Could Social Impact Bonds Fight Slavery?

Social Impact Bonds as an effective way to tackle the age-old problem of bonded labour in India.

By Dallin Van Leuven, 20th April, 2015 

To pay off a family debt of only $50, 13-year-old Roghini was “mortgaged” to a family that made matchboxes in their home. Paid only 30 cents for every 1,500 boxes she made, Roghini worked alongside 20 other children for 11 hours a day just to try and earn enough to eat—though she often went hungry. The abusive treatment she received drove Roghini into such a deep depression that she tried to end her own life. Finally, three years after she was sold into slavery, a local group was able to pay off the debt and free her.

Millions of men, women, and children are working in India under similar conditions. India’s justice system has tried to free them for decades, to no avail. New strategies are needed where politicians and judges have failed. It is time for investors to step up. Continue reading

Discovery of India – Chapter 3: Stories of a deity and a human

InPEC brings to you the “Discovery of India” log of Karthik Radhakrishnan, an engineering graduate student from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, as he travels through India. 

Chapter 1 is available here.

Chapter 2 is available here.

Place: Masinagudi (Nilgiri District, TN)
Date: 19th January, 2014

By Karthik Radhakrishnan, 5th March, 2014

We often use the phrases “Scheduled castes” and “Scheduled tribes” (mostly in the context of beneficiaries of the Indian Reservation system.) But how often do we actually think of the life of a Dalit or a Tribal? Taking nothing away from their sufferings of the past, the Dalit community has progressed since independence (a long way to go still though). But many Tribal communities of India are still untouched, the stories untold.

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Fear and Loathing in the Magic Valley of Malana, India’s Cannabis Country

Satellite mapping by the authorities forces India’s famous cannabis growers deeper into the bush. 

By Shweta Desai, 10th January 2014 (Republished with permission) 

Deep in India’s Himalayas, in the remote and isolated Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh, is the quiet village of Malana. When autumn arrives each year, Malana is enveloped in what was once a hopeful air brought on by the new harvest, as lanky cannabis trees bloom wild in panoramic fields and against scattered houses. Farmers and villagers begin cultivating in late September, rubbing the buds of fully bloomed plants between their palms to extract the brown hashish resin known mystically as Malana’s crème. Today this time of year carries with it the dark pall of police interference.

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The First World-Problem(s)

Rehyphenating the priorities of the developed and developing worlds.

By Arvind Iyer, 8th January 2014

Background : The Three Worlds theories of the early postcolonial era that might have served to usefully map the sharply polar geopolitics of the time, continue to circumscribe policy imagination as well as commentary in a manner that limits the genuine planet-wide globalizing of best-practices discovered in any of the erstwhile ‘worlds’. The narratives of newly liberated nations making their unique trysts with destiny or the ‘nationalizing’ of ideology as in socialism with Chinese characteristics are far from timeless or timely at this juncture when wars for self-determination are receding into history, thus precluding preoccupations with self-definition, or assertion of identity, or characterization of doctrines. This article treats an increasingly dominant strain of middle-class political attitudes and aspirations in emerging India as a case study of sorts to illustrate how policy pragmatism and catholicity rather than policy puritanism and conservatism maybe both enabled and necessitated in a world where the problems India shares with America are as pressing as the problems endemic to ‘Chindia’ or the BRIC bloc.

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Challenges of grass root rural development in Tamil Nadu

Looking at the adverse effects of pesticide use on health and farmer yields in Erode, Tamil Nadu state in India, the author highlights the needed measures to bridge the gap between the remedies available to the government, NGOs and civil society on one hand, and the sustainable options for the farmers on the other.

By Camille Maubert, 23rd November 2013

India’s outstanding economic development following the Green Revolution (1960s) was characterized by a remarkable increase in agricultural production. In the past decades, India’s crop yield was multiplied by four through the use of enhanced crop varieties, fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals. However, despite such success on the global scale, concerns are emerging at the micro level regarding the sustainability if intensive agricultural exploitation. The biggest challenge facing farmers is the dramatic decrease in soil fertility. Indeed, after five decades of intense farming, some challenges have become alarmingly recurrent.

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The Merit Delusion – Caste and Affirmative Action in India

In this article, Satish Chandra questions the accepted definition of “merit” in the caste-based reservations debate in India. 

Editor’s note: SC/ST stands for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes while OBC stands for Other Backwards Castes. These government caste-groupings are determined by the degree of the lack of socio-economic progress as determined and decided by the government. Studies reveal that SC/STs are on average far poorer, are discriminated against, and lack access to opportunity outside of government mandated reservations when compared to the ‘General’ castes. OBCs are on average better off than SC/STs but worse off than ‘General’ castes. Of course, there are genuine concerns over these government classification of castes, which don’t always accurately reflect the socio-economic conditions of those castes. However, that is a different debate for a different time.

Before reading the article, it would be a good idea to watch the following documentary on caste and untouchability, called India Untouched. It dispels the myth that caste-based discrimination is a thing of the past in India, by capturing – on camera – instances of such discrimination taking place to this day. Alternately, please watch this playlist of very short videos by Video Vounteers.

By Satish Chandra, 2nd August, 2013

Reservations for socially and economically backward castes in academic institutions and government jobs (affirmative action) are a highly contentious issue in India, although mostly for all the wrong reasons. One of those is an argument that reservations dilute merit. Consider this “joke” that was email-forward fodder years ago and is now doing the rounds on social networks. It is good example of how badly caste issues are understood.

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Discovery of India – Chapter 2: Election Freebies, Women and the Mid Day Meal Scheme

InPEC brings to you the “Discovery of India” log of Karthik Radhakrishnan, an engineering graduate student from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, as he travels through India. This chapter describes the tale of a village in Tamil Nadu which is hit by floods every year and the residents have no means to get by.
Place : Thalainayar (Nagappatinam District, Tamil Nadu)
Date : 22nd July, 2013

By Karthik Radhakrishnan, 29th July, 2013
Thalainayar is a Town Panchayat in the district of Nagappatinam (For people who remember the Tsunami of 2004, Nagappatinam district had the maximum number of casualties in Tamil Nadu.) This is a story of a tiny village in this Panchayat, Santhantheru, whose residents have no food, no drinking water and absolutely no money. This village gets flooded for three months every year and the residents are put up in a nearby school, where close to a hundred families live together with inadequate food and space. The floods take away both the lives and livelihood of these poor people who rely totally on agriculture for their food.

