Research Activities

24 November 2018

The Importance of a Space Force
Harini Madhusu

Geo Politics, October 2018


In March 2018, President Donald Trump proposed the United States Space Force (USSF) as the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces and in August 2018 Vice President Mike Pence announced the plan to establish the Space Force by 2020. Its primary intention is to hold control over the US’ military operations in Outer Space by absorbing the command operations and duties of the Air Force Space Command. Currently, the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) handles most of US’s military operations in Space along with the US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) which is a unified command that supports US military operations worldwide through the use of many different types of satellites, cyber and launch operations. 

 The Air Force Space Command was established in 1982 with three primary mission areas: Space forces support, Space control and force enhancement with a goal to “provide resilient and affordable space and cyber space capabilities for the joint force and the nation.” What is the relevance of a separate space force today? What can other space-faring nations take away from this announcement? What can India learn from this?

In the case of India, the armed forces have been considering the establishment of an aerospace command for over a decade now. In the year 2003, the then IAF chief Air Marshall S Krishnaswamy has expressed the need for such a command.  In 2006, IAF established the Directorate of Aerospace, visualised with a separate command on navigation, communications and surveillance as major functionalities. However, this did not articulate due to the government’s strategic concerns. Fast forward 2008, after China had tested its ASAT, defence minister A K Antony announced the setting up of an Integrated Space Cell after recognising the emerging threats to assets and security from the counter space systems. However, there still remains a lot of unexplored threats in space and countries are advancing with their outer space missions at a very fast pace.


Visit Geo Politics to read the complete commentary.

Geo Politics, October 2018     Click here for the full report

28 August 2018

Behind Bangladesh's Protests: Rising Frustration
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

During early August 2018, Dhaka witnessed a massive student protest demanding road safety rules and regulations. The level of protests and violence caught nearly everyone by surprise. The protests took an ugly turn when students and reporters were accosted by a group wearing helmets and carrying machetes. Many claimed that the attackers were members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League and Awami Juba League.

Was the student protest aimed only at ensuring road safety? Or is it an outburst of people’s frustrations against the government? What caused this frustration and its subsequent violent outburst?

The Larger Picture

The protest was triggered by the accidental death of two students when a private bus ran over a footpath on July 28. The protest began peacefully, with even teens joining in; the student protesters took charge and started regulating traffic and checking the licenses of drivers.

Protests, especially orchestrated by students, are not an unknown phenomenon in Bangladesh. In fact, a student protest led to the 1971 revolt and formation of Bangladesh. Over the years, student protests have been leveraged by both the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to fulfill their political agendas or to create a nuisance for the other party. Not only in Bangladesh but in the rest of the world, youth are often the first to raise their voices against atrocities. Name a famous protest — Tiananmen Square in China in 1989, the 8888 Uprising in 1988 in Myanmar, or the Arab spring in 2010 — and the youth have always been at the forefront.

But the August student protest was not just like any other student protest that Dhaka has witnessed over the years. The protesters were comprised of high school and college students, parents of school-age students, and also some teachers and principals. Youth are known to be fearless, but when school students join a protest alongside their parents and members of their school administration it speaks volumes about the protest. Parents and school administrators allowing their children and students to participate in a protest knowing the danger and its consequences says a lot about society. The protest might have been triggered by a tragic accident but the real cause is the frustration and lack of hope that society, in general, has regarding the government and its institutions. Therefore, the Dhaka protest is a perfect example of what a society can do when the state fails them.

Why Are People Frustrated?

The AL government led by Sheikh Hasina has been in power since 2009. Hasina and her government have provided several reasons for people to be suspicious of and distrust the government.

First, the lack of free and fair elections. In 2014, and AL and Hasina’s decision to retain power without any opposition to contest the election was a pivotal incident. Most major opposition parties boycotted the election. The uncontested election was a clear breach of democratic values and denigrated trust in the government. Suspicion was further strengthened by the arrest of opposition leader Khaleda Zia, her son, and top leaders of the BNP at the beginning of this year. An election is due this year, but many fear the 2014 election will be repeated.

Second, Hasina’s government is intolerant of criticism; anybody who raises their voice is crushed with force. The arrest and detention of famous photojournalist Shhahidul Alam, immediately after an Al Jazeera interview, is a perfect example. In his interview, Alam had accused the government of looting banks, gagging the media, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, and corruption in education. Although this was covered by the media, there are many other incidents that are not reported.

In addition, the government’s tendency to use violence to put down protests is not exceptional in Bangladesh. Similar to August 2018, previous protesters have been attacked by masked groups.  It was the same for the students and job seekers protesting against government job quotas in April 2018.

Furthermore, Hasina’s first response to any protest, violence, or even terrorism is to blame it on the opposition BNP. Hasina is not alone in this; it was the same when the BNP’s Zia was in power. In repeating this practice, successive governments fail to focus on the real culprits and are hence unable to address underlying issues.

Third, attacks on the media are also common in Bangladesh. The disappearances of journalists and bloggers, their family members being followed, and so on are common and seldom reported. There are also laws that gag any voice raised against the government, for example, the infamous Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT Act). The Act authorizes prosecution of any person who publishes in electronic form, material that is “fake and obscene; defamatory; ‘tends to deprave and corrupt’ its audience; causes, or may cause, ‘deterioration in law and order’; prejudices the image of the state or a person; or ‘causes or may cause hurt to religious belief.’” The vague and broad content of the law enables the government and the judiciary, which in Bangladesh is very much an extension of the government itself, to convict anybody. Therefore, the ICT Act has been used by the government to prosecute journalists and people who raise their voice against the government.

Fourth, lack of development is another reason for people’s frustration. Economically, Bangladesh has witnessed stable growth of 6 percent since 2008. However, this growth has not trickled down and is trapped among the elites. There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor and the standard of living is vastly different between those at the top and those on the bottom. Job opportunities are negligible, which was evident in the previous protest against the government job reservation system.

There are several issues that the government should be focusing on rather than gagging its critics. It is also essential that the government stop using state intuitions like the police, judiciary, and others as puppets. These are factors that have led scholars and analysts to question whether Bangladesh is really a democracy anymore or is, in fact, an authoritarian government.

To conclude, presently, the government has initiated the Road Transport Act 2018 for final approval to the Parliament and the protest has died down. However, people are not hopeful for any change. Previously the government has failed to live up to its promises. Future protests will not be surprising.

The government should remember that although this protest might have died down, this was an example of the frustration and anger present in society. Hasina should not underestimate the power of the masses, as it was people power that once formed Bangladesh. What the government does next will assuredly impact whether Bangladesh has a “free and fair” election this year and that, in turn, will affect when and how people return to the streets.

