.
Very little news has filtered out so far about Chang’s visit.
On the western front, the all-weather friend is always ready to work with Beijing. Islamabad is presently organizing a joint drill with the Chinese Air Force; code-named ‘Shaheen (Eagle)-3’, it is held at the Rafiqui airbase in the northeastern province of Punjab.
But this too has been rather discreet.
China is probably aware that India has changed its DNA, dropping the old Nehruvian ones.
Narendra Modi could, without hesitation, say: "in the Indian blood, there is no DNA for aggression or hegemony, but India will not lose an inch of its territory.”
Sensing that the new acquired Indian DNA may resemble the Chinese, Beijing apparently may force Beijing to accept the logic that even a strong country cannot always be hegemonic, there is a price to pay. This was demonstrated when China had to evacuate thousands of its nationals from Vietnam.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Thirteenth Tsona Rinpoche is no more

The Gorsam Stupa near the Indo-Tibet Border
Sunday morning, I heard a very sad news: Tsona Gontse Rinpoche (alias TGR or TG Rinpoche during his 'political' life) had passed away.
The Times of India reported: “A 47-year-old Buddhist monk from Arunachal Pradesh allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself from a ceiling fan at his sister's house in Vasant Kunj in South Delhi.”
The body of Rinpoche was found hanging from the ceiling fan at about 1 am last Saturday by his sister.
Apparently a suicide note was found from a diary in the room. Rinpoche would have mentioned that he had committed too many sins and that even God would not forgive him.
The police suspected that he was depressed over the defeat of a cousin in the recent Arunachal Pradesh Assembly elections. Rinpoche had come to Delhi on May 2 and was staying at his sister's place.
I don’t know about the presumed sins of Rinpoche, but each time I met him, I found in Rinpoche one of the most dynamic young lamas of his generation.
He always wanted to give the Dharma a concrete shape. For him, Busshism was not a mere philosophy; the Buddha’s teachings had to materialize in the present world.
Whenever I encounter him, Rinpoche had always a new project in mind and what was admirable, he had a capacity to concretely realize his plans.
Some twenty years ago, he organized a kar seva for the Gorsam Stupa, near the Thagla ridge close to the Indo-Tibet border, north of Tawang. He probably thought that the renovated stupa would have the inner power to stop another attack on India. It is indeed impressive.
Then he built a large monastery in Bomdila (where his body will be kept for a week). He also started a Buddhist University, funded by the Ministry of Culture in a lovely environment near Tenga in Arunachal Pradesh.
He was building a huge statue of Tara in Lumla (also north of Tawang), near the Bhutanese border where he had a monastery.
The last time I met him in Delhi, Rinpoche planned to bring the ‘relics’ of the Buddha to Tawang. He had just met the Indian Minister of Culture who had promised to help him. I think that eventually succeeded.
He gave me a lecture on his new ‘baby’, the Sherab Sangpo Society and the concept of ‘Noble Wisdom’.
Amongst other things, his society was to:
  1. To render humanitarian services by establishing health care centers, old age home, educational centers etc.
  2. To work for the betterment of weaker sections viz. SC/ST, women, children, senior citizens and disabled etc with a vision of social justice.
  3. To inculcate mass awareness about the need for living in harmony with nature and prevent destruction to nature.
  4. To develop a spirit of voluntarism among the youth and to organize them into different task forces, strengthen their capacity and to ensure their participation in disaster management
Rinpoche had become a great defender of the environment after having been looking after the hydropower issues in the Government of Arunachal.
Personally, I can’t figure out is why he took the ultimate step.
Suicide does not figure anywhere in Buddhist culture; the concept of sin neither.
It is shocking and difficult to understand.
Tsona, Rinpoche's main monastery is located in Southern Tibet, north of the McMahon line. To my knowledge, he never visited Tsona in this life.
Rinpoche always remained a strong Indian nationalist. His demise is indeed a great loss for the Monpa people of Tawang and for the Buddhist world.
The Chinese would certainly be delighted to find his reincarnation first. For Beijing, it would be a formidable card to claim Tawang again.
Here is an article about his demise from The Echo of Arunachal:

Signboard at the entrance of TGR's monastry in Bomdila
T.G. Rinpoche passes away
The Echo of Arunachal
May 17
One of the greatest Dharma Gurus of the Gelugpa Sect of the Himalayan Buddhism, His Eminence the 13th Tsona Gontse Rinpoche, popularly known as TG Rinpoche has left for heavenly abode leaving his millions of devotees in India and abroad with deep sorrow and grief.
Rev Rinpoche, also the former Minister of the State, breathed his last in New Delhi on Friday at the age of 47. He was holding the post of Chairman, Department of Karmik & Adhyatmik (Chos-rig) Affairs (DoKA), govt of Arunachal Pradesh at the time of his death.
With his untimely demise, a pall of gloom has descended over the whole of Mon region. People still find it hard to believe. But they take satisfaction and recourse in the hope and belief that he would soon reincarnate to lead them on the righteous path and from darkness unto light & to carry on the good deeds for the welfare of the people.
His mortal remains would be flown from Delhi to Bomdila on Sunday, to be escorted by Pema Khandu and Phurpa Tsering – both MLAs of the Mon area. The mortal remains would be kept at Gontse Gaden Rabgyeling Monastery, Upper Gompa for a week or so in order to facilitate the hundreds and thousands of devotees to pay their homage.
Meanwhile, Governor Lt Gen (Retd) Nirbhay Sharma and Chief Minister Nabam Tuki expressed profound shock and grief over the sudden demise of former minister and spiritual leader TG Rinpoche.
In his condolence message, Tuki said, “The news of sudden and unfortunate demise of His Eminence Jetsun Tenzin Jampal Wangchuk, popularly known as Tsona Gontse Rinpoche on May 16, 2014 at Delhi has come as a shock to me. While the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh had just emerged from the month long hustle bustle of Assembly and Parliamentary elections, this news has descended with a pall of gloom in the entire state.”
“Rev T G Rinpoche will be remembered forever by the people of this state, the country and the world for his contributions as a spiritual guru, a social worker, an able minister,” added the CM while praying for eternal peace of the departed soul.
Stating that late Rinpoche made immense contribution towards the State and nation in various capacities, the Governor, in his condolence message, said the people of State and well-wishers all over the world will always remember Rev Rinpoche for his noble initiatives and works of compassion for orphans and persistent endeavour towards preservation and promotion of Buddhism.
Joining the people of Arunachal, the Governor extended solidarity with the Buddhist community of the State and entire Himalayan region and prayed for eternal peace of the departed soul.
Former CM Jarbom Gamlin also mourned the demise of TG Rinpoche, who was the 13th re-incarnation of the Tsonawa, Sherab Sangpo. “I am stunned by the news of the untimely death of His Eminence. It is not just a sad moment for the Buddhist community, but a severe loss for all of us in the State. In this hour of grief, my condolences are with all his bereaved followers and I pray to the Almighty to give them the strength to bear the irreparable pain,” Gamlin said.
Born on 19th August 1967 at Nesar Zhungpatse, Shyro village in Tawang district, Rinpoche, a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy from Drepung Loseling Monastery in south India, rose to become president of the Himalayan Buddhist Culture Association, New Delhi and worked towards the development of mutual relationships between various cultures and religions of India and endeavoured towards preservation of flora and fauna to maintain a peaceful environment of co-existence of all sentient beings.
Before taking the mantle of DoKA, he served the State as MoS for Industry, Textile & Handicrafts and Minister of Tourism, and chairman, Advisory Council for Tourism Development and Arunachal Pradesh Hydropower Development Corporation, GoAP during his different tenures.
He assumed the great responsibilities of developing the religious shrines and cultural practices and activities in the Mon region. Numerous monasteries, educational centers, stupas and cottage industries established by him are testimonies of his accomplishments.
His noble efforts in providing education to destitute, giving shelter and food to homeless and old age, providing free education and upbringing to orphans received global accolades. He got international recognition as an excellent social worker and fully accomplished spiritual master. He received several national and international awards for his tireless efforts and social works for the well being of people around the world. He became the first ever Buddhist representative from the entire Himalayan region to attend the Millennium UN World Peace Summit at the United Nations Assembly Hall.
Meanwhile, the Theravada Buddhist Society (TBS), Itanagar mourned the sudden and untimely demise of Ven T G Rinpoche.
Rimpoche was a man of great honour, and in his demise, the entire Buddhist community has lost a great leader and soul, said TBS chairman C M Moungmaw joining with rest of state in offering the condolence for the departed soul.
This is really sad and a great loss indeed to all of us who have had contact with him. Rimpoche was a very pleasant and accommodating personality. The Theravada Buddhist Society prays for the departed soul to rest in peace and may his soul find eternal bliss, he added.
The Society members later observed a two minutes silence and offered prayer and burnt incense sticks in remembrance for his great service to the Buddhist community.
The Indigenous Faith and Cultural Society of Arunachal Pradesh (IFCSAP) too expressed shock at the sad and sudden demise of Rev T G Rinphochee, Abode of Tsona Gontselling (Upper Gompa), Bomdila and Chairman, DoKA and said his demise is a great loss, not only for the Buddhist community of Arunachal Pradesh, but also to entire indigenous community of the State.
He was a great religious Guru and philanthropist as well as great politician. His religious activity was not only confined in Arunachal Pradesh but in the whole country as well as South-East Asian countries. The vacuum created by his death will never be filled, said IFCSAP president Y D Thongchi and its executive members and prayed for the eternal peace of departed soul of his holiness.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

China to follow the Middle Path?