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An Attempt to Discover India – Chapter 1

InPEC presents to you the “Discovery of India” log of Kartik Radhakrishnan, an engineering graduate student from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, as he travels through India. In this post, he presents the story about a village in India which “has been forgotten by both the political and administrative executive of the country.”

Place : Aalapalayam (50km North of Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu)
Date : 25th June, 2013

By Kartik Radhakrishnan, 10th July, 2013 (republished)

In the past few months, I have often asked myself the question “What do I consider to be a privilege in my life?” The answer seemed to be obvious “food, shelter and education.” Now that I think about it, this might have been a very shallow response from a guy sitting inside an AC room, oblivious to the actual hardships of the world. How about eating your food without the stench of an exposed drainage that runs around your house? How about a house whose roof falls on your head with every rainfall? How about the absence of an avenue to dispose your dead ones? Continue reading

Open Economy, Sealed Fate

The author investigates whether the proposed reforms in India’s financial, energy and retail sectors really make a difference to the economy which many have said has ‘bottomed out’ this fiscal year. 

By Yayaati Joshi, 12th March 2013

To begin with, I deem it appropriate to describe the proposed reforms and the purported merits of those reforms in the financial, energy and retail sectors of India, and mention briefly, the state of the affairs of the Indian economy. The growth of the GDP in the last 5 years has been less than encouraging, to say the least. Looking at the trend of the GDP from 2004—that’s when the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the key figure of the 1991 Economic Reform, has been shouldering the responsibility of running the country—it has resembled a sine curve, with the crests and troughs rising and falling dramatically in 2010 onwards.

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Infographic: Literacy in India

Upon tasking himself with creating an infographic on primary education in India, Akshan Ish found that while India’s literacy rate is steadily growing, and the country boasts of having one of the largest workforces in the world by 2020, the education system fails to equip students with fundamental skills at the elmentary level – leaving a huge chunk incompetent to contribute to the fast growing economy. 

In this post, InPEC has also included Akshan’s background notes, which gives the reader a look into the process of infographic design.

By Akshan Ish, 19th December, 2012

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Guantanamo: Can Intelligence Agencies be Democratic?

In this article the author questions whether the methods being used to combat domestic terrorism are in fact contrary to the values they seek to protect. Using the case studies of the US and Pakistan, Camille Maubert looks at the discrepancy between democratic ideals and the often scandalous actions of intelligence agencies.

By Camille Maubert, May 15th, 2012

The superiority of democracy as a political system has become paradigmatic. In effect, it is known to be the best way for a state to simultaneously assert authority on its citizens and protect their basic rights from excessive uses of power. Yet, intelligence agencies are democracies’ Achilles’ heel. Scandals – from Watergate to Abu Graib – penetrated the layers of secrecy and exposed the discrepancies between democratic ideals and intelligence activities.

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The Unhappiness Factory of Kashmir

In an April 2012 issue of Open Magazine, the editor Manu Joseph wrote a provocatively titled essay, “Sorry, Kashmir is Happy”. Unsurprisingly, this article became the subject of heated discussion. In this InPEC article, the author – Sualeh Keen, a Kashmiri writer, poet and cultural critic – brings some perspective to this issue.  

By Sualeh Keen, 7th May 2012

Trauma in Kashmir is like a heritage building—the elite fight to preserve it. ‘Don’t forget,’ is their predominant message, ‘Don’t forget to be traumatised.’ They want the wound of Kashmir to endure because the wound is what indicts India for the many atrocities of its military. This might be a long period of calm, but if the wound vanishes, where is the justice? India simply gets away with all those rapes, murders and disappearances? So nothing disgusts them more than these words: ‘Normalcy returns to Kashmir’; ‘Peace returns to the Valley’; ‘Kashmiris want to move on’.

When Manu Joseph wrote these words in the Open Magazine article ‘Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy’, it was but expected that ‘they’ would get disgusted and outraged. ‘They’ are the intellectual writers and online activists that constitute the second generation of Kashmiri Muslim separatists, the first generation being the Pakistan-trained mujahideen who fought with AK-47s, grenades, rockets, and bombs against ‘Hindu India’ in search of Azadi (literally, ‘freedom’). While originally Azadi meant the valley’s accession to Pakistan, after the Pakistan-sponsored armed uprising in the early 90’s failed and with the onset of internal turmoil in Pakistan, the meaning of Azadi has shifted from accession to Pakistan to independence from both India and Pakistan. This demand is largely confined to the Kashmiri Muslim community of the Kashmir valley, while finding little or no support in the Jammu and Ladakh regions of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State. Even in the valley, opinions are divided in favour of independence, accession to Pakistan, greater autonomy or self-rule within the Indian union, and political status quo.

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Non-Proliferation: Are we heading in the right direction?

In this article, the author reports from the first session of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee conference being held in Vienna, Austria. The international community, including Iran and the US, have gathered at the IAEA headquarters to discuss next steps while non-participants Israel, India and Pakistan follow the progress of the conference from the comforts of distance.

By David J. Franco, 2nd May, 2012

Ignored by the mainstream media, the world’s nuclear weapons and energy problems are being tackled by the international community gathered in Vienna. Attended by a gallant but tiny band of NGOs the meeting witnesses states from Iran to the US engaged in the debate, while the non-participants Israel, Pakistan and India cast a shadow over the proceedings.

On Monday, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, of the Philippines, declared open the first session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. Ambassador Cabactulan led a successful process that culminated in the 2010 NPT Action Plan agreed with the consensus of all states parties to the NPT. After his opening statement, in which he emphasized the need to build upon pass success, Ambassador Cabactulan declared elected Ambassador Peter Woolcott, of Australia, as the Chair-designate for the first session of the 2015 NPT review conference cycle.

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Heyns, the Final Straw for AFSPA in India?

In this article, the author discusses the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 of India, which has been used in the North Eastern states of India, and Jammu and Kashmir where counter-insurgency operations were carried out in the past several decades. This Act has come under heavy criticism from human rights advocates.