The Diplomat, 22 August 2018     Click here for the full report

9 July 2018

Japanese Naval Diplomacy in the Indian Ocean: Prospects and Possibilities
Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

National Maritime Foundation     Click here for the full report

19 June 2018

At the gateway from east: where do India’s neighbours stand on the belt and road?
Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

ISSSP, NIAS     Click here for the full report

30 April 2018

India Japan Vistas of Economic - Strategic Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific
Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

A perceived United States created void and its seemingly declining presence is changing the security template of the IOR. The emerging maritime narrative favours the forces of power transition which in consequence invites new strategic prospects. An inevitable change in this direction would be the rise of multipolar power centres that would work against the ‘superpower conundrum’. The advent of middle powers like India and China into the IOR power play substantiates this forecast with adequate factual premises. Nonetheless, the unstable balance of power arising out of the huge asymmetry that defines the maritime reality calls for better equations among the stakeholders.

Clearly, India cannot equate itself with Beijing’s economic and military capabilities. The increasing fear of retaliation from an emerging China due to the territorial border disputes and its own lack of a strong defence facility are forcing India to look for equal powers and trusted allies in the region. Japan comes as a natural option here especially with shared regional apprehensions and common aspirations.

Though a rugged past has stalled ties at some points, largely, a likeminded approach towards almost every aspect of growth has strengthened the Indo-Japan relation through ages, particularly, in the maritime domain. The two countries are part of an agreement which seeks to combat piracy and armed robbery in the waters of Asia. Significant instances have proved the worth of combined exercises in the region like the 1999 rescue of a Japanese tanker by the Indian Coast Guard and the Indian Navy. The two nations have conducted combined exercises with several other navies of littoral states independently to enhance and self equip marine dependent economies against illicit practices in the sea.

China’s establishment of port infrastructures and an innovative revival of the ancient Maritime Silk Routes to fasten commerce could be understood as a counter to Washington’s continued presence in the Indo-Pacific and its inclusive dual cover approach combining security and commerce known as the ‘Rebalance to Asia Policy’. The Chinese agenda of a win-win globalisation through its ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ has paved way for major twists in the strategic dynamics of the Indo-Pacific. Through its soft power capital, Beijing has managed to garner a considerable level of trust, influence and goodwill among the nations across the ocean. The region faces escalated threats from the evils of piracy and also from the issue of maritime terrorism. This is also one of the primary factors which describe the reasons for chief players like China in seeking alternative sea ways other than the piracy-prone Straits of Malacca and Hormuz for a safe transfer of goods. On the other hand, as maritime democracies, India and Japan look for a peaceful international law abiding atmosphere in the high seas, as much of the trade pertaining to the two countries is driven by the waters.

The growing Chinese footprint in the region might come as a sign of relief to many of the littoral states due to ensured assistance in the regional level, thereby leading to little dependence on western powers. The Chinese rise is often portrayed as purely economic. But China’s disproportionate naval responses and increased nuclear submarine patrol in the IOR affirms a strong scope for concern. These patterns of imperialistic tendencies might lead to hindered growth and a hit to the already strained regional ties. This questionable growth of the Chinese factor calls for an external balance in the Indo-Pacific.

Being an energy dependent country where much of its oil supplies is transported though the seas, Japan aims at reviving its economy through engagement in the regional front. Apart from this, most importantly, it is the Sino-Japanese rivalry which is embedded in history that is bringing Tokyo into the race for hegemony in the IOR. India, with its well placed geographic position and an aspiration to dominate her strategic backyards, and coherence in interests with Japan is being seen as a strategic partner in bringing a balance to the region. Japan is a permanent participant in the Malabar exercise, a bilateral US-Indian naval cooperation expanding it into a more complex trilateral exercise. The 2007 edition of the exercise hosted in the Bay of Bengal saw participation from Australia apart from India, US and Japan leaving a strong message to the increasing Chinese fleets. Apart from the covert agenda of containing China at the North Eastern borders of India, memories of wartime aggression towards the North East is also making Tokyo keen about improving the strategic climate along the coast of the Bay on sympathetic ground. A maritime connectivity project linking Dawei and the Chennai port in order to improve relations with ASEAN thereby reducing dependence on the Malaccan strait would rightly portray this Bay-centric move. A milestone agreement in the Indo-Japan engagement maritime relations has been the ‘JIMEX 12’, which coincided with sixty years of the bilateral relation between the two. Further down, Indian and Japan are essentially looking at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as a potential strategic tool to counter ports in Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan with nuclear submarine docking facility especially due to the location of the islands in the Bay.

Indian naval establishments view the IOR as its own backwaters. The nation shares her border with a number of countries but the extent of control and power it enjoys on land is far less when compared to the strategic leverage and opportunities the ocean promises. Being a giant in the region with a comparatively stable economy and vast territory makes India consider itself as a net security provider to all the nations along the IOR. However, this extensive thrust towards a comprehensive policy for maritime relations has been a relatively newer phenomenon from the capital which came about only since the 1990s. The most obvious reason to quote might be the emphasis on the need to engage in commerce across boundaries and the desire to mark its presence in the Indo-Pacific. But, covertly it could be attributed to the realisation that India’s own coastline and its national interest are being challenged in what was once regarded as the Indian domain or the Indian sphere of influence. The threat to its ideology of Non-alignment when the US and USSR staged their troops in the waters of the Indian Ocean during Cold war, the 2008 Mumbai attacks which saw perpetration through the sea lines into its territory and the growing China factor are significant events which has made India rethink her maritime policy. It is drifting towards a more intensive cooperation along with partner nations in the naval front to reassure its supreme position in the region.

It is interesting to note that the Japanese government has been reworking on their military framework in similar lines. Until now, the Japanese security architecture, according to their present constitutional framework laid weight on self defence and formidable defensive operations for state protection. Article 9 in the Japanese constitution outlaws war as a means to the settlement of conflicts. This has been strictly adhered to ever since the end of the second world war and its devastating repercussions. With the changing trends in geopolitics today, the Abe government has been apprehensive about their existing Pacifist constitution. The rising need for a strategic approach to power projection is pushing nations like Japan to expand its scope in including the possibilities of offensive counter reactions. This entire game of equals could be understood through the lens of a realist. Realism or rather political realism in international politics stresses on the idea of conflict and competition to be the primary drivers in the struggle for power. The concept of realism critically deals with the institution of state at the focus and how protecting ones’ national interest and survival becomes the only motive which rules the realm of geopolitics.

