Friday, 11 November 2016

My reviews 


The Book Review

Volume XL No. 10 - OCTOBER 2016, pp. 54-55


NEW SOUTH ASIAN SECURITY: SIX CORE RELATIONS UNDERPINNING REGIONAL SECURITY Edited by Chris Ogden Orient BlackSwan, New Delhi, 2016, pp. 196, R750.00 

INDIA’S SECURITY ENVIRONMENT: PROCEEDINGS OF SELECT SEMINARS HELD BY ASIA CENTER, BANGALORE, 2007–12 Asia Center Bangalore & Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 362, R895.00

The Book Review
Volume XL No. 10 - OCTOBER 2016, pp. 54-55
Chris Ogden (ed.), New South Asian Security: Six Core Relations Underpinning Regional Security, New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan, 2016, pp. 183, ISBN 978 81 250 62615
Chris Ogden, a Senior Lecturer in Asian Security at the University of St Andrews, UK, has put  together a set of six essays from experts on the ideational edifice in bilateral relations between four protagonist states in southern Asia, namely, China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. His intent appears to be to probe the extent  to which regional security environment can be managed by regional states themselves in light of the long standing intent of withdrawal of the US led NATO from Afghanistan. Based on the contributions, he concludes that there is considerable incentive for China and India to step forward and manage regional security. The slim volume, perhaps on account of space, does not however go into how such cooperation can be brought about. 
Ogden stretches the definition of South Asia by including China. This complicates his understanding that China and India can and should work together to maintain regional stability, rather than continue as interested free boarders as they have been whilst the West set about state and nation building in Afghanistan. To him, both states have a shared interest in economic growth and projection of an image of a responsible image at the global level. This would be impacted in case of regional instability emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan. While China has long standing ties with Pakistan and to a slightly lesser degree with Afghanistan, India has had a deepening relationship with Afghanistan over the past decade and half. These relationships can be leveraged by the two for managing regional security.Such an effort can be under-grid by the Panchsheel principles both states signed up to over half-century back.
This is certainly desirable, but for its feasibility, a closer look at the chapters is warranted, in particular the ones on bilateral relations between the two in first place and the bilateral relations of each with Pakistan. The chapter on India-China relations brings out the manner China viewsIndia’s deepening relationship with the US. To China, India is participating in US’ containment of China. India for its part appears to be engaged in external balancing, viewing China’s actions in the Indian Ocean and its relationship with Pakistan as containment by China of India’s rise in Asia and on the global stage. Simultaneously, there is also a broadening of India-China engagement ranging from economic to coordination on global issues such as climate change and WTO. It is not evident from the editor’s summation how these convergences would be able to trump the disruptions over territorial claims, divergences intrinsic in a power rivalry and, further, how manipulation by the US can be transcended by the two.
David Scott’s chapter on the relationship is much less buoyant. While Scott sees continuing incidence of geopolitical divides, these appear to elide Ogden, who thereby appears bent on situating his belief that the West can conveniently hand over the mess it has created in Afghanistan to regional state ministration.Michael Semple’s chapter on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, encapsulated in its title as ‘Torbor’ or the all-too-familiar cousin rivalry, further complicates Ogden’s thesis that a regional solution is possible.
The second set of relations – India, China, Pakistan – puts paid to Ogden’s optimism. India under a majoritarian nationalist government is unlikely to concede any space to Pakistan. For its part, Pakistan, with its India and Afghanistan policies handled by its military, cannot but see evidence of India’s attempt to prevail in the region by using Afghanistan as proxy. The military there sees its quest for strategic space whittled. The mutually hostile perspectives are well covered by Runa Das in her chapter that divides the post independence era into five phases, each with its distinct reinforcing of the self/other nationalist identity constructions in both states.To expect Chinese to temper Pakistan, consequent to a hoped for China-India convergence on Afghanistan, is wishful when the US has visibly failed in this.
Ogden makes reference to the SCO as a prospective body to play an expansive role in stabilizing Afghanistan. Both Pakistan and India joined the China dominated SCO only this year. Afghanistan is lined up as the next to have its observer status upgraded to full member. That there is scope for regional approaches through the SCO acquiring the dimension of an Asia wide architecture –the first such body – is useful to know. Its role can be thought through and broadened through the Heart of Asia conference series of the Istanbul process that bring together all stakeholders in the resolution. The other regional organization, the SAARC, gets scarce mention, though it was formed in the shadow of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. South Asia being the least integrated region in the world rules it out as a potential site for regional consensus – China’s observer status notwithstanding - of the order required to reconcile conflicting interests.
Ogden rightly rues that any win-win form of interaction is not a straightforward eventuality owing to the nature of regional relations and the core norms of competition that underpin these. To him, the ‘negative strains permeating the six bilateral relations’ act as ‘founts of instability’ (p. 143). However, the book makes a compelling case that despite this – or rather because of this – there is need for greater regional engagement with the main issue in regional stability.
Answering ‘How?’ would entail getting the Taliban come in from the cold; a return the US could not fathom owing to the reputational risk this posed the hyper power. Taliban’s return - as a moderated entity - is not impossible to envisage in case its demand of a US exit is met. An Afghan led and owned peace process is fine only in its peacemaking plane. Peacekeeping and peacebuilding would need to follow. The SAARC houses the world’s peacekeeping prowess. South Asian militaries have cooperated in bringing peace in Africa. An SCO-SAARC regional peacekeeping initiative, under UN auspices, may provide the mechanism for a return of peace. Afghanistan can serve as catalyst for an Asian regional order.
The book makes the constructivist argument on the ideational basis for foreign policy. Conflictual relations owe to negative mindsets. It makes the case that states can move beyond this by looking at the benefits of cooperation. China’s revival of Silk Road linkages can hardly be met with an unsettled Afghanistan. Its investment of USD 45 billion in Pakistan astride the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is hardly safe in case of an unstable Pakistan. India for its part cannot become a great power if it remains Pakistan centric. It cannot access Central Asia unless Pakistan plays along. The benefits of security cooperation appear obvious enough to prompt a makeover in adversarial thinking. Such Ogden-initiated thinking needs being furthered through creatively charting the way forward, including, as attempted here, by a South Asian peacekeeping operation to displace the US-led NATO’s peace enforcement in Afghanistan.