By Rithika Nair, May 1, 2012

Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings described India as “a living document … [of] human rights jurisprudence respected worldwide.” This extolling statement preceded his review of the country after brief visits to New Delhi, Gujarat, Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and West Bengal. His detailed report on the issue will be submitted before the United Nations Human Rights Council only in 2013.

In a press release after his visit, he expressed concern regarding unlawful killings by State actors and non-State actors, delay in prosecution and lawful impunity. He touched upon the disproportional and unnecessary use of force by the police, encounter killings, custodial deaths, the death penalty, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, communal violence, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, violence against women, and most significantly measures of impunity and rewards instead of prosecution.

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Can the American and Pakistani Positions on Islamic Militancy be Reconciled?

In this article, the author delves into the relationship between the United States and Pakistan in context of the Islamic Militancy in the extended region of Afghanistan-Pakistan. 

By Camille Maubert, 10th April, 2012

In 2001, Pakistan allied itself with the US on the grounds that it would assist in the War on Terror’s effort to tackle terrorism. At the time, the two countries’ interests seemed to coincide, as they had a common target – Al Qaeda and foreign fighters. Yet, from 2003 onwards, the expansion of the American war against the Taliban and its increased pressure on Pakistan to act against the Islamic militants who use the Afghan-Pakistani border to provide the Taliban with safe havens put the Pakistani leadership in a difficult situation. The unpreparedness of Pakistan to answer the US’s demands to repress these groups led to the current diplomatic standoff whereby there seems to be no alignment of strategic interests, let alone coordination between the US and Pakistan, and their respective policies remain fundamentally adversarial.

The premise of this study is to challenge the current understanding of the situation, which is overwhelmingly based on perceptions and representations rather than real insight into Islamic militancy.

Islamic Jihad or Pakistani Nationalism?

Despite the consensus on the decisive role played by militant organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Haqqani network in providing safe havens, logistical support and training to Taliban fighters, important questions like “who are the militants, who is supporting them and why?” are overlooked.

There is a strong argument that the reason why Islamic militants have such an overwhelming presence in the Afghan-Pakistani border region is because of the radicalisation of the population by madrassas and its sympathy for the jihadi ideology. Such an approach is flawed as it conveys a stereotypical understanding of the militant reality, and overlooks the deeper psychological and political fault lines underpinning it. Indeed, Islamic militants are fighting a revolutionary jihad for ideological purposes, to reform the state and impose a radical version of Islam. Conversely, most Pakistanis practice a more moderate version of Islam and thus do not support radical groups out of sympathy for their ideological agenda. Rather, those who join militant groups put forward reasons that stem from collusion, misinformation, support for the Afghan jihad and, mostly, Pakistani nationalism. Indeed, invasive American actions (drone strikes) have propped up support for militant groups out of patriotic sentiment. In other words, militant organisations have hijacked the nationalist concept of jihad as used during partition, and widely supported by Pakistanis, to justify violent action (against American infringements on Pakistani sovereignty and denounce the subordination of Pakistani leaders to American will (A 2009 Gallup Survey reveals that 59% of Pakistanis consider the US as the biggest threat, while only 11% chose the Taliban). As a result, support for Islamic militants spreads more easily through the various layers of Pakistani society, as they claim to act in the defence of the Muslim nation from external domination.

Therefore, it is the failure of Western analysts to make the distinction between ideologically motivated militants and nationalist Pakistanis that makes cooperation difficult. In the US, the post 9/11 environment and the need to mobilise people against terrorism promoted an unsophisticated understanding of what Islamic militancy is about by having the media “fuse shots of Osama Bin Laden, veiled women, (…) and riots in Kashmir and Palestine, thereby lending the visual impression that the West is confronted with a crazy, irrational faith” (Majid 2010:101). This securitisation of Islamic militancy is intrinsically flawed because it promotes an all-encompassing understanding that merges ideological and nationalist agendas into the same threat, making its targeting indiscriminate and, ultimately, counter-productive. Conversely, the Pakistani approach to Islamic militancy recognises that some elements – the Pakistani Taliban – do represent a threat, but it also acknowledges that it cannot crack down on those organisations as most jihadi groups historically enjoyed state sanction to wage jihad against the state’s enemies in the name of Islam and the Nation. Therefore, it is necessary to explore the relationship between the Pakistani state and Islamic groups in order to understand its reluctance to implement direct military action against them.

Islamic Groups as Pakistan’s Strategic Asset

Were the Pakistani civilian government willing to cooperate with the US, such commitment would only be a shallow promise if it proves to be unable – or unwilling – to convince the military and Inter-Services Intelligence to abide by its will. Not only is Zardari’s government unable to do so – given the historical weakness of Pakistani civilian governments – but it will not, as this would undermine the Pakistani strategic doctrine as a whole. Indeed, Islamic militants have been and remain the most reliable linchpin for Pakistan to project power where it matters; Kashmir. Since Partition, Islamic radicals and the army have teamed together to construct and secure Pakistan’s sovereignty and identity through the tactical use of guerilla warfare in Pakistan’s border regions.

Therefore, the reason why Pakistan does not – and will not – act against Kashmiri-based groups is that its whole foreign policy is founded upon issues of (Muslim) national identity, meaning that it uses militancy to challenge the Indian regional domination. Since this discourse informs Pakistan’s very identity narrative and exercises a powerful hold on the national imagination, it is impossible for Pakistani leaders to renounce it, especially as its influence has been reinvigorated by the fight for (Muslim) freedom in neighboring Afghanistan.

Similarly, Afghanistan is an aspect of Pakistan’s Indian policy. Indeed, Pakistan’s actions in Afghanistan are determined by its entrenched fear of encirclement and the necessity to limit Indian influence at its Western flank. Successive governments have therefore maintained strategic links with Islamic groups in Afghanistan and supported a proxy war aimed at undermining Indian assets. Interestingly, the post 2001 security environment increased the links between Kashmiri and Afghan groups, thereby strengthening the legitimacy of local groups and undermining the ability of the state to identify and target specific individuals.

However, this apparent predicament serves Pakistani interests in the long term; Aware of the need to preserve strategic depth against India and a friendly government in Afghanistan, Pakistan has no interest in withdrawing support to Afghan Islamic militants and the Pakistani groups that prop them up.