Now, this inclination towards building defence capabilities as a catalyst for deepening stronghold could be viewed as a stance completely against the 1971 United Nations declaration which categorizes Indian Ocean as a ‘Zone Of Peace’. The resolution 2832 initiated by Sri Lanka in the 26th session of the United Nations General Assembly and adopted on 16 December, 1971 calls for the elimination of foreign military activity or establishment of foreign bases in the region. But, the United States with its established presence in the region, strategically empowering littoral states and the threat due to the rising interests of China in the Indian Ocean calls for an external balance in the region. This has pulled in more players into the domain making ZOP declaration almost impossible to achieve. It is important to note that China is undoubtedly the uniting factor in the Indo-Japan partnership, particularly when Japan strongly sees China as an archrival and a persistent threat. Japan’s interest not just lies in strategic engagement but also in the peaceful economic rise of the bay in-keeping with the concept of blue economy. The improved Indo-US naval cooperation is also a favourable sign for Japan to stress on its role in the Indian Ocean. Thus, the ascending trajectory of Japanese presence in the Indian Ocean seems to be affirmatively welcomed by India due to the universal values they share and the maritime commons they seek to pursue.


The study uses three major theories to analyse the evolving strategic template. The first level of enquiry uses the concept of neo-realism which highlights the idea that power is the most important entity in international relations. The theory is an outgrowth of the traditional realist thought which claims that international relations is driven by human nature and therefore thrives on the ego and emotions of popular players. Neo-realistic principle, by Kenneth Waltz, would help us to understand that the distribution of capabilities, the emergence of great powers and the idea of balance of power are the factors that are driving the competition in the Indo-Pacific today. This race for securing power is described by neo-realists as a result of a security dilemma which prevails among nations in an anarchic system. Security dilemma develops in a situation of anarchy when states constantly fear a war outbreak and the quest for self preservation heightens. This leads to internal and external capacity building in terms of economic and military advancements and alliances due to a lack of trust among nations.  Depending on the material capability, some nations with superior resources would emerge as superpowers towards which other smaller nations may gravitate to ensure its own safety, resulting in a new international order.

The second level of theoretical analysis uses the concept of the “theory of rising powers.” This theory is often understood in the light of a realist analysis, it considers power as the currency of international politics. The rise and fall of prominent powers is the innate character of international system which is almost a cyclical phenomenon. This is evident in the evolving geopolitical and geostrategic landscape of the Indo-Pacific where a rapidly rising China is posing a serious threat and concern to the regional order. Conflict is an unavoidable outcome of the emergence of rising powers at a point when they reach an equivalence in terms of the international power spectrum.

The third and final level of analysis uses the concept of neo-liberalism to study the common goals around which the Indo-Japan convergence thrives. A resurgence of classical liberalism, it tries to propagates a market centric approach where the state is driven entirely by capitalistic goals. The free trade agreements and prospective economic corridors sprouting out of the growing India-Japan proximity as a rival to China’s assertive “infrastructure diplomacy” shows an increasing inclination towards a strategy that works at the behest of markets.


·      The Indo-Japan relation is only driven by the US factor.

·      India-Japan convergence aims at containing the growing Chinese assertion in the Indo-Pacific.


This work contains an introduction, three main chapters and a conclusion.

Chapter one is a descriptive study titled “Indo-Japan relations: An overview” would trace the various facets of the convergence and would shed light on the policies of India and Japan in building a strategic leverage in the IOR (IOR). It also seeks to understand the increasing strategic interest of Japan in the IOR.

Chapter two is titled “Japan and the Indo- Pacific” would assess the Significance of the United States in the Indo-Pacific strategy and the role of the role of the American factor in an Indo-Japanese strategic convergence. It further, goes on to investigate the reasons for a rising China in the Indo Pacific and the extent of impact it holds over the duo’s relation.

Chapter three is an analytical study titled “Japan in the IOR: Maritime prospects and limitations for India.” The chapter would try to throw light on the aspect of how Japan would work as a regional power centre. It tries to understand how India would ensure her strategic stronghold and autonomy through the special partnership. The chapter finally tries to trace the strategic possibilities and limitations of the Indo-Japan cooperation in the maritime domain.  It is succeeded by a conclusion.

Department of Political Science, MCC, Chennai

28 April 2018

India-Bangladesh: What if the BNP returns?
Aparupa Bhattacherjee and Sourina Bej

The Commentary was co-authored with Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Bangladesh is gearing up for its general election in December, this year. With its two main political parties—the BNP and AL (Awami League) led by Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina respectively hedging against each other—the election will be decisive in determining the future of bi-party politics in the country along with shaping the roadmap for Bangladesh in the region. After holding power for two consecutive terms an anti-incumbency wave could be identified against the Awami League. The electoral ground is fertile for the Bangladesh Nationalist Party chief, Khaleda Zia, to come out of her political hibernation and contest the election. But the imprisonment of the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) chairperson, Khaleda Zia, on corruption charges just before the country entered the voting phase has raised two questions. First, how will the arrest of BNP chief impact the electoral future and bi-party politics in Bangladesh? Is this verdict a death- knell for the party? Secondly, would this election result affect the current India-Bangladesh relations?

Bangladesh Electoral Politics: The political significance of BNP

Elected two times in 1991 and 2001, the BNP has since drawn its electoral strength from its ideological leanings on Islamist groups and its principle of “preserving the values of the Bangladesh through the teaching of Islam”. The political use of Islam, exploitation of factionalism and reintegration of core religious groups like Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HUJI), Hizbul Tahrir and Hizbul Tawhid has kept the grass-root support for the BNP formidable. The party has often been criticised for patronising groups like JMB/JMJB and HUJI which were engaged in various terrorist activities through-out the country. Against such Rightist ideology, the AL has gone on to represent the Centrist and liberal standing in the political fabric of the country. Ever since, the politik has alternated between the two Begums representing two vivid moods of the Bangladeshi electorate. Thus on February 8, 2018, when Khaleda Zia was convicted by a Special Court 5 for embezzling approximately 2.10 crore Taka along with five of her BNP cadres and her son, Tarique Rehman, (the Vice-Chairman of the party), a question looms large on whether the BNP will be able to even contest the elections, leave alone enlarging its chances of returning as the ruling party.

With this, for the first time a new era in the domestic politics of Bangladesh emerges, where along with the political battle a legal battle will determine the existence of one party as against the return of another.

The verdict was against the Zia Foundation Trust Orphanage, a case filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission. The Special Court has sentenced Khaleda to a five-year prison-term. As per the Bangladeshi electoral laws, a person convicted for more than two years is barred from contesting any election for the next five years. In this context, the absence of the Chairperson and the Vice-Chairperson has left the party leaderless. Does this mean the BNP will be forced to boycott this year’s election similar to 2014? The answer appears to be a no, for the following reasons.

