Can Washington Trust Modi's India As Key Ally in Asia?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the summit meeting of the China-Russia sponsored Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan this week. India is a full member of this alliance which has been created to counter the US dominance in Asia. At the same time, New Delhi has also joined QUAD, a group of 4 nations (Australia, India, Japan and US) formed by the United States  to counter China's rise. Simultaneous membership of these two competing alliances is raising serious questions about Prime Minister Narendra Modi's real intentions and trustworthiness. Is this Indian policy shift from "non-alignment" to "all-alignment" sustainable? 

2022 SCO Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Source: Xinhua

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO): 

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a political, economic and security organization designed to counter US dominance. It was founded by Beijing and Moscow in 2001. Currently, it has 8 members: China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran has signed a memorandum of commitment this week signaling its intention to join the SCO, underscoring the growing alignment between the U.S.'s top adversaries. India's participation in this alliance seems strange given its simultaneous membership of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. 

Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD): 

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States that was initiated in 2007 by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to counter growing Chinese influence in Asia. India upset Japan recently when it joined the Russia-led Vostok-2022 military exercises held around a group of islands known as the southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan -- a territorial dispute that dates back to the end of World War II, according to Bloomberg. India scaled back its participation in the war games -- especially staying out of the naval exercises -- in response to the Japanese objections but it left a bad taste. 

Non-Alignment to All-Alignment: 

The contradictions inherent in the membership of both of these competing alliances are already being exposed by Mr. Modi's large and rapidly growing purchases of Russian energy and weapons despite western sanctions.  “India’s neutral public positioning on the invasion has raised difficult questions in Washington DC about our alignment of values and interests,” said Richard Rossow, a senior adviser on India policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Bloomberg News. “Such engagements -- especially if they trigger new or expanded areas of cooperation that benefit Russia -- will further erode interest among Washington policy makers for providing India a ‘pass’ on tough sanctions decision.”

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Comment by Riaz Haq on September 17, 2022 at 10:32am

Riaz Haq
People Of #Flood-Hit #Pakistan Need #America's Help. #US Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee has introduced legislation to provide more help to the country that has been devastated by recent #floods. #PakistanFloods #Sindh

Pakistan, she said, has been a friend and has helped the US in the evacuation of Afghan refugees; helped in the war on terror, where they lost the Pakistani military in the war on terror.

“And, of course, the huge and very engaging Pakistani diaspora, Pakistani Americans who are both respected and, of course, energised to be collaborative with their government here in the United States to try to save the lives of babies and children, women and men, people who are sick, who need kidney transplants, who can't get their medicine, it is imperative that we rise up to this occasion,” she said.


Asserting that the people of Pakistan need America’s help, a US lawmaker has introduced legislation to provide more help to the country that has been devastated by recent floods.

The cash-strapped nation has been struggling with the worst floods in the past 30 years, leaving more than 1,400 dead and 33 million people affected since early June.

A third of the country is submerged in water and one in every seven persons is badly affected by the floods that have led to an estimated USD 12 billion in losses that have left about 78,000 square kilometers (21 million acres) of crops under water.

“The people of Pakistan need our help. The Pakistani Americans have risen to their call. So many in my Congressional district are providing and offering to help send medical care if you will,” Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, co-chair of the Pakistani Congressional Caucus said in her remarks in the House of Representatives.

Speaking on the floor of the House, Jackson-Lee said that it is very important for the US Congress to go on record in recognizing the devastation that the people are facing every single day.

“Would you imagine, even in the trials and tribulations that we have in the United States, that you have populations of people who are isolated by dirty water and that there are people who are living in the outlying areas with no shelter whatsoever,” she said.

“The people are hungry, the lack of food is rising. The pregnant women are fearful for the unbelievable challenges they have in giving birth,” she said.

“Madam Speaker, I am calling upon Congress, as I introduce this legislation dealing with the devastation of the floods in Pakistan, to join me in supporting the legislation and, as well, recognising the dire conditions that our friends in Pakistan are having,” Jackson-Lee said.

Jackson-Lee has just returned from Pakistan after a 10 days visit with the Congressional Pakistan Caucus. “I could see water as far as the eye could see. The devastation is overwhelming: 33 million people displaced, more than 600,000 homeless, but more than that, hungry,” she said.

She thanks the Biden administration for its initial support of the UN fund of USD 30 million and the additional funding of USD 20 million.

“After our briefing in Islamabad and working with the administration, the United States military joined in delivering 300,000 tents,” she said.