Questions like “how much support these groups truly get from the army and the ISI, and how much of it is provided by independent individuals”, remains unanswered. Yet what is clear is that the problem to which Pakistan is confronted with regards to Islamic militancy is one of control. Pakistan is in a situation where the state created organisations on the basis of identity for (geo)political purposes but has lost control over them as they were reinforced by traditional values and developed a life of their own. In effect, not only are Islamic organisations attractive to some sections of the population, they also are ingrained in the state apparatus – they recruit retired personnel from and have relatives working for the army. Given the kinship base of the Pakistani society, this makes them extremely difficult to root out. Consequently, Pakistan understands that disarming the militants would cause more damage than turning a blind eye, as it may lead to an internal conflict of interests within the army between pro-Western and nationalist elements. Such situation, it has been argued, would provoke the collapse of the only strong institution able of holding the state together.

Furthermore, the areas in which militancy is highest are those where the state doesn’t exert authority or governance – North West Frontier Province, Balochistan, Kyber-Pukhtoonkhwa. In these areas, the pre-eminence of Islamic organisations is all the more important that they fill the power vacuum and provide the population with social services that the state is failing to supply. The most notable example is that of LeT’s charity wing Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD). After the 2005 earthquake and 2010 floods, JuD provided immediate relief to the population and further integrated itself at the grassroots level. As a result, LeT has been increasingly able to act independently from state sponsor, another reason for Pakistan not to provoke any rupture. What is needed, therefore, is a solution that acknowledges the structural weaknesses of the Pakistani state, the strength of its society, and promotes negotiation rather than coercion.

A Path to Reconciliation?

The difficulty with both US and Pakistani positions is that they are directly reliant on the states’ narratives. In that sense, finding a solution implies that they would have to compromise on those narratives. This is unlikely to happen since, on one hand, the American demands are based on the deeply entrenched ideological principles of the War on Terror, and, on the other hand, the Pakistani reluctance to comply is rooted in the certitude that militants are necessary to its regional strategy – and to an extent its national identity.

These discursive incompatibilities are reinforced by the process of securitisation at play. By framing Islamic militancy as a security threat, the US – and some pro-Western Pakistani civilian leaders – has promoted a military solution, which limits are becoming more visible. The protests steered by drone strikes and the backlashes met by the Pakistani army in Federally Administrated Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province demonstrate that the use of force is ultimately inefficient as it increases anti-Americanism, steers sympathy for militants, and further disturbs Pakistan’s unstable political landscape.

As observed above, the reason why cooperation has so far failed between the two allies is the mismatch of each other’s vital interests. While the US demands are informed by the short-term requirements of its Afghan strategy, the Pakistani position is determined by a long-term approach to militancy and regional security. In addition, the securitisation process has led to a situation where the US promotes an all-encompassing definition of the militant threat which pushes for the elimination of all organisations linked to Islamic militancy. But what it fails to understand is that Islamic militancy is deeply rooted in the Pakistani society and state apparatus and, as such, it cannot simply be isolated or suppressed.

Therefore, any solution to the problem posed by Islamic militancy would have to acknowledge that it is not only a security threat but rather a socio-economic and nationalist phenomenon. Additionally, it would have to recognise Pakistan’s structural weaknesses and its lack of capacity to impose its will on some sections of the population. Pakistan is a negotiated state, which means that coercive measures from the top-down are unlikely to be successful if they are not supported by local stakeholders. In finding a solution, Pakistan itself has a role to play, as it would have to acknowledge its need for a consistent strategy against its home grown militants – which it lacks so far – to ease cooperation with the US and start to positively engage the militants.

There is a growing understanding that soft power is ultimately more likely to successfully change militant behaviours and counter the growth of violent extremism as it impacts directly on the grass roots level. Indeed, long-term American engagement in issues like education and development would decrease its perception by the population as a security threat and help diffuse more positive representations. Tactical attempts have mostly proven to be successful, as shown by the American help in flood relief in 2010. However, this policy so far happens to be unsuccessful on the strategic level as its positive contribution in winning Pakistanis’ hearts and minds is outbalanced by the negative impact of drone attacks. Therefore, in order to decrease the scale of Islamic militancy, Pakistan would have to restore its sense of sovereignty, which means that the US would have to cease its activities across the border. At the time of writing, such evolution is yet to happen. This is due to the intense climate of mistrust that characterises the relationship between the US and Pakistan, whereby neither side seems to be willing to tone its rhetoric – and demands – down for fear of being thought to make concessions on its narrative.

Islamic militancy highlights the complexity of the US-Pakistan bilateral relation by confronting their intrinsically different strategic and identity narratives. One demands a rapid military solution, the other prioritises its long-terms interests, and both are informed by domestic pressure and ideological discourses. Only when those uncomfortable realities are acknowledged will dialogue be possible. Ultimately, the militant challenge puts the ability of the two allies to engage in a long-term partnership to a test as it will show whether conflicting demands can be complemented by common goals.

The UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Sri Lanka’s Alleged War Crimes

In this article, the author explores the resolution’s impact on Sri Lanka, and its probable implications with reference to Sri Lanka.

By Rithika Nair, 3rd April, 2012

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) judgment on Sri Lanka’s efforts at post-conflict reconstruction, invited an abundance of opinions and debate globally. Newspapers cried out country decisions to the US sponsored resolution with regard to their foreign policies, domestic policies and moral policies. In lending an ear to all the global justifications and rationalizations, the importance shifted away from what Sri Lanka had to say with regard to the resolution and its possible impact on the island.

In 2010, the Government of Sri Lanka created the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) suo moto, to look into the causes of the conflict, its consequences on the people, and to promote national unity and reconciliation. The LLRC, though criticized for overlooking the violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the Sri Lankan army, stated that there were “considerable” civilian casualties. This was opposed to the government claims, which insisted on a zero-casualty rate.

The international community had already begun to push Sri Lanka to begin its post-conflict reconstruction agenda.  The LLRC report increased this demand for the Sri Lankan government to act – prosecute those who were accountable for civilian massacres, and bring relief to those displaced and devastated by the war.

This never happened.

The disappointing LLRC report largely exonerating the government, and the subsequent government inaction to suggested accountability procedures encouraged the international community to act.

