1. The Ukraine war, India and a stand of non-alignment
Very few sayings are as true as: “Truth is the first casualty in war”. Its corollary is: “No government tells the truth about war to its people”. Certainly not the whole truth. This is true of all governments at all times in all countries. India’s war with China ended in 1962. Sixty years later, we still do not know all the truth about that war. The Henderson Brooks report that delved deeply into the circumstances leading up to the war and the conduct of the military operations has still not been made public, though many claim to have read it. The reason it has not been made public, it is believed, is that it does not reflect well on the army. Even if true, how will it reflect poorly on today’s Indian Army? It is interesting that even BJP governments have refrained from making it public.
For Ukraine and the West
So, we will hear claims and counter claims about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is widely recognised that Russia has legitimate security concerns. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is already at its doorstep. The saga of broken promises and commitments, albeit oral, given at the highest level by the West to Russia that NATO will not be expanded eastwards, closer to Russia, is well documented.
However, that does not justify the invasion of Ukraine. Also, it is not clear how this war will take care of Russian security concerns. Even if the West agrees to give such assurance in writing, it will not have much meaning since written commitments can also be equally easily disregarded. The President of Ukraine ought to have been more flexible in devising some formula which would have accommodated Russia’s concerns, as for example by announcing adherence to the Minsk agreements. He knew, and knows, that the only country which would suffer heavy casualties and suffer incalculable destruction, is his own. The West could also have been more innovative. The distrust towards Russia lies deep in the western psyche.
A large part of the world has condemned the Russian invasion. Quite rightly too, since it is a gross violation of the universally accepted principle of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. Ukraine is a sovereign state, founding member of the United Nations. It may be recalled that the Soviet Union wanted all the Soviet Republics to be admitted to the newly founded United Nations. Ultimately a compromise was struck and only two republics — Ukraine and Byelorussia as Belarus was then called — were admitted. Thus, Russia has surely violated the most important principle of international law. Does concern about its security perceptions justify the invasion?
Ukraine is in no position to defend itself against Russian might. It was widely expected that it would be a short, decisive war. There is no doubt that Russia can and will prevail, but if it has to take Belarus’s help in doing so, it will not redound well to Mr. Putin’s credit. The resistance put up by the Ukrainian people under President Volodymyr Zelensky’s leadership is impressive. But what thereafter?
Challenging for India
India is in a difficult position. On the one hand, there is the growing relationship with the United States. As is often maintained, India-U.S. relations have never been better. This is true especially in the defence sector. Much is also made of the famous Quad (India, the United States, Australia and Japan) which is essentially an arrangement to contain China. How that helps India, the only one in Quad having a territorial dispute with China, is not clear.
On the other hand, there is Russia with whom we have a long-standing history of friendship, which is still our principal source of military hardware and which is willing, more than other countries, to share the technology involved. Russia has also helped us out in the United Nations on many occasions. One can hardly forget how they stalled action in the UN for several days at the time of the 1971 Bangladesh war to enable us to ‘finish the job’. We might need Russian support in future as and when Pakistan, fully backed by China, brings up the Kashmir issue in the world organisation.
Under the circumstances, the Government had done well by maintaining a kind of neutral position. It is a demonstration of the classical Nehruvian policy of non-alignment. There are influential voices in India that speak derisively of non-alignment but that is precisely what we are witnessing the Government do. Yes, the Russian invasion is wrong by every principle of international law. But the only lasting principle in foreign policy is the principle of national interest. Jawaharlal Nehru even called it a selfish policy. National interest will always trump principles. That is what Nehru did at the time of the Soviet Union marching with tanks into Hungary in 1956; he did not condemn the Soviet action. Our stand stood out in stark contrast to our stand on the Anglo-French-Israeli aggression on Egypt, which we condemned, when it nationalised the Suez Canal the same year.
However, if the war continues, resulting in large number of civilian casualties, and given the nuclear alert, Belarus’s renouncing of non-nuclear status, the indiscriminate bombing of major cities, will all make it extremely difficult for us, India, to maintain the non-aligned position for long.
What is NAM?
- Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is a forum of 120 developing world states that are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.
- After the United Nations, it is the largest grouping of states worldwide.
- Drawing on the principles agreed at the Bandung Conference in 1955, the NAM was established in 1961 in Belgrade, SR Serbia, and Yugoslavia.
- It was an initiative of then PM Jawaharlal Nehru, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Indonesian President Sukarno, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito.