Firstly, the BNP’s 2014 election boycott was a wrong decision as it led the AL to come back to power uncontested. The BNP’s demand to participate in the election only under a neutral government has led the party to stay out of the political frontline for nearly a decade. The 2014 election for Bangladesh was free but not fair. According to several analysts, if the BNP had contested in 2014, it would have won. Hence the mistakes of the past have not only cost the BNP its political base but also the confidence of the electorate. This is not something the BNP would want to repeat in this election.

Secondly, the current corruption case is not the only legal charge against the BNP leader. Apart from the current legal quagmire, Khaleda has been fighting 36 more legal wars. Not only her but even her son, presently in exile in London, has 15 cases registered against him. In Bangladesh, it is nothing new for legal cases being registered against the leaders. Even Sheikh Hasina has 15 cases pending against her. And in 2010, while she was in power, a corruption case against her was dropped. Hence it is of little surprise that the Zia Trust case under Zia’s family has been blamed on political manoeuvring. This aspect is not only stressed by the BNP but is also something that most voters believe, as vengeance is the endgame that both the Begums have been playing against each other.

Third, the aspect of political manoeuvring is further compounded by the fact that the judgment has come from a special court. It is a commonly known fact that special courts in most of the South Asian countries are not trusted especially when it involves the political leaders. In addition, the fact that the special court is a lower court and its writ is limited makes one hopeful of the change in the final verdict for the Begum.

Will the BNP succeed against the AL?

The BNP is likely to contest the verdict in the High Court. Even if Begum Zia is detained, there is little reason to believe that it cannot contest the election. In fact this could favour the party. The 2014 election was largely criticised as a ‘single-party’ election with 230 of 300 seats being won by the AL. Hence if 2018 witnesses an all-party participation, in a ‘free and fair’ environment, the BNP could form a government with a majority. Thus Begum Zia’s arrest is seen within the country as an act to deter her return. Her staying in jail and still contesting the election instead of boycotting will probably be seen by the voters as heroic and gain her the necessary sympathy votes.

In addition, the Bangladeshi voters are unhappy with the way in whcih the AL is dealing with domestic issues such as: growing unemployment, undue support to radical Islamist groups like Hefazat-e-Islam, handling of the Rohingya crisis and others. Therefore in this election the voters are desperate for an alternative. Bangladesh has a tradition of anti-incumbency. Since 1990 its electorate has not returned the same government to power for two consecutive terms with an exception in January 2014. Hence given the two-party nature of the Bangladesh politics with power tussle and political vendetta as significant features, the BNP is a likely alternative.

The political uncertainty within Bangladesh will also bear an impact on the India-Bangladesh relations. The two parties of Bangladesh have maintained drastically different worldviews and followed different foreign policies when in power. While the Awami League since Mujibur Rahman has sought and maintained bonhomie with India, the US; the BNP has explored a relationship with Pakistan China and Saudi Arabia during its tenure. Thus India’s relations with Bangladesh have time and again oscillated the balance between the two Begums, depending on who is in power. In the current scenario, if Khaleda Zia comes to power, a policy readjust-ment would become crucial.

India-Bangladesh: Should India  look beyond AL?

Over the past decade, Bangladesh’s economy has been growing at 7.1 per cent with less trade deficit. With Dhaka emerging as the world’s second largest garment exporter, its trade relations have expanded exponentially under the Awami League. With an expanding trade, there has been a simultaneous emergence of a pool of Bangladeshi businessmen and industria-lists in Parliament. This indicates that more and more businessmen have started dominating major foreign policy and economic decision-making in Bangladesh. An alignment of trade interests with the different countries has emerged. Hence even though Indian corporations such as Airtel, Reliance are contributing to Bangladesh’s economy, over the past few years, China has emerged as the largest trading partner of Bangladesh, replacing India. In the 2012 financial year, bilateral trade between China and Bangladesh was at $ 8.5 billion. In 2015, when China sanctioned a $ 24-billion credit line to Dhaka, New Delhi offered $ 2 billion. In addition India is often accused of imposing tariff and non-tariff barriers on Bangladeshi goods. These factors have led to the building-up of an anti-India lobby in Bangladesh’s economic community. But Hasina has been prudent to balance both Indian and Chinese interest in the country.

Keeping this economic scenario in context, in the current electoral turmoil, if the BNP manages to contest and come to power, then the party, which is known to take anti-India portions like its opposition to the Ganga-water sharing treaty, would have to be taken seriously by India. And New Delhi would have to continue manoeuvring Dhaka’s business community for more steady economic relations. Furthermore for deeper electoral gains, the BNP could use the China card, rely on foreign support and sway the anti-India sentiment which could prove difficult for India to balance in the future.

Secondly, the BJP’s win in the North-Eastern States of Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam bordering Bangladesh, could put the question of Bangladeshi immigration issue back in the bilateral dialogue between India and Bangla-desh. The BJP’s handling of the immigration issue could stoke communal violence fraying the borders. Skirmishes in the relations have occurred in the past due to the Indian political leaders’ outright statements on the issue. With a viable scope for the BNP coming to power a problematic North-East could mean a destabi-lising Bangladesh; hence India should guard against politicising the already sensitive issue.

Lastly, Dhaka has agreed to link India’s mainland with its North-East through Bangla-desh, thereby letting its Act East Policy overcome the geographical trap and allowing access to South-East Asia. As part of it, Bangladesh has been pursuing to set up the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar) economic corridor which also figured in the joint statement following the Chinese Prime Minister’s visit to India. Bangladesh wants China to develop its Chittagong port and even build a deep sea port at Sonadia. Moreover, the BCIM intends to link Kolkata with Kunming through Bangladesh and Myanmar. The BCIM might contribute to the economic progress of Bangladesh, but will also increase China’s presence. With this trans-national economic interest and connectivity projects in operation, working with the BNP will be an important step that India might have to consider.

As India’s support for Hasina continues it could be too soon to write off Khaleda from the political battleground of Bangladesh and with Khaleda, it would be interesting and important to see how India maintains the bi-party balance.

Mainstream, 28 April 2018

1 April 2018

Outer Space and Conflict in the 21st Century
Harini Madhusu

Dissertation Conclusion

Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge."

Sun Tzu, the Art of War. 5 BCE

Nations should work together in bringing the planetary resources under human maintenance and control. This would eventually create a conflict of interests and here is where a formal legal regime that can monitor activities and can make binding rules for earthlings as a whole and not based on nations. A unified system that controls human-activity in the space can ensure stability. However, the nations have established themselves in the space to an extent where this is not possible. Nonetheless, an organisation that holds nations accountable and records activities in the space could be a beginning to control the exceeding scope of conflict in the outer space.