In March 2012, the US submitted a resolution at the 19th session of the UNHRC, urging the Sri Lankan government “to address serious allegations of violations of international law by initiating credible and independent investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for such violations.” The resolution, after being slightly amended to word that the implementation of any external advice or investigation by the Human Rights Commissioner or Special Procedures must unfold only “in consultation with and the concurrence of ” the Sri Lankan government, was passed with 24 votes in favour, 15 against, and 8 abstentions.

The closing of Sri Lankan embassies in Europe, the threats to human rights defenders and the anti-Americanism in Sri Lanka are some of the immediate effects of the resolution. But it’s long-term implications – constructive and destructive, are nothing but analytical renderings as of now.

The resolution with its honorouble intentions could be a possible check on the quasi-dictatorship of Mahinda Rajapaksa. It could be the warning hand on the back, reminding Sri Lanka of what it had promised to deliver three years ago, a paternal gesture offering assistance if needed. It could imply that dialogue and soft diplomacy may harden, and the whispers of a ‘South Asian Spring’ may jump to reality with an international demand for the removal of Rajapaksa from his throne. With the Sri Lankan Tamils still dissatisfied with their government’s empty promises of reconciliation, and Sinhalese human rights activists being called traitors if they stood up for the Tamils, it would not be long before Sri Lanka could walk the line with Maldives, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. If such a future be predicted, then the precautionary resolution – a very fair and balanced one, has been passed at a very appropriate juncture.

The resolution may have been a UN step to avoid being blamed for not taking action. Perhaps the UN was guilty of its own lack of action while the crisis unfolded over 26 years. Then, the resolution is but a ticking pendulum, softly but notably reminding Sri Lanka of its obligations and responsibility – and in doing so, delivering rehabilitation and hopeful justice to the victims of the war – the people of Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, the resolution placed the ball back in the Lankan court, and it ordered the multi-faced Lankan king to finish what he had promised to do. It asked him to submit an action plan detailing what he had done, and will do to implement the LLRC recommendations, and to address all matters that violated international law.

The king, with all ten heads, rejected the resolution.

Neither he nor his court thought that it added any value to the humanitarian and justice implementation process in Sri Lanka. They felt the resolution was ‘counterproductive’, ‘ill-timed’, and ‘an unwarranted initiative’. They perceived the supporters and sponsors of the resolution to be LTTE sympathizers – those who underestimated the violence and trauma that the LTTE had unleashed upon them. They felt that the unpunished situations in Afghanistan, Iraq and India removed the moral legitimacy of the resolution.  Lobbying against the vote in Geneva transcended into anti-America lobbying, and human rights activists and defenders of the resolution were threatened in Sri Lanka. In such circumstances, the significance of the resolution is undermined.

This resolution should not and cannot be rejected by comparing them to conflict situations where deeds committed by the sponsors and supporters go unchecked. This matter pertains to and reflects on Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka alone. This does not mean that this case supersedes any of the other situations, but the current context is Sri Lanka, and that should be respected. If the world and its leaders were to act and re-act following the policy of every eye for an eye, and every tooth for a tooth, the vicious cycle of blame and revenge would never stop spinning.

However, as the ambassador for Bangladesh very prudently stated at the Council session, if Sri Lanka is not on board, then the resolution will have a very limited impact. Without the Sri Lankan nod to implement efficient rehabilitation and accountability measures, the resolution is but an empty bell with no sound.

The Israeli Embassy Vehicle Attack in New Delhi – Reactions in India

In this article, the author explores the reaction among the media, the government and the people over the attack that took place on the Israeli Embassy vehicle on the 13th of February, 2012. 


By Siddharth Singh, 15th Feb, 2012

In the aftermath of the bomb blast targeting an Israeli embassy car in central Delhi, the reaction of the people and the press has largely revolved around three themes: one, outrage that yet another attack has taken place in India and the condemnation of the current government over its inability to stop such attacks. This perception is strengthened by the “weak” verbal responses by the concerned Indian ministers. Two, pointed criticism that the government couldn’t prevent an attack which is a stone’s throw away from the Prime Minister’s residence. Three, surprise – by people mostly – that Iran is in any way related to this attack. Bomb blasts in India have so far been popularly and officially blamed on home grown terrorist groups and those supported by or originating from Pakistan.

The First Theme: Outrage over the attack and ridicule of the official response

The near-universal condemnation of the United Progressive Alliance government under Dr. Manmohan Singh is a recurrent theme that follows every bomb blast in a big city in the country. While it is true that India is a rather large country with multitudes in a politically and socially unstable neighbourhood, it is equally true that the government can do a lot more to improve the security situation in the country without resorting to the controversial measures such as the U.S. government has. Indeed, the government has failed to put in place effective counter-terror and law-and-order mechanisms.

For instance, the Ministry of Home Affairs is overburdened with non-security related tasks such as “implementation of the official language” – Hindi – and welfare of freedom fighters from the pre-Independence era. The long proposed Internal Affairs Ministry has not been set up yet, even though it is an idea accepted by officials on Raisina Hill. Comprehensive police reforms too haven’t seen the light of the day in spite of being on paper for several years.

Additionally, the establishment of an Internal Security University – which would provide long term research and analysis on the internal security scenario in India, apart from providing better trained policemen and administrators – has not been established yet, in spite of being passed by the Cabinet years ago. Currently the officials in the ministry are over burdened with day-to-day crisis management and do not have time to research and plan for the longer run.

The image of the government as an ineffective unit, however, largely comes from the lack of effective communication from the government, in particular its ministers. While the government response is typically greeted with disdain, this time around, it was met with ridicule. One of the reasons is that unlike previous attacks, this one did not result in deaths, making mockery acceptable. The people and media resorted to ridiculing the government over what they referred to as a “cliched, disinterested and monotonous” official statement. This time around, they got to see on their favourite prime time news shows on TV – in the form of Israeli ministers, including Prime Minister Netanyahu – give decisive statements on how such attacks cannot be tolerated and the perpetrators will be hunted down. The Israeli administration was also hasty in blaming Iran for the attack, at a time when the Indian officials were sticking to the story of an “incident” caused due to “unknown circumstances.” The reaction to the blame on Iran will be addressed later in this article.