Group of Islamic Scholars during a Symposium in Urumqi
Will China follow the Middle Path?
Yes, if one is to believe what was reported by the Chinese press a couple of days ago.
The Ta Kung Pao in Hong Kong titled: “In Urumqi, a group of Imams called on the congregation to keep the Middle Path.”
But a day later, the reference to ‘Middle Path’ was removed from the English communique of Xinhua which just says “Muslims urged to resist religious extremism”.
It explained: “Religious leaders and scholars have called on Chinese believers in Islam to resist religious extremism and condemn terrorism. The call was made at a symposium that ended Thursday [May 15] in Urumqi, capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, which gathered over 100 participants including officials of Islamic associations, well-respected religious people and academic scholars. The symposium is hosted by the China Islamic Association.”
But in the earlier Chinese version, many references were made to the Dalai Lama’s favorite political concept: the Middle Path.
According to the Chinese version, the China Islamic Association organized for the first time such symposium, gathering a hundred well-known Islamic scholars, imams and mullahs from around China. They met to discuss Islam’s ‘Middle Path Thinking’. They called upon Chinese Muslims to "stick to the Middle Path, away from extreme ideology”.
The Muslim imams and scholars strongly condemned the recent violent terrorist incidents which occurred in the Mainland [in Kunming, Yunnan].
It says that in recent years, serious terrorist attacks repeatedly occurred in Xinjiang; it has now spreads to the Mainland. This cannot be ignored as religious extremist ideas have become the ideological basis of these violent terrorist activities. Under the banner of Islam, by tampering and distorting the teachings of Islam, some people advocates the so-called ‘holy war’ [jihad], says the Chinese version.
The scholars agreed that this way of thinking not only undermines communal peace, but also desecrates Islam. The seminar exposed the 'really ugly forces' of violence and terrorism speaking and acting in the name of Islam; it urged the mobilization of the Muslim masses to fight terrorist violence, maintain national unity and social stability. Islam should be the guardian of peace, love and tolerance of Islam.
According to the Chinese news agency’s report, many of the participants spoke of the ‘Middle Way Thinking’, away from extremism.
This sounds like a Tibetan Buddhist teaching, isn’t it?
Professor Pan Shijie from Henan Academy of Social Sciences said that most of the scholars emphasized that the ‘Middle Way Thinking’ was a basic idea in the Koran.
Xinhua, in the later English version, removed all references to ‘Middle Path’.
In a more politically correct (for Beijing), Xinhua just states that the keynote speakers “illustrated the spirit of harmony and unity implied in the thinking of Islam and called on Muslims to resist religious extremism and condemn terrorism. They also upheld the spirit of respecting others, upholding fairness, being tolerant and friendly and rejecting excess in the thinking of Islam.”
The organizer, Chen Guangyuan, chairman of China Islamic Association stated that the aim of the symposium was to carry forward the fine tradition of Islam, guide Muslims to understand of real meaning of Islam, advocate peace and oppose violence, so as to defend the purity of Islam.
The symposium was called by the State Administration of Religious Affairs.
Wang Zuo'an, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs declared that religious extremism is ‘completely off the page’ of the fundamental spirit of Islam. [Extremism] maliciously distorts and kidnaps the religion. Religious extremism is a deliberate blasphemy, and has become the most viperous enemy of Islam.”
Let us hope that more and more people will follow the Middle Path approach in China, including the central leadership in Beijing.
But if it is good for Islam, it should also be good for Buddhism, don't you agree?
It seems logical to me, not as yet in Zhongnanhai.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Does India have the Diplomacy of a Major Power?

South Block in Delhi
Here is a longer version of the article posted yesterday.
I had written this a few years ago, it is still valid, I think.