“To my colleagues, more is needed. I will be introducing legislation that reflects the delegation's work and, as well, their efforts; and that is, we need additional funding for these devastating conditions,” said the Democratic Congresswoman from Texas.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 17, 2022 at 8:00pm

‘Sale’ of F-16 spares is US way to keep Pakistan where it wants to be—between China and West
Even though all the three services of Pakistan’s armed forces are largely composed of Chinese-manufactured equipment, Rawalpindi's heart remains tilted towards the West.

by Ayesha Siddiqa

The Joe Biden administration’s announcement to offer defence equipment worth $450 million to Pakistan for its F-16 fighter jet fleet is a noticeable development. But it definitely doesn’t indicate that America’s South Asian policy is shifting gears or moving away from where it had started to pivot around 2012. The US’ Indo-Pacific strategy remains focussed on India. Donald Lu, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, said that America isn’t giving any aid to Pakistan; rather, it’s just the sale of spare parts which won’t add anything to Pakistan’s capabilities.

Theoretically, this is the correct position because $450 million is not a huge amount. It is barely enough to buy the necessary nuts and bolts to keep the three aircraft squadrons in Pakistan Air Force (PAF) operational. It also doesn’t help Pakistan’s flood-battered economy to cough out $450 million. The main aim of PAF here seems to be to keep its F-16s functional.

The US administration’s approval for the sale of spares is meant for about 19 block-52 aircraft. Reportedly, the PAF has about a squadron strength of these aircraft. The PAF is also keen to replace its old French Mirage aircraft but F-16 is certainly not an option as Islamabad wouldn’t have the cash to pay for Western aircraft. The evolving geo-political circumstances also don’t seem to suggest that floodgates to American military and economic aid would open like in the past. Pakistan received the bulk of F-16s in its inventory during the 1980s to fight the war against Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The F-16s became a symbol of strong Pakistan-US relations and gave wings to the country’s security, prompting the PAF to want to acquire about 120 aircraft. The plan was eventually shelved as Pakistan was hit by the US arms embargo after October 1990. The American war against the Taliban that followed resulted in adding some more F-16s to the PAF but the story essentially stops here.

The reality is that over the past decade, the PAF has shifted towards the Chinese JF-17 Thunder aircraft, which it had used during the post-Balakot operation in 2019. The JF-17 Thunder, jointly developed and produced by Islamabad and Beijing, is an aircraft that has evolved with major inputs from the PAF. Initially meant to add numbers to the air force, the aircraft was developed over the years to also fill the quality gap that Pakistan had been unable to do due to lack of access to fourth generation Western aircraft. It was early this year that plans were reportedly afoot regarding PAF procuring 50 JF-17 block III aircraft. The internet is already flooded with photographs of the latest JF-17s flying with the air force.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 18, 2022 at 7:45am

Pakistan and China trumpeted their "all weather" friendship after their leaders met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit on Friday, but analysts warn that Islamabad's scramble to extricate itself from an economic crisis could stoke tensions.

Both sides' readouts of the summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif were filled with flowery language. Sharif's office said he emphasized that the nations' "iron brotherhood had withstood the test of time" and reaffirmed "his personal resolve to take their bilateral relations to greater heights."

China's Foreign Ministry said Xi stressed that "the two countries have all along stood with each other through thick and thin. No matter how the international situation evolves, China and Pakistan are always each other's trustworthy strategic partners."

But hinting at concerns over recent attacks on Chinese interests in Pakistan and worries over payments to Chinese companies, Beijing's readout added: "China hopes that Pakistan will provide solid protection for the security of Chinese citizens and institutions in Pakistan as well as the lawful rights and interests of Chinese businesses."

Looming over the meeting were expectations that Pakistan will seek concessions on dues owed to Chinese power producers operating in the country under the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) -- part of Xi's Belt and Road Initiative.

Cash-strapped Islamabad needs to do this to satisfy the International Monetary Fund and unlock more funding, as it rushes to reduce the risk of a debt default.

The government assured the IMF in July that it would strive to reduce capacity payments to Chinese independent power producers (IPPs) either by renegotiating purchase agreements or rescheduling bank loans. Capacity payments are fixed payments made to power plants for generating a minimum amount of electricity to ensure that demand is met. These companies produce costly electricity using imported fuel, and are said to be on the brink of default.

"The IMF anticipated that pressure would come from the Chinese IPPs that the entire loan installment be used to pay them," Nadeem Hussain, a Boston-based author and economic policy analyst, told Nikkei Asia. "Hence, the IMF extended the current program on the condition that it would not go to the Chinese IPPs."

The Washington-based lender released a long-pending tranche of $1.17 billion two weeks ago after Pakistan undertook a series of politically unpopular economic measures toward fiscal discipline. The bailout program, which began in 2019 but stalled, was also extended until next June, with additional funding set to bring the total value to about $6.5 billion, the IMF said in a statement.