While this author does not believe that hawkish statements are constructive in the aftermath of such bomb blasts, it is true that the government’s reaction is often trite, and are often replays of every official reaction after every major attack the country has seen in the past many years. This fits into the popular narrative of the government, which lacks effective communicators at the top of the administrative setup. The leader of the political coalition – Sonia Gandhi, the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and External Affairs Minister, among others, are not exactly known for their oratory skills. In a hyperactive news TV era, this has become a burden on the political establishment. The media and people in India yearn for effective communicators who can sell governance as much as they can effectively govern in the first place. Even though transparency has been legislated via the Right to Information Act and other instruments, there seems to be opacity in the verbal communication at the top of the administration.

This narrative is popular and cannot be easily undone by the government without a major cabinet reshuffle. It is an issue the government will have to accept and work around.

The Second Theme: Outrage over the location of the attack

The second theme of the reaction has been specific to this incident: the bomb blast took place on one end of Aurangzeb Road, which is a posh neighbourhood in the Lutyens Bungalow Zone (where all the ministers, officials, parliamentarians and chiefs of military reside) in New Delhi. The location of the attack was a stones throw away from the Prime Minister’s official residence at 7, Race Course Road.

Unsurprisingly, this became a talking point, and many commentators and the general public have lamented about the lack of security even in such a high profile area. One news TV host in partcular was at his hyperbolic best when he commented that even the Prime Minister could hear the bomb blast (adding later that it would have been possible only if the Prime Minister was home. The police eventually revealed that the blast wasn’t a loud one).

The Prime Minister’s residence is on the Race Course Road, which is open to the general public. Pedestrians freely walk along the sidewalks on the road, and motorists are free to use this road for their daily commute. This fact once brought praise by a friend from a subcontinental neighbour who lamented that common people in his country couldn’t even step in the neighbourhood of the most important ministers.

The entire Lutyens Bungalow Zone is fully accessible to the public, as it rightly must be. However, this also means that it is easy for a motorist to – say – bring explosives in close proximity of the Prime Minister’s home. The PM, of course, is safe in his multi layered security setup. In fact, he uses a different road (which is fully secured) from the other side of his home for his daily commute.

Lutyens Delhi cannot be made exclusive to the residents of the area. Not only does this area house the representatives of the people, it has the headquarters of the political parties, and several markets where the poor find employment. There is no practical way to fully secure this area. Commentary on this theme of the location of the attack is hence misplaced. The location is immaterial here: that it happened at all is the issue at hand.

The Third Theme: Surprise and confusion over Iran’s involvement

What has been more interesting, however, is the sense of confusion among people and a few reporters about Iran’s alleged involvement in the attack. The only foreign nation Indians are used to hearing get linked to attacks has been Pakistan. (To a much lesser extent, Bangladesh was once on this list too, but now makes headlines for partnering India in its fight against militancy).

Natanyahu’s assertion that Iran had a role in the attack even before the Indian authorities could confirm that it was an “attack” rather than an “incident” came as a surprise to many. Many in the media termed this as a hasty reaction without credible evidence to back the claim. A few in the public commended such naming tactics, recommending India do the same with Pakistan.

Importantly, however, this holds important implications on India’s foreign policy. In case Iran’s role is directly or indirectly established, it would mean that India will have to re-draft its policy in the region, which has so far been fairly neutral so far (barring for a few strategic decisions against Iran on the nuclear issue and the Iran-Pakistan-India Natural Gas Pipeline).

Historically, Iran has an image of a cultural “ally” in India. In recent years, the Ahmedinejad administration has brought criticism of official Indo-Iranian relations among those who advocate a more realist foreign policy. However, there is a general acceptance of Iran as an energy supplier nation which can help India meet its growing energy demand.

Indians are in general unaware of the growing tension between Iran and Israel. Reports on the stand off between Iran and the United States are often buried deep inside new papers and have nearly no mention on TV. For these reasons, the very mention of Iran has caught many by surprise. People still don’t fully grasp why India has emerged as a battlefield in the Iran-Israel stand off. The set of challenges for policymakers are profound, and it will be interesting to observe how the foreign policy and security discourse evolves from here.

The Case of the Missing Girl Child – Focus on Tamil Nadu, India

This article examines the issue of female infanticide in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. While the author is optimistic about the initiatives taken to eradicate the practice, there is emphasis on an understanding the issue at a more basic level and the need for a national level consciousness raising to change patriarchal attitudes. 


By Gowri Thampi 14th Feb, 2012

I was surprised when I read an article on infanticide by Athreya and Chunkath in the Economic and Political weekly twelve years ago. The horrible practice of female infanticide in Tamil Nadu had not gained media coverage until 1986, when the press highlighted its prevalence in Usilampatti, Madurai district, Tamil Nadu. Even then, it was assumed that this practice was only prevalent among a small minority in that area.

We have this idea, largely painted by the media and what appears before our well bred urban eyes, of India, one of continuous improvement and development. Either we deal with those who exalt the past glory of what is honestly an infant nation or those who speak of its future reign as a global super power, but rarely those who acknowledge the present realities without a defeatist attitude. Technology may have in fact contributed to the declining female sex ratio, though it wouldn’t have anything to do with female infanticide as opposed to female feticide.

This Google Motion Chart (click here) serves as a great tool to visualize the sex ratio in Tamil Nadu and individual districts over time. Click on the link and play around with it. Note that Tamil Nadu started off with far more girl babies than boy babies per thousand and sex ratio declined steadily till the 1990s after which we have seen some increase. You can look at individual districts as well over time, setting unique colors for them, and using opacity settings to view them individually, sex ratio changes will be observed along the diagonal, with an increase being an upward movement along the diagonal.

I see the work done to eliminate female infanticide in Tamil Nadu as a welcome blend of realism and optimism. Before I go into the measures, I will touch on female infanticide itself as a social issue. At the bare bones level, it’s a crime, murder, murder euphemized by so many almost polite sounding words that it is with a jerk alike the response to a sharp rap on the knuckles that we must remind ourselves that we are dealing with parental murder of their infants, babies who are girls, killed, because they are girls. Why then should we not deal with the issue like we deal with murder? Charge the accused, send them to jail. Apart from the obvious reasons like underreported births and deaths, ease of being mistaken for a case of infant mortality and the difficulty to get to the actual instigator as opposed to the hapless mother who may have been threatened to commit the act, we must understand that many practices held illegal in the eyes of law and the moral eyes of many well meaning educated citizens have large scale social legitimacy in various closed rural societies.