On meeting new Indian friends, if I tell them that I have been living for nearly 4 decades in their country, they are usually amazed.
They can’t really understand: “We Indians we dream of migrating to the West where everything is clean, organized, politicians are not that corrupt, trains run on time, the streets are safer, etc… Why would you stay in India all these years?”
I usually answer that I see two Indias, one ‘incredible’ India which attracted me in the early 1970s; the India I still love, and then there is the other India which make want to many migrate.
Whether one sees India ‘shining’ or only perceives the less likable India, one can’t deny that the nation is fast becoming a major world power.
Many questions remain, one of them is: has India the means to assume her new status?
The field of Foreign Policy is particularly symptomatic and worth looking at. Can the present Foreign Service be an effective tool for the ‘major power in-becoming’?

What is a ‘Major Power’?
At the outset, it is important to define what a ‘major power’ is.
Is it a moral power (like Nehru wanted India to be in the 1950’s); a scientific/innovator power (like Finland and the Noika experience); a soft cultural power (like Buddhist India during Ashoka’s times); a military power (like the US today, and to a lesser extent, the People’s Republic of China) or an economic power (like several emerging nations). In today’s world, it is all these attributes together?
It is true that in the past India has been a soft-power; she has exported her philosophy and civilization far away upto Central Asia, South-East Asia, East Asia and elsewhere.
Not only does the Indian civilisational input seem to have been forgotten by most of the Asian nations, but in today’s world, it is not really enough to be ‘soft’ alone.
It is when India became an economic power in the 1990’s that India started to become respected as a ‘major power’ on the planet.
We are living today in the age of globalization and ‘economy’ is unfortunately the main factor taken in consideration to determine if a nation is a ‘big’ or an insignificant power.

When did India become a ‘big’ power?
In the 1990s, India emerged as a power to reckon with.
It was mainly due to the economic ‘liberalization’ introduced by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao; suddenly out of the straitjacket of Soviet-type planned economy, India started blooming.
The main turning point was perhaps Pokharan II.
On May 11, 1998, Operation Shakti was carried out.
‘Shakti’ was the codename of a thermonuclear device which was exploded in the Pokhran test range in Rajasthan; since then, the tests are known as Pokhran II. Though it resulted in several sanctions against India by a number of major states, on that day, India entered the club of those who ‘have it’.
Interestingly, western nations then began to dissociate India and Pakistan; earlier, the equation had been purposefully kept by some ‘powerful’ nations, particularly the United States, to create a ‘balance’ in the subcontinent.

What does a big power’s diplomacy require?

Let us return to the question: has India the required Foreign Service to support the diplomacy of a major nation?
An interesting research was published a few years ago by Daniel Markey, a Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC. Markey pointed out some of the issues which prevent India’s diplomacy to grow:
  • expand, reform, pay, and train the Indian Foreign Service to attract and retain high-caliber officers.
  • encourage the growth of world-class social science research and teaching schools in India through partnerships with private organizations.
  • invest in Indian think-tanks and exchange programs that build capacity for foreign policy research.
  • bring non-career officers into the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and other parts of the foreign policy establishment as term-limited fellows to improve outside understanding of the policy process.
  • support the efforts of Indian researchers to maximize public access to material related to the history of India’s foreign policy.
A friend who had been associated with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) once told me: “more than 60% of the Foreign Service Officers have not read the Markey report. I think the problem starts from here. The Foreign Service Officers are generally full of themselves and have the attitude that what they don't know is not worth knowing”.
This is a real problem.
How to make the Indian Foreign Service more responsive?
This is a serious issue which has to be looked into and tackled if India is to grow into a ‘major’ power.

What can be done?
Several suggestions can be added to the points made by Markey.

1- Far too small diplomatic service
The Indian diplomatic corps is far too small in number for a ‘major’ nation. Recently, The New Indian Express reported that the MEA “is suddenly waking up after little ambassadorial activity since June, causing both a backlog and logjam in the Indian diplomatic service. Many senior diplomats will be retiring in the coming months and final decisions have to be taken to fill up important seats—Islamabad, Kabul and New York.”
There are simply not enough senior officers to fill up all these posts.
Shashi Tharoor, a former Minister of State in the MEA, wrote a remarkable report on the subject. He noted: “India is served by the smallest diplomatic corps of any major country, not just far smaller than the big powers but by comparison with most of the larger emerging countries. At just about 900 IFS officers to staff India’s 120 missions and 49 consulates abroad, India has the fewest Foreign Service officers among the BRICS countries. (In addition, there are some 3,000 stenographers, cyber experts and clerks in the IFS ‘B’ service that provide support staff to the MEA.) This compares poorly not just to the over 20,000 deployed by the United States, and the large diplomatic corps of the European powers—UK (6,000), Germany (6,550) and France (6,250)—but also to Asia’s largest foreign services, Japan (5,500) and China (4,200). The picture looks even more modest when compared to the 1,200 diplomats in Brazil’s foreign ministry. It is ironic that India—not just the world’s most populous democracy but one of the world’s largest bureaucracies—has a diplomatic corps roughly equal to tiny Singapore’s 867.”
No further comment is required.
A collateral is that some senior officers are overburdened. Take the Joint Secretary (EA) which stands for East Asia,; responsible for China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Mongolia, Taiwan, the Tibetan refugees in India (what are they doing in EA?) and the border talks with China.
Tharoor concludes: “Inevitably, China consumes most of his attention and relations with the other crucial countries within his bailiwick are neglected or assigned to one of the five junior officials working under him.” This is a real issue.