"Absence of an authority is much worse than bad authority," The Moon, closest to the earth may well be the solution to the two biggest problems that the earth may face in the future- Water and Energy. The most important materials on the surface of the moon include deposits of water ice and other volatiles trapped in cold (less than 100 Kelvin or minus 173 degrees Celsius) and permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles. ISRU undoubtedly will benefit future scientific exploration. The lunar surface rocks and soils are rich in (though expensive to bring them to the earth) raw materials such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, iron, and titanium. This would be of immense help if the lunar industrial infrastructure is gradually built up, making the Moon be able to provide more sophisticated products to Earth-orbiting facilities.  Non- Military activities in the outer space include- space tourism, 3D printing of satellites, planetary resource exploitation, setting up of manned stations on the moon, remote sensing of the earth, television broadcasting, telecommunications, telemedicine, television broadcasting and a range of other things. These scientific aspects need to take precedence over contention for supremacy. 

The Case for Mars and Mining the Sky both draw a sharp contrast between a brilliant space-faring future and a bleak existence if humanity remains Earth-bound. Mining the Sky succeeds in conveying a sense that space is anything but an empty, unimprovable wasteland. The moon's ample supply of helium-3, long touted by space buffs as a potential fuel for advanced fusion reactors, is duly noted, as are the even larger supplies of the substance in the atmospheres of all of the giant outer planets. 

Harmony among the players cannot be expected. Nations are bound to confront and there needs to be a pre-existing system (a legality with binding rules) to put any form of confrontation to end. Eventually, Mars, the asteroids, and the rest of the solar system may have been explored and settled.  The Case for Mars, ultimately, is based more on the need for a frontier than on any shortage of terrestrial minerals. Mars would give rise to a dynamic new branch of human civilization, one whose entrepreneurial energies would re-invigorate Earth society as well. In the Case for Mars, ultimately, is based more on the need for a frontier than on any shortage of terrestrial minerals.

While as far as anyone knows there are currently no weapons deployed in space, the United States has invested in developing potential technologies, and both China and the United States have demonstrated anti-satellite capabilities in 2007 and 2008, respectively. In response to the potential threats of space weaponization, as well as perceived ballistic missile threats, the US is also developing a ballistic missile defence shield. While missile defence is presented as a defence of American and allied territories against a limited missile attack, it is, in reality, one more step towards full spectrum dominance.

The vulnerability has increased over recent decades, as space is no longer the domain of a very few superpowers, and the number of space-faring and space-capable nations has continued to grow, including the European Union (EU), China, India, Iran, Japan, South Korea, and potentially North Korea. The demonstration of ASAT capabilities by various states has exacerbated these tensions. Although to date these have all been launched from Earth (ground, sea, or air), and do not amount to the weaponization of space, the fact that the capability has been demonstrated is enough to raise concerns that space is no longer the high ground once envisioned. 

The problem of space debris and the problem of the larger space powers to engage in the weaponization of satellites; be it for first-strike or for defensive purposes are the problems at hand. Apart from these, the high military dependence of nations on their assets in the space could lead to problems such as spying, hacking and targeted damages to each others’ satellites.

Nothing in the widely accepted Outer Space Treaty referred to space debris. And the succeeding treaties, even the 1979 Moon Agreement, have not regulated space debris. There are also no legally binding rules to refrain from creating space debris. 

India’s Outer Space capabilities hence are potential to both security and soft power strategy. What is essential is how this potential is translated into policy and eventually implemented into the system. The timing of this process is also extremely vital as the saying goes, “you snooze, you lose.” Keeping these in mind, let us look at how India can try and strengthen this potential of using ISRO and its achievements for strengthening India’s soft power. 

ISRO’s missions have both far-reaching impacts from commercial, as well as national security perspectives. India has been known for its affordable yet credible missions in the global space industry for long, but it is these recent missions that illustrate what it can deliver. These missions increase India’s position as a partner in the commercial sector for satellite launches.

Given its growing requirements, India must tackle two important dimensions: commercialization and increasing private sector participation, and the widening gap between the space capacity holders and the nations that cannot afford space capabilities. While ISRO has accomplished a great deal, and is one of the public enterprises that has done India proud, it cannot deliver on the multitude of requirements that India has. Globally speaking, space debris, potential weaponization of space, cyber arms race in outer space, and anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons are becoming major challenges, pushing states to write new rules of the road. India, being an established space player, should play an active role in shaping these and not lose the opportunity.

Taking an example- China has been quietly making investments in some non-military fields with a view to engaging other nations. Space Technology is one area where China is engaging developing nations by providing them assistance to either develop their space programme or to launch satellites on their behalf. For the last few years China is using its space industry to extend its Soft-Power. It is establishing linkages in the space arena with countries in Africa and South America, including Nigeria, Venezuela, and Brazil. China’s ultimate objectives are the natural resources and markets in these parts of the world. China is taking its friendship with Pakistan to a higher plane by helping the latter in the space field as well. It signed an agreement with Pakistan a fortnight back, granting a $200 million loan for satellite construction. China has also promised Bolivia help in developing its space programme within three years and in the launch of its first satellite. It has also been reported that China would be building and launching a communications satellite for Laos.

China has been strategically positioning itself as a focal point for all space-related activities, from providing financial assistance to manufacturing, and launching facilities for states in Asia, Africa and South America. This approach will have multiple benefits – an increase in China’s global footprint, flow of benefits to the Chinese space industry, experimentation with new technologies, and win friends. Keeping these in the background, here are a few suggestions for Indian Space Programme to strengthen its position in Space.  

First, further the SAARC satellite initiative and establish a strong base among the neighbouring states. South Asia is facing severe geographical issues- in terms of earthquakes, drought, abnormal rains, other natural calamities. India’s capacity can be stretched to invest on a pan-South Asian weather satellite similar to ISRO’s SCATSAT-1. Apart from the dual benefits(studying the weather and having a fair warning mechanism), India could also rely on this satellite for its Indian Ocean activities. 

While the world today looks at commercialising the Outer Space resources and strengthening their first strike capabilities in the space, India can help support and benefit the smaller, interested nations in setting up their space presence for a lower cost. Though this has been happening in a small manner already, India should go further and aim to be the popular representative to these nations on similar lines of China. 

Thirdly, an Industrial establishment that would professionally make and sell satellites to nations initially and private actors eventually would benefit India. An Industrial establishment of ISRO’s technology would strengthen our position as a space power. While establishing this industry, Cost Efficient Satellites is a selling point of India’s technology. Along with satellites, India must also strive to industrialise the market of the other industrial essentials in the space starting with space suits, masks, spares, software, and the numerous aspects that make outer space activities possible. Self-sufficiency and an affordable market would be the outcome of this. 