But Pakistan owes $1.1 billion to Chinese IPPs for power purchases, contributing to the massive 2.6 trillion-rupee ($11 billion) debt stock in the country's power sector. The IMF has long maintained that Chinese loans threaten Pakistan's debt sustainability.

Xi, in the Chinese Foreign Minister readout of his meeting with Sharif, "stressed that the two sides must continue to firmly support each other, foster stronger synergy between their development strategies, and harness ... the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to ensure smooth construction and operation of major projects."

Observers say Pakistan's handling of the electricity issue is likely to irk China, noting that Sharif's government committed to the IMF to reopen power contracts without taking the Chinese companies into confidence. Pakistan has also reneged on a promise to set up an escrow account to ensure smooth payments to Chinese IPPs.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 18, 2022 at 7:46am

Pakistan and China trumpeted their "all weather" friendship after their leaders met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit on Friday, but analysts warn that Islamabad's scramble to extricate itself from an economic crisis could stoke tensions.

"The Chinese [companies] have been absolutely upset for a very long time," said Haroon Sharif, a former minister of state who spearheaded industrial cooperation with China under the previous government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. "The Chinese stance is that it's a commercial agreement. No IPP is obliged to listen to the [Pakistani] government because the agreements were drawn under the law," he said, referring to a system that predated the Khan government and paved the way for Chinese players to invest in the country's power sector, setting the terms.

Resentment has been building for some time. CPEC projects were stalled for months after Khan took power in 2018, mainly due to graft allegations regarding the previous government's dealings. There were also allegations that the arrangements unfairly benefited Beijing.

"The IPP framework is deeply flawed," Haroon Sharif said. "The [Chinese] IPPs are averse to taking risks because the state guarantees a return on investment in dollar terms whether they are selling [electricity] or not."

As a confidence-building measure, Islamabad did announce the release of 50 billion rupees to the companies by next week and assured the Chinese suppliers that all outstanding dues will be cleared by June next year. The announcement came ahead of Prime Minister Sharif's meeting with Xi at the SCO and a planned visit to China in November, when he might raise concerns about the power deals.

The release of the funds may serve only as a Band-Aid.

The IMF is demanding that Pakistan rationalize payments to the Chinese IPPs in line with earlier concessions extracted from local private power producers, Haroon Sharif explained. Former Prime Minister Khan persuaded local IPPs to accept lower interest rates on outstanding bills before releasing staggered reimbursements in the form of debt instruments, like government bonds.

Chinese power producers, however, have fiercely opposed similar propositions in the past. In March, Chinese IPPs closed down operations due to unpaid dues, insisting they did not have money to import fuel. The government disbursed another installment of 50 billion rupees to get them to resume operations.

The IMF now wants Pakistan to negotiate an increase in the duration of bank loans from 10 years to 20 years, or to reduce the markup on arrears owed to Chinese IPPs from 4.5% to 2%, the ex-minister said.

He added that there is a lesson in this for China. "Chinese companies should deeply study macroeconomic fundamentals [before making any investments], and not blindly follow state guarantees,'' Sharif argued. At the same time, he said, this will have a far-reaching impact on Pakistan's future investment climate.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 18, 2022 at 8:10am

Dr Claude Rakisits
Now that the war in #Ukraine is starting to seriously turn against #Russia, ⁦
⁩ now sees the benefits in being publicly critical of #Putin. It’s unfortunate that #India hadn’t taken a more principled position from the start.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 18, 2022 at 8:42pm

China-led SCO pushes multipolar world as Xi warns of 'color' revolts
Beijing, Moscow challenge Western influence in joint statement

Leaders from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization called for a stronger multilateral world order led by several powers and regions in a joint statement Friday, as China and Russia push to expand the framework to counter America's global unipolar influence.

The declaration, issued after a two-day summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, urged closer cooperation on a wide range of fields from politics and economy to national security and culture.

The eight member states "reaffirm their commitment to a more representative, democratic, just and multipolar world order based on the universally recognized principles of international law," the statement says.

Xi on Friday also urged cooperation to prevent foreign powers from meddling in internal affairs and instigating "color revolutions," referring to the series of anti-regime protests largely in the former Soviet Union. China considers Taiwan part of its territory and thus a domestic matter.

China and Russia consider the world to be at a crossroads with the rise of Asia and the war in Ukraine. They see the SCO, which Iran is now set to formally join next year, as a tool to increase their international clout.

Still, it is unclear how closely members can work together given the organization's limitations.