Vision Plans
The lack of ‘vision’ or ‘plan’ for the next 20 or 30 years has been a serious difficulty which has hindered the advent of a powerful diplomacy. South Block today does not have a 5-year or 10-year plan, like for example the one released last year by President Obama on “Priorities for 21st Century Defence”.
Take an example, does South Block have a clear policy on issues like Iran, Syria or more recently Mali or does the Indian diplomacy only react in an ad hoc manner?
India should have a consistent and clear foreign policy, with India’s national interests clearly defined. India should not emulate the model followed by some Western nations, of short term opportunism which neither gets respect nor lasting friends.

There can be structural and operational improvements in the Foreign Service. Academics of proven scholarship with research capacity should be posted as advisers to ’Ambassadors’ in all major Indian Embassies, where they would be free to pursue their studies as well as give inputs on policy to the IFS establishment. This would improve the situation in the Universities by stimulating the demand for courses related to foreign policy and social sciences.
This, of course, may not be acceptable to the Foreign Service, who often has a ‘know-it-all’ attitude.

Language remains a handicap at different levels of the Foreign Service. Take the example of France, most of the time, the Indian Ambassador to France and his entire supporting staff do not speak French. The Ambassador would certainly make a greater impact if he would speak French. One may say that it is the problem of the French, who cannot speak English fluently, but it does not solve the problem.
The remark is even more valid for countries like China.
More time and money have to be invested in teaching the lower echelons of the Foreign Service different foreign languages. There should also be a ban on recruitment of persons of Indian origin who do not know the local language as ‘local staff’.

Not many officers look forward to mid career training opportunities given to the Foreign Service. There should be a balance of compulsion and incentives to make sure that diplomats periodically undergo training programs. The question of incentives should be clearly studied. At the end of the day, there is no miracle; India will not get a top level Foreign Service, if India does not invest in it.

US Posting
Postings abroad are classified and everyone hankers for a posting in the US — it helps educating and later settling the children — or in Europe, where allowances are higher. India could afford to adopt a compensation system which makes it difficult for a diplomat to choose a posting in Washington DC over a posting in Harare or South Sudan.
All these are suggestions, but first and foremost a Vision is required and then the will to take all necessary measures to go in that direction is required.

An Action Plan
In 2008, Shivshankar Menon, then Foreign Secretary prepared a note for the Cabinet in which he proposed doubling the Foreign Service strength. It was agreed that the cadre would be increased by 320 officers in the IFS category and 200 in the support staff.
The move was however blocked by some serving officers, too jealous of their privileges. As Tharoor put it, it would have meant: “infusion of external professional talent at all levels of the MEA by mid-career recruitment from the other services or even (perish the thought!) from the private sector.”
Finally the implementation of the Report was stretched over 10 years by simply increasing the annual intake into the IFS (including promotions of the IFS ‘B’) by 32 a year.
Tharoor commented: “Lateral entrants have not been encouraged; a circular to the other government departments soliciting candidacies have turned up few whom the MEA is excited about. The chronic understaffing is therefore likely to continue for more than another decade.”
These issues are not new; they existed when India was not yet on the verge to become a ‘major power’.
In June 1965 already, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri appointed a committee to look into the functioning of the MEA. It was chaired by N.R. Pillai, a former Secretary-General of the Ministry.
Pillai and his colleagues found four flaws in the Foreign Service: the diplomatic corps was not large enough; it did not draw on wide professional experience; the coordination within the MEA was poor and with other ministries was non-existent; and professional training was limited and inadequate.
What to say?
The mindset has to change; it is the only way for India to become a truly ‘major’ power. And it should not only change in the Foreign Service, it should do so the government in general, in the society at large and more particularly in the gender issue.
Then, India would really shine.
Both Indias will have joined in One!