Indian education, especially engineering and science-related education is being widely appreciated in various parts of the world. India could begin introducing specific courses and scholarships and eventually establish research centres that are purely focussed on Space activities. These scholarships must try and draw talented and curious students from various parts of the world, creating a community of dreamers and thinkers with an aim to explore and understand the space better. It is here that the Industry aspect would also come in play.  

Lastly, as we all know, the law and the principles that are related to the outer space and nations are alarmingly outdated. India with the example it sets should push for the reforms in the law. Taking a neutral position, India can use its power in ensuring that the outer space is an asset and remains a “province of all…” As the players in the outer space increase, there will be conflict pertaining to ownership and security. These are the questions that India should represent and push for discussions on them

Department of International Studies and History, Christ (Deemed to be University), Bangalore

2 December 2017

How Will the Quad Impact India’s Maritime Security Policy?
Sourina Bej

On November 11, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad made an abrupt comeback after a decade, as senior officials from the United States Japan, India, and Australia met in Manila on the sidelines of the 31st ASEAN and East Asian Summits. The Indian government significantly downplayed the Quad meeting, with only a press release from the External Affairs Ministry instead of a ministerial-level statement. The press release emphasized common agreement on a “free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region and challenges of terrorism” but remained silent on maritime security, one of the key objectives of the Quad.

The three other countries (Japan, the United States, and Australia) acknowledged the need for “coordinating on maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.” India’s miss has left considerable ambiguity on where New Delhi stands in defining maritime security within the Quad grouping. How could India interpret the Quad for its maritime strategy? How does the Quad view India? And what potential pitfalls in the Quad should India guard against?

How Could India View the Quad?

By emphasizing the “Act East Policy as the cornerstone of its engagement in the Indo-Pacific,” India has indicated that the Quad would be an extension of that policy. But it is yet to be seen how India defines and pursues its maritime relations in the east. Will it be through the gambit of its Act East Policy, through the Quad, or a bit of both? As India takes on that role, we can see how India could further use the Quad to strengthen its existing maritime relations.

India revamped its maritime doctrine in 2015, with the “Ensuring Securing Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy” wherein it took stock of its commitment to an actionable policy. And keeping in line with this approach it has upped its maritime naval drills, made port calls in Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, and undertaken maritime capacity building efforts (beyond training) in Vietnam and Myanmar.

However, India’s maritime developments are at odds with the rest of the Quad members. In addition to operating Russian-descent ships and warplanes, India is also reluctant to establish a satellite link that would allow the navies to share information. Given the nascent nature of the grouping, India’s concern are not unfounded as agreeing to the CISMOA (encrypted communications system) would open up the nature and extent of its military communications. However, the Quad could also expand the scope to explore maritime technologies and reduce India’s defense import dependency on Russia. Even with external naval modernization and the success of the Vikrant-class aircraft carrier and Arihant-class of nuclear submarines, India’s indigenous defense production has faced serious operational glitch, leading to delays such as the failed MiG-29K.

India has had annual naval drills with over 15 countries. Of these, the Malabar exercises with the United States and later Japan (both Quad members) have triggered the most attention in the past. The  use of Indian aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, the U.S. flat-top Nimitz, and Japan’s new helicopter carrier, JS Izumo during the July 10-17 exercises indicates that Malabar has expanded in its military capabilities, built confidence, and is setting geopolitical rhetoric. Malabar cooperation has included drills in surface and anti-submarine warfare, coordinated gunnery exercises, air defense and visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) drills.

As part of its interest in East Asia, India included Japan as a permanent member of the Malabar exercises in 2015. Given that the bilateral relationship with Japan has kicked off only recently, India could see the Quad grouping as a platform to take the next step of trust building and move on to the exchange of marine technology knowhow with Tokyo.

Of the Quad members, India has the least naval ties with Australia. Ever since Canberra has shown its interests in the Indian Ocean, there has been speculation about an India-Australia maritime security arrangement in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). But with India pivoting its maritime focus on the IOR, Australia is one country that seems to have missed India’s radar. It is only in 2017 that the Indian warships INS Kamorta, INS Shivalik, and INS Jyoti arrived in Western Australia’s port city of Freemantle to participate in a bilateral exercise.

Meanwhile, Australia as part of its IOR outreach has started to partner with Seychelles and Mauritius in its “blue economy” project. This includes hydrocarbon exploration in the Seychelles’ EEZ. Australia is the benchmark for mining technology not only in coal but also underwater exploration. This is the reason several Indian companies like Adani are keen to pursue mining projects with Australia. In return Canberra is trying to forge a free trade deal with India. Thus to boost India’s own blue economy outlook, partnering with Australia could be an option.

How Does the Quad View India?

The reasons for the resurrection of this loose ad hoc grouping is the changing geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific. The assertive foreign policy and economic expansion of China, combined with the reluctance of U.S. President Donald Trump to lead the Asia Pacific, has concerned regional power centers like Japan and Australia and led to the concerting of like-minded democracies into the Quad. However with no common statement released, the grouping has to date only spelled out the different objectives of individual countries and a cautious approach to steer away from Chinese pressure.

Confusion exists as to what each of the Quad nation wants. India has quite rightly stuck to its ASEAN centrality/Act East Policy as the pivot for its its Indo-Pacific nomenclature and views Quad in this context. By describing the Indian and Pacific Oceans as a “single strategic arena,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has described India and the United States as “regional bookends.” The rhetoric is clear — the United States looks to India to play a greater role in maintaining regional stability and helping balance China. However it is not clear how the United States will operationalize its goals, including freedom of navigation. Is it through military deployment or adherence to international norms?

Closer to home, both Japan and Australia are looking for a security umbrella that will balance China’s influence in the region. Their statements made no mention of China, but the dragon is in the room. Australia is worried about China’s interest in its land, infrastructure, and influence on its universities. Japan suspects China of supporting North Korea and is wary of several territorial issues with Beijing. Hence India’s role in the grouping is to be a viable balancer.

As Quad goes on to find its purpose, India should guard against getting caught bandwagoning against China and being included in the United States’ military calculations in the region.

The commentary was initially published by The Diplomat on 2 December 2017.