What grants practices social legitimacy is a grand question I do not want to get involved in right away as that may turn this article into a rant. It suffices to say that despite what the zealots may think, our morality is relativist; it is dependent on a host of cultural and temporal variables. What was moral in the medieval world is not moral today, what was moral in Usilampatti is not moral in Bangalore’s IT hubs. What I will talk about, is the core ideology that runs through urban and rural India, the rich and the poor, the impact of which varies only in the magnitude and the hues of its manifestation. That is patriarchy.

At the core of female infanticide are not murderous parents looking for ways to inflict torture on their babies but victims of an ideology condoned even by those who condemn this heinous avatar of it. Given this, any attempt to address the issue of female infanticide without trying to address the bigger problem of the patriarchy itself can only serve as cursory bandage on a deep internal wound. Well a cursory bandage would help to stem the flow of blood while society tries to deal with its internal injuries. Here I would like to talk about some such attempts to reduce the rate at which female infants die at the hands of their parents.

The cradle baby scheme was instituted by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa In 1992 in Salem, it was extended to Madurai, Theni, Dindingul, Dharmapuri, Erode and Namakkal districts by 2001. Under the scheme mothers were allowed to anonymously drop off their infants in government run centers in these districts. There were 188 centers in these districts. By the end of 2007, 2410 female babies and 390 male babies were received in these centers. Dharmapuri had the largest number of female babies received at 965, closely followed by Salem with a total of 915 female babies received. It is undoubted that this scheme has saved the lives of many infants who have later been given up for adoption in India and abroad.

This however wasn’t the only scheme instituted by the government. Recognizing the importance of local government participation and education of the people, the government also funded theater troupes to stage street plays (kalaipayanams) to educate the rural public about the cause. Training actors for the plays, repeat performances by the troupes with themes including humor with a deep message helped in getting the word around. In Dharmapuri district from April 26 to June 6 1998, 18 troupes carried out 3,000 performances according to Athreya, Chunkath.

While the cradle baby scheme saved lives, there is evidence that the work of the troupes helped to balance the sex ratio.

However when in 2011, the Chief Minister, once again Jayalalithaa, decided to extend the cradle baby scheme to other districts namely,Cuddalore, Perambalur, Ariyalur, Villupuram and Tiruvannamalai , due to the falling sex ratio in these districts, there was criticism. Critics claimed that the scheme makes parents more prone to abandoning their children, particularly girls. I do not understand how such a statement can be made when the sex ratio clearly indicates that, female fetuses, and (more likely due to India’s pre natal sex determination laws,) infants are being killed off. The babies that end up in the cradle would have very likely ended up in the grave, or at least faced an extremely grim future. The critics however are right that the scheme has to be supplemented with more work in restructuring our society.

The above efforts while laudable do not address the widespread prevalence of patriarchy, a society structured around the male. This issue will have to be addressed at a level which requires a countrywide awakening. Patriarchy cannot be eradicated by a series of half measures which considers some evils to be lesser evils and thus acceptable, we will have to fight inequality at every level, however subtle, because it is the attitude in itself which is dangerous and needs to change.

Not all the symptoms of patriarchy are as heinous as female infanticide, some of them materialize as seemingly trivial issues like asking a girl why she would choose to study mechanical engineering, isn’t that a man’s field? It manifests itself in the scourge of dowry which even the educated and wealthy indulge in, at the root of it all is the myopic vision of a woman as a second rate citizen who needs to be under the watchful eye of a male, either he father or a husband. That leads to the burden on the parents for finding a husband for their daughter, right from the day she is born. Large dowries are paid off to ensure the woman can be handed over to a male custodian, astrologers are consulted if a woman remains single for too long and she fasts on certain days of the week so she may find that man, because she can never be an independent individual in society. She has to be under somebody’s watchful eye. The rich provide their daughters with all that society requires, the poor dreading the consequences of not fulfilling social requirements, conclude that death is better for their daughters.

It is easy to brush aside the mentioned subtler forms of patriarchy though they, like female infanticide, are just symptoms of the same disease. Ignoring some of the issues leads to wrongs greater than the ones ignored, which is why I never mince my words when people ask me why, being a girl, I don’t settle down fast instead of studying so much. I have scant regards for the ‘feelings’ of those who start their sentences with “You are a girl…” It is more than my ego or theirs at stake here, it is the wellbeing of our entire society and the lives of little babies all over India, eaten up by a cancer we choose to close our eyes to.


  • Chunkath, S. , & Athreya, V. (1997). Female Infanticide in Tamil Nadu: Some Evidence. Economic and Political Weekly, 32(17), WS21-WS25+WS27-.


  • Kandwami, D. (2005). Cradling Humanity, Saving Lives. Herizons, 19(2), 11.


Exploring the Sino-Indian Maritime Rivalry

In this article, the author explores China and India’s maritime rivalry in context of the recent skirmishes between the two nations in the South China Sea.


By Mikael Santelli-Bensouda, 10 Jan, 2012

In the dying embers of 2011 the sentiment between China and India regarding maritime activities became increasingly antagonistic. China explicitly warned India from any interference in the South China Sea, India demonstrated its increasing naval capability with the induction of its second aircraft carrier – two years ahead of schedule – and China beefed up its physical presence across the Indian Ocean. Emboldened by a sense of strength and necessity both nations are expanding their capability and presence beyond their immediate periphery, directly into the others ‘backyard’. What is the naval security state of affairs between Asia’s rising powers?

Competing claims to Asia’s waterways

As emerging Asian powers, both China and India’s vital security interests have dilated towards regional concerns. Their interests, particularly lie in the Indian Ocean. The strategic focus on the region is predominantly due to its proximity to the energy rich Persian Gulf, a vital transport route for Asia’s energy and commercial interaction with the world market. Specifically, it is the desire to ensure security over vital shipments that has dictated the growing Chinese naval presence in the region. This, in turn, stimulates India’s proactive response of increasing its naval capability whilst projecting their presence in the South China Sea. These parallel policies signal an overlap in their strategic spheres, as both nations aim to stretch their strategic footprint across coastal Asia.