Established in 2001, the SCO functions as a loose grouping that fosters stability and trust between former Soviet states and promotes multilateral cooperation. In addition to China and Russia, its official members are Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, India and Pakistan.

Fourteen leaders attended this week's summit, including from observer states Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia, and dialogue partners Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka.

The grouping is seeking out new members to bolster its clout. Iran this week signed a memorandum toward attending the 2023 summit in India as its ninth full-fledged member. Belarus, a Russian ally, has begun the membership process, while Turkey has expressed interest as well.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar newly signed on as dialogue partners with an eye on eventually joining the framework. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Myanmar, Bahrain and the Maldives will start the process as well.

But unlike NATO, which is a political and military alliance, the SCO is not a united bloc. Its agreements generally are not legally binding, and regional issues are usually settled bilaterally between individual members.

Some members are at odds with each other, like China and India over their shared border. While Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin affirmed their opposition to U.S. "provocations" in a Thursday summit, they signaled a rift in their position on the war in Ukraine.

China and Russia have also used other channels like BRICS -- their grouping with Brazil, India and South Africa -- to advocate for an alternative to the Western-led international order. They have promoted an expanded "BRICS Plus" framework, which includes other emerging and developing economies.

Meanwhile, the U.S., Japan and Europe are deepening their cooperation with countries that share similar values, like the rule of law. They have launched the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with India and Australia and the AUKUS grouping with Australia in recent years as a deterrent against China and Russia in the Asia-Pacific.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 18, 2022 at 8:46pm

China-India relations: Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi continue to keep each other at arm’s length | South China Morning Post

Chinese President Xi Jinping met at least 12 state leaders for one-on-one talks during a three-day diplomatic blitz last week, his first trip outside China since the early days of the pandemic.

But they did not include Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The pair posed for group photos at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit held in the Uzbek city of Samarkand and attended multilateral meetings, but there was no publicly reported two-way meeting. The deadly clash in the Galwan Valley two years ago continues to weigh on relations and Beijing is concerned by Delhi’s growing closeness to the US

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 20, 2022 at 5:08pm

Why India-US ties are frosty & what Jaishankar can do to reduce Biden disinterest

Why Jaishankar’s US visit more than formality and aims to fix Biden’s disinterest in India
The unhappiness in Washington DC is taking its toll—and manifesting in increasing disinterest, for example, in signing a free trade agreement with India.

Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi was seen and heard publicly chastising Russian President Vladimir Putin for choosing war over peace in Ukraine on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand last week, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is travelling to the US where he is scheduled to meet his American counterpart Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. He will also participate in meetings of the Quad, BRICS and the UN.

The visit comes at an important time in the India-US relationship, which has been recently characterised by greater anxiety than comfort—which is odd, considering that the world’s oldest and largest democracies have publicly demonstrated both affection and confidence in each other at least since the 2008 Indo-US nuclear deal.

A frosty relationship
But some things seem to have fallen apart recently under US President Joe Biden’s watch. No big ideas seem to be consuming both nations. A free trade agreement, on the anvil at least for the last five years, seems to have been put into cold storage for now. The lack of a US ambassador at Roosevelt House in Delhi since the previous incumbent Kenneth Juster left a couple of years ago, certainly hasn’t helped matters.

In its stead, a growing suspicion rules. The Modi government is increasingly of the view that the Biden administration is being distracted from its main job, which is to expand and deepen the US’ relationship with India, by the exclusive pursuit of religious freedoms and human rights by do-gooders in Washington DC.

Nevertheless, the Biden administration will not formally criticise India but leave it to its evangelical officials to censure New Delhi for curbing freedoms, fundamental rights and labour laws and short-changing India’s unique destiny as a democracy.

The difference between the Barack Obama and Joe Biden administrations is that Obama at least recognised that the fundamentally vibrant nature of India’s democracy could not be put down. Biden, on the other hand, seems unable to understand the difference.

Moreover, Biden’s officials have been consumed with India’s reliance on Russian energy in recent months and are increasingly of the view that New Delhi must choose between supporting US sanctions on Russia. Equally stubbornly, Indian officials point out that cheap, discounted Russian oil since the war with Ukraine six months ago has amounted to a significant saving for the Indian exchequer, as much as Rs 35,000 crore.

It is this discrepancy in worldview that is hurting this relationship at the present moment. And that is why Jaishankar has gone to the US, in the hope that his honest conversations with Blinken, Austin and some Congressmen and women will heal the divide.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 20, 2022 at 5:09pm

Why India-US ties are frosty & what Jaishankar can do to reduce Biden disinterest

Why Jaishankar’s US visit more than formality and aims to fix Biden’s disinterest in India
The unhappiness in Washington DC is taking its toll—and manifesting in increasing disinterest, for example, in signing a free trade agreement with India.