The Diplomat, 2 December 2017

25 August 2017
Special Report

Rohingya Crisis: Policy Options and Analysis
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Abstract:Bangladesh has a new crisis to deal with apart from the terrorism and corruption: the Rohingya refugee crisis. The incident that triggered the current influx happened on 25 August 2017, when a group under the banner name of Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked several police stations and outposts with barely some weapons and machetes in the Rakhine state of Myanmar. The result was a major crack down by the Tatmadaw (Myanmarese Army) on the local Rohingya population. Atrocities, rape, destruction of properties that included burning of several Rohingya villages by Tatmadaw forced the Rohingya population to cross the border and seek shelter in Bangladesh. This has led Bangladesh to a precarious situation of providing basic human assistance to approximately 600,000 Rohingya refugees arriving since 25 August 2017. The fresh influx of the Rohingyas is not a standalone incident. Bangladesh has (unwillingly) provided refuge to several Rohingyas since 1978, when the first riot broke out in the Rakhine (then Arakan) state in the west of Myanmar. Althoughboth during 1978 and 1992 UN intervention led to repatriation of a significantnumber of Rohingyas back to Myanmar, there are several who stayed back. The total number of Rohingya presently in Bangladesh is unknown as only 32,000 of them are registered with UNHCR and the Bangladesh government. The report is an attempt to answer the following questions: What could Bangladesh do domestically to deal with this problem? What can India and Bangladesh do together to face the crisis? What should be the regional approach?

Click here for the full report

BIPSS Special Report     Click here for the full report

15 July 2017

What Trump's Afghanistan Policy Means for India?
Sourina Bej

Beyond the friendly diktats and signature hugs, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States on June 25 and 26 had some overlooked signals on the future of Afghanistan policy. With the United States still mulling over its new direction, India has much to consider when it comes to President Donald Trump’s Af-Pak policy.

The joint statement concluded during Modi’s visit emphasized the need for development in Afghanistan and was appreciative of Indian efforts in this regard. The statement also announced that Washington would co-sponsor the India-Afghanistan Export, Trade and Investment Fair in September 2017. Yet Trump has also indicated such support that would require considerable participation from India in bringing what the statement called “increased stability and prosperity in Afghanistan.”

Is India ready for deep security engagement in Afghanistan? Will this be required as Trump’s Af-Pak policy is unveiled?

A clearer picture will emerge once U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis puts forth the revised Af-Pak policy latter in the month. But policy rhetoric to date has seen the United States fit Pakistan into its counterterrorism narrative while also highlighting the constructive role played by India in stabilizing Afghanistan. This may hint that the United States would want India to be part of the anti-terror campaign by anchoring its soldiers in Afghanistan. As Trump defines India’s Afghan burden, it would be interesting to see how India takes on the regional dynamics.

In Afghanistan, India has been successful in boosting economic ties and displaying its soft power. A Pentagon report, titled “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” released early in June, labelled India “as Afghanistan’s most reliable regional partner.” The same report took a dig against Pakistan, reminding readers of the “Afghan-oriented militant groups” that “retain freedom of action inside Pakistani territory” and are supported by “elements of the Pakistani government.”

India has already upped the security ante in Afghanistan. Apart from training Afghan National Security Forces inside India, Modi has gone a step further and supplied Kabul with eight MI 25 attack helicopters, thus ticking off one of the demands from then-Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s wish list to India during his 2013 visit. Although New Delhi has so far been reluctant to put boots on the ground, do these steps indicate a possible security involvement?

The ground for a deeper engagement in Afghanistan was laid when Trump’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster discussed the situation in Kabul with his Indian counterpart, Ajit Doval, a week after the U.S. military dropped the “mother of all bombs.” Prior to that, Doval had made a quiet visit to the United States for a few days in March, during which he met the Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and McMaster to discuss Afghanistan. Hence as the United States surges troops and adopts a hardened approach toward the Taliban, India might support the stand militarily.

First, however, India should carefully consider Trump’s reading of terrorism. Like his Republican predecessors, Trump views terrorism to be a West Asian construct and believes that a tough flexing of muscle is the required prescription. This means that, should New Delhi engage in Afghanistan, India would have to weigh how this choice would impact its relations in West Asia, especially Iran and the Chabahar deal. Afghanistan has long served as U.S. base to overlook Iran, and the Pentagon report believes Iran’s support to the Taliban and Haqqani Network in Afghanistan is “not expected to wane.” With a deteriorating Iran-U.S. relationship, Indian officials are concerned and yet relieved at the same time as their hard-won Iran deal has not been eclipsed yet. In addition, with the current Gulf Cooperation Council crisis (the core of which is Qatar-Iran relations) it will be tricky enough for India to meander through its relationships in West Asia without adding the complication of Afghanistan.

Closer to home, a more-than-economic engagement in Afghanistan could rattle Pakistan. The United States has sent mixed signals on Pakistan policy. Prior to Modi’s visit, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress to reduce ties with Pakistan. Yet U.S. moves to manage Pakistan for achieving desired ends in Afghanistan, as much as they are welcomed by India, shouldn’t be seen as an inclination toward New Delhi in overall Af-Pak policy. Immediately after Modi’s return, U.S. Senator John McCain undertook a visit to Kabul as well as Islamabad. Reiterating this strategic partnership, McCain said there could be “no peace without Pakistan’s cooperation.” Does this indicate a courting of Pakistan, damage control, or a balancing act while the United States defines its new policy? It’s still unclear, and India should take note.

China will also watch closely. With the United States increasing its foot soldiers in Afghanistan and India persuading Washington to support its stance on the Belt and Road, China will cautiously watch how Af-Pak politics play out. The joint statement issued during Modi’s visit was the first time the United States and India have together come out publicly against China’s debt financing, connectivity projects, and human rights record. This irked China ,and it has warned India against getting close to the United States. China’s larger agenda in the region should be read accordingly. As China and Russia increase their influence in the region, it is unlikely that United States would pursue a withdrawal policy.

Until now India has pursued a balanced approach, restricting its engagement in Afghanistan only to the economic realm to avoid a backlash from Pakistan. India’s policy of circumventing Pakistan and engaging in Afghanistan, thereby putting covert pressure on Pakistan, could rebound if China engages fully with Pakistan. If India looks to engage in Afghanistan with the United States, in return for a similar gesture in case of an offensive in its neighborhood then it should keep in mind that such cases will rarely be considered in the White House. India should adapt to Trump’s transactional method of foreign policy but at the same time maintain an independent policy in Afghanistan.

The commentary was initially published by The Diplomat on 15 July, 2017.

The Diplomat, 15 July 2017

9 February 2017

The Rohingya Insurgents: Myanmar Creates Its Own Frankenstein
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

According to a recent international report, there is a new Rohingya insurgent group active in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. In the report, Harakah al-Yaqin (HaY) (Movement of Faith) is described as well-funded, well-trained and linked with some other insurgent groups such as Taliban.

According to the International Crisis Group (ICG) report, “Myanmar: A New Muslim Insurgency in Rakhine State,” the HaY was behind two attacks in October 2016. The HaY also published several videos online in October and November 2016 highlighting its presence. These videos depict armed training for group members and propagate their claim that they are not terrorists but are fighting for their rights as part of the Rohingya community.