Beijing’s rationale derives largely, but not exclusively, from energy security, as China’s energy import dependency leaves her vulnerable across volatile transport routes. To this extent, the Malacca Dilemma constitutes a potent threat perception. In the event of heightened Sino-Indian tension, India (due to its proximity to the Malacca Strait, of which 85% of China’s energy needs pass through) can physically blockade China’s energy supplies. This narrative is used to justify the Middle Kingdom’s proactive presence expansion into the Indian Ocean. However, Beijing’s expansion also serves to stifle Indian attempts at exercising domain dominance. India, by a coincidence of geography, is the dominant maritime power in the Indian Ocean. Accordingly, the region constitutes India’s sphere of influence wherein New Delhi widely sees that its task is to be the steward of the waterways, safeguarding transit vessels. It is this vital responsibility that many consider to be India’s breakthrough into the global elite of nations. As both nations aim to ensure their national interests, they are increasingly drawn into a competition for supremacy.

The China Threat: String of Pearls

Beijing’s interests in establishing a quasi-permanent presence in the Indian Ocean are contextualised through the narrative of energy insecurity. The desire to express self-determination is an essential characteristic in China’s ‘peaceful development’. Accordingly, China has employed mutually enforcing tactics to facilitate its policies. Firstly, to strengthen its presence, it is taking tempered measures, which consist of diplomatic, economic and military engagement across the ocean’s littoral. Described as the ‘String of Pearls’. Secondly, Beijing is continuing a traditional naval buildup to fully utilise and protect their growing interests.

The String of Pearls strategy has been used to describe the physical manifestations of China’s interests within the Indian Ocean. These ‘pearls’ consist of: the building of container ports and deep-sea facilities in Chittagong, Bangladesh; assistance in constructing Pakistan’s deep-water port of Gwadar; support for the projected construction of a twelve-hundred-mile oil and gas pipeline from a port near Sittwe in Myanmar; and the controversial investment in the construction of Asia’s own Suez Canal that would cut across the Kra Isthmus in Thailand, subsequently bypassing the Malacca Strait.

Supplementing this is a methodical and patient naval buildup. In August 2011 Beijing’s naval ambitions were significantly boosted as China’s first aircraft carrier, the Varyag, completed its maiden voyage. This is noteworthy as aircraft carriers denote strategic importance and subsequently improves China’s maritime deterrence and combat capability. This significant moment is a watershed in the process of developing a capable navy, one that will be able of projecting and defending the Middle Kingdom’s interests.

Such advancement has not gone unnoticed by India, as with any augmentation of military strength and presence expansion comes greater suspicion and acts of counter-balancing. Despite official Chinese rhetoric professing that its actions serve only to safeguard its national security, it does little to alleviate New Delhi’s perceived threat. China’s actions are viewed with suspicion and are widely described within Indian military circles as antagonistic and provocative.

However, from the Chinese perspective the advent of the String of Pearls strategy is itself misleading as it attempts to construct a narrative of the China threat to justify retaliatory and often aggressive means. Beijing claims that it is not in search of any permanent presence in the region and that it wants to ensure security of its energy supplies. Nonetheless, China’s geopolitical intentions cannot be naively overlooked. Beijing may be attempting to exercise power through ensuring its presence across the Indian Ocean. Supplementing this is also the desire to curtail the naval reach and capability of India, suggesting that China deems India a long-term adversary. In essence, Beijing may be exercising a policy of ‘nipping India’s navy in the bud’.

India’s manifest destiny

China’s encroaching presence in the Indian Ocean is cause for Indian ire. India’s interests in Asia’s waterways are a manifestation of its geographical reality; it is the central territorial feature of the Indian Ocean. This feeds India’s inherent naval desire to exercise dominance and hegemony over the Ocean. In an attempt to achieve this, India is consistently upgrading its naval fleet, which last month witnessed the advent of its second aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and is soon to be followed by the third. This demonstrates how seriously India takes it perceived role by not limiting itself for future options of force.

Furthermore, India’s augmentation of its naval capability is not pursued exclusively unilaterally. Recently, New Delhi has actively participated and hosted naval exercises with Singapore, Australia, Japan and the US, tentatively signaling the formation of a democratic bloc alliance. Not only does this energise India’s aspirations but it is also intended to act as deterrent to the ever-watchful China. Certainly, a substantial part of India’s naval surge is undoubtedly responding to the perceived reality of the China threat. The China threat was first raised in the 2004 The Indian Maritime Doctrine claiming explicably that China poses a maritime challenge to India. It highlighted China’s “determined drive to build a powerful blue water maritime force” and the “imperative for India, therefore, [was] to retain a strong maritime capability in order to maintain a balance of maritime power in the Indian Ocean, as well as the larger Asia-Pacific region”. This indicates that not only has the China question has been an active defence consideration for some time but also effective measures are being taken, and have been taken, to address the concern.

Additionally, India has moved to balance China’s creeping influence with its own strategically targeted maritime presence in the South China Sea. This firmly locks them both into an intense zero-sum relationship, or put rudimentarily, a tit-for-tat encounter. New Delhi’s Look East Policy, a similar strategy to that of Beijing’s, is becoming critical for strategic deterrence against China and sustained presence in the South China Sea is a crucial national security imperative. The establishment of closer ties with Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam ensure that India holds some power of deterrence whilst enabling their military to project its presence into the heavily disputed Sea. Whilst China is frustrated with India’s newfound strategic relationship with all these nations, the most troublesome of late has been Vietnam. This is largely due to the increasing tenacity with which China is pursuing its disputed territorial claims, an issue it vehemently warns New Delhi should steer clear of.

As both nations aim to outmaneuver their rival in order to secure national interests by manipulating Asia’s waterways, it is clear that both are jostling for strategic space across Asia’s littoral. The active-reactive nature of the maritime rivalry between China and India dictates that the emergence of interests in opposing strategic zones increases the likelihood of confrontation; especially considering patrol boats and strategic relationship from both nations expand their Asian footprint. The wider implication of this rivalry is that it severely effects the fragile security situation across the continent, by engendering fractious responses to any future incidents.