Bridging the divide
There are several themes that Jaishankar can spin. First, Russia. The fact that PM Modi spoke clearly with Putin and told him that it was unfortunate he was choosing war over peace with Ukraine, or the fact that his comments in Hindi were put out on all social media, is a signal that India is not completely on Putin’s side of the fence.

Certainly, this is a message to the US. That it should not believe that just because India is buying large amounts of discounted oil from Russia—naturally, in order to shore up its economy—it supports Putin’s war. It does not and Modi has made that amply clear.

Moreover, the fact that the famed Russian army has still not been able to subdue Ukraine even after six long months and has even lost a Russian-majority town like Kharkiv demonstrates to India that it must reduce its dependency on Russian defence equipment.

Fact is, India is dreadfully concerned that the war will go on and on—as Putin has promised—and that the West will be forced to defend Ukraine, no matter the cost. It is clear that India has no option but to keep buying the discounted oil from Russia—even while it holds its nose on the rest of Russia’s policies.

Second, China. Jaishankar will hope the US understands the determination with which India has withstood Chinese pressure these last couple of years with PLA troops bearing down on the Line of Actual Control in Eastern Ladakh.

Moreover, at last week’s SCO summit, Modi made sure that there was no photo-op with China’s Xi Jinping, except for the necessary group photo. That is another signal to the US—that India will do its bit in standing up to an assertive China and play its role, albeit in the shadows, in containing its fellow Asian power.

As to the Democratic Party’s concerns about curbs on individual freedoms in India, it is more than unlikely that Blinken or US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will directly engage Jaishankar on that front. If they do, it would be a remarkable interference in India’s internal affairs and the US knows that it could lead to a further frostiness in the relationship.

But the unhappiness in Washington DC is taking its toll—and manifesting in increasing disinterest, for example, in signing a free trade agreement with India.

Certainly, Jaishankar has his work cut out over the next ten days in the US.

The author is a consulting editor. She tweets @jomalhotra. Views are personal.

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 20, 2022 at 6:54pm

Turn on a television in India this past month, and the arguments espoused by some of the country’s most popular media personalities follow a pattern: The United States provoked Russia into attacking Ukraine. The Americans were possibly developing biological weapons in Ukraine. Joe Biden, the U.S. president who fumbled the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, has no business criticizing India over the war he sparked in Ukraine.

While the Russian invasion has galvanized public opinion against President Vladimir Putin in many Western countries, it has had a strikingly different effect in India, reflecting a gulf between the United States and the world’s largest democracy in how each public perceives the war, Russia and the West.

In recent weeks, some Indian English-language newspapers catering to wealthy urban liberals have carried editorials nudging Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take a tougher stance against Putin. But on mainstream talk shows and in the pages of magazines popular with Modi’s right-wing base — a far larger audience — it has mostly been fire and fury directed toward the United States, portrayed as the culprit and instigator of yet another international conflagration.

“The American media, the American establishment wants to conceal this: They don’t like this charge of having anything to do with biological weapons,” Arnab Goswami, the star anchor of India’s top-rated news channel, Republic TV, said in a monologue earlier this month after Moscow and Washington exchanged accusations about bioweapons possibly being researched and used in Ukraine.

“But I don’t believe in the concept of Americans declaring themselves innocent, because the Americans are the ones who have a profound history of using the worst chemical weapons, on the most innocent people,” Goswami continued. He took a breath, then furiously recounted the U.S. government’s record of dropping the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and spraying the herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, which devastated forests and caused birth defects.

Meanwhile, in a studio east of Delhi, Rahul Shivshankar, Goswami’s competitor on the Times Now channel, wondered whether the West had happily “baited” Putin into launching a risky invasion and forced Russia to “do what it had to do.”

“Ukrainian residents are today facing the brunt, and the West is looking at all the fun,” Shivshankar said. In his monthly newspaper column, the TV star wrote that “the trigger for the war isn’t Putin,” but NATO’s encroachment into Russia’s sphere of influence. “America considers the Caribbean its backyard, China considers the South China Sea as its own,” Shivshankar wrote.

The commentary does not necessarily reflect the policy of the Modi administration, which has generally sought to strengthen relations with the United States and maintain a neutral position throughout the Ukraine conflict. Despite the West’s attempts to isolate Moscow, India has repeatedly abstained from condemning Russia, a decades-long weapons supplier, and continues to buy Russian oil. But the war in Ukraine has resurfaced an unmistakable strain of anti-American skepticism that has coursed for decades across India’s political spectrum.


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