There have been several Rohingya insurgent groups in the past; some of them, like the Mujahideen Rebellion group, were formed before Myanmar’s independence. None of the earlier groups were effective; these groups were successfully disbanded by the army.

Most notably, the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), formed in 1986, was an active insurgent group in between the ‘80s and ‘90s. the RSO has mostly operated from across the Bangladesh border. Small attacks on the Border Guard Police (BGP) over the years have always been blamed on this group, even though the RSO is considered to have been defunct since 2001. Even the October 9, 2016 attack was initially thought to be perpetrated by the RSO; some researchers and the Myanmar government later tried to link HaY to the RSO.

The authenticity of a claimed linkage between HaY and RSO is questionable. The online videos published by HaY are water-marked with the name of the group in Arabic. This could serve a double purpose: to propagate their name to the world and also to disassociate the group from any other insurgents such as the RSO. One reason for the HaY to dissociate itself from RSO is the lack of local support for the latter. The RSO mostly operated from the Rakhine-Bangladesh border, unlike the HaY. The latter is based within this region, especially Maungdaw (according to the Myanmar government) and unlike RSO is locally supported. Indeed, this support is HaY’s core strength.

The reason that HaY is locally supported, unlike other insurgent groups such as the Mujahideen Rebellion, Rohingya Patriotic Front, and RSO is due to a recent series of setbacks for the Rohingya people.

In 2012, riots led to mass killings, rapes, and burning of mosques in Rakhina state and subsequently the rise of Buddhist radical groups such as Ma Ba Tha under the leadership of monk Wirathu. The mayhem and the wrath of the radical Buddhists inculcated the idea and laid the platform for an armed group like HaY. The previous government, under the leadership of Thein Sein, proved unable to resolve this conflict and antipathy from the Myanmar authorities and radical groups only deepened the cleavage between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

Three years later, the disenfranchisement of the Rohingya in the 2015 election acted as a catalyst. Similar to other ethnic communities in Myanmar, the Rohingya were hopeful about a political resolution with the formation of a much-hoped-for democratic government in Myanmar. Previously, the Rohingya have always negated the use of violence, a primary reason that earlier insurgent groups failed. Until now, groups with a violent push lacked local support. The Rohingya as a community have also ruled out the claims of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and the Islamic State (ISIS) taking up their cause. Instead, the Rohingya have always sought a peaceful resolution.

Now, after being disenfranchised during the historic elections and faced with the lack of by the new Suu Kyi government, the Rohingyas feel cheated. This frustration perhaps has paved the way for people to support to the armed organization of HaY, which distinguishes them from earlier groups.

If the atrocities at home continued, their situation abroad was no better. The closures of borders by Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia along with strict patrolling of the maritime route have choked off all Rohingya escape routes. This has made the Rohingya desperate as they see their future vanish. Over the years, refusal by each neighboring country to stand up for their cause or accept them as refugees has left the Rohingya with no more hope.

With no future internally, and no outlet externally, Rohingya desperation has triggered new support for the insurgents and their group. A new generation is coming of age, young people who have lived their lives in the ghettoized camps in Rakhine state, in a homeland where they do not enjoy the basic rights of citizenship and enfranchisement, marriage by choice, education, healthcare, security, and freedom of religion. This generation, unlike their ancestors, does not cling to hopes of any political and peaceful solution. These youths are impatient and are ready to fight for their rights. HaY’s local support mostly comes from these young Rohingyas. This is evident from the videos, which show mostly men in the 20s or younger as part of the group.

According to the ICG report, the local training of HaY local recruits is led by the young mullahs (Islamic clerics) or hafiz (scholar) in villages. The mullahs and hafiz are treated with respect and a cause they support automatically receives the backing of the entire village. Plus a fatwa has reportedly been issued in order to legitimize the attacks. In one of their online videos, the HaY representatives justify their actions by avowing that violence in the course of fighting for one’s rights is vindicated in Islam. Adding a local religious connotation to the insurgency has paved the way for massive local support for HaY, something the other insurgent groups failed to achieve.

One thing is clear: HaY is a monster of Myanmar’s own creation, an offspring of failed policy and abhorrent treatment toward the Rohingya. If this group becomes a threat the world is afraid of, the credit for HaY’s growth and strength should be attributed to the failure of Myanmar’s peace initiative and also the atrocities by the BGP and Tatmadaw in the name of preventing conflict.

The present strategy of BGP and the Tatmadaw will only make the situation worse. Burning down Rohingya villages and cutting aid to them may led to the arrest of some of the local recruits for the time being, but will solidify the determination of the insurgents and their cause. There is a fear that the present situation will led to a mass exodus similar to 1990, and the lack of any government initiative increases the community’s disappointment and desperation — hence strengthening the insurgency.

There are three issues that further hinder the achievement of a peaceful solution for the Rohingya problem. First, Aung San Suu Kyi’s powers are limited and Myanmar’s military still plays a major role when it comes to defense and home affairs. Second, the Rohingya crisis, as an ethno-religious conflict, is just one of many ethnic conflicts that the country faces. And, relatedly, unlike the Rohingya, other ethnic groups enjoy citizenship and are backed by both political parties and armed groups; thus amid the many ethnic conflicts the Rohingya are not perceived as a major threat (or a priority) by the authorities. Third, the armed forces are used to not taking any new Rohingya insurgent groups seriously, as history has proved that violence directed at the local masses and combat against local militants has easily demolished these groups.

The Myanmar government and the armed forces should understand the seriousness of the situation this time rather than taking the latest insurgent attacks as a short-term problem. Killing, burning, and rape will not stop the insurgency but rather strengthen and nourish HaY.

According to the ICG report, HaY is well-organized, and some 20 insurgents in the group have received training in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The report also claimed the October 9 attack to be professional and well-organized. This statement is questionable, as the attack was carried out by 100 or so men who were armed with knives and slingshots. However, the nature of the attack does not imply that this group should not be taken seriously, as these attacks (both on October 9 and October 12) and their videos make it evident that if not curtailed, this will be a massive threat not only to the region but also to the country. The fact that this group has time and again strategically planted and used improvised explosive device (IED) and has been fighting with the BGP and Tatmadaw armed forces since October 9 substantiates the threat and bears out reports of their training. Additionally, one should not forget ocal support, which is the biggest strength of HaY.

Myanmar should realize that the Frankenstein monster it has created has the capability to wreak havoc in coming years. The government and the army should stop the carnage; instead, it is high time they nitiate gestures favoring the locals. This will help to break up the local support for the insurgent group, without which HaY will fade into obscurity like its predecessors.

The Diplomat, 9 February 2017     Click here for the full report