- The countries of the NAM represent nearly two-thirds of the United Nations’ members and contain 55% of the world population.
Membership of NAM
- Diverse members: Membership is particularly concentrated in countries considered to be developing or part of the Third World, though the NAM also has a number of developed nations.
The reason behind NAM creation
- Balancing the US and USSR: Non-alignment, a policy fashioned for the Cold War, aimed to retain the autonomy of policy (not equidistance) between two politico-military blocs i.e. the US and the Soviet Union.
- The NAM provided a platform for newly independent developing nations to join together to protect this autonomy.
- Changing with emerging scenarios: Since the end of the Cold War, the NAM has been forced to redefine itself and reinvent its purpose in the current world system.
- Focus towards development: It has focused on developing multilateral ties and connections as well as unity among the developing nations of the world, especially those within the Global South.
Fading significance of the NAM
- Loosing relevance: The policy of non-alignment lost its relevance after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of unipolar world order under the leadership of the US since 1991.
- De-colonization was largely complete by then, the apartheid regime in South Africa was being dismantled and the campaign for universal nuclear disarmament was going nowhere.
- Freed from the shackles of the Cold War, the NAM countries were able to diversify their network of relationships across the erstwhile east-west divide.
India and the NAM
- Important role played by India: India played an important role in the multilateral movements of colonies and newly independent countries that wanted into the NAM.
- India’s policy was neither negative nor positive.
- India as a leader: Country´s place in national diplomacy, its significant size and its economic miracle turned India into one of the leaders of the NAM and upholder of the Third World solidarity.
- The principle of ‘acting and making its own choices’ also reflected India’s goal to remain independent in foreign policy choices, although posing dilemmas and challenges between national interests on international arena and poverty alleviation.
- Preserving the state’s security required alternative measures: Namely, the economic situation with the aim to raise the population’s living standards challenged the country’s defense capacity and vice versa.
- Fewer choices: Wars with China and Pakistan had led India to an economically difficult situation and brought along food crisis in the mid-1960s, which made the country dependent on US food.
- India’s position was further complicated due to agreements with the Soviet Union about military equipment.
- This placed India again in a situation where on one hand the country had to remain consistent on the principles of NAM while on the other hand to act in a context with fewer choices.
2. Doubts over defence supplies to India
Deliveries from Moscow, Kyiv could be delayed; threat of sanctions loom large
With tensions escalating between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis, India, which has major defence cooperation with Moscow and Kyiv, faces uncertainty over timely deliveries in the near future in addition to the lingering threat of the U.S. sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) over the S-400 deal.
In the past, tensions between Russia and Ukraine had considerably delayed the modernisation of the An-32 transport fleet of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
“It is too early to say at the moment, but there could be delays in deliveries from Russia both due to their own domestic commitments as well the sanctions imposed by the West,” an official source said on the condition of anonymity.
The current crisis could also complicate the CAATSA waiver India is looking for from the U.S. administration, two officials independently said. While, the S-400 deliveries began in December and are under way, a clarity on the timely completion was awaited, one of the official noted.
Several observers termed the severance of links and economic sanctions by the West on Russia “unprecedented.” In this backdrop, India requires a functioning supply chain relationship with Russia for spares and support, which is critical for its military.
To questions on possible restrictions by the U.S. on Russian equipment, former Indian Ambassador to Russia D.B. Venkatesh Varma said, “It will be very unfortunate if the U.S. has the same objective as China — to weaken the India-Russia defence relationship to the detriment of India’s defence capabilities.”
While Russia has been a traditional military supplier sharing platforms and technologies that others would not, the cooperation has further deepened in recent years. The defence trade between the two countries has crossed $15 billion since 2018.
Even today, over 60% of Indian military inventory is of Russian origin, especially with respect to fighter jets, tanks, helicopters and submarines among others,while several deals are in the pipeline. For instance, in December, India and Russia signed a ₹5,000-crore deal for 6.1 lakh AK-203 assault rifles to be manufactured jointly in Uttar Pradesh. Production was to begin within a few months and it is expected to reach full-scale production within two or three years, said Alexander Mikheev, Director-General of Rosoboronexport.
In addition, Russia is manufacturing two stealth frigates for the Navy. They are to be delivered next year onwards, while another two are being manufactured by the Goa Shipyard Limited under technology transfer. The keel of the ships has been laid and the Navy has said that the first one will be delivered in 2026 and the second one six months later.
India had signed a separate deal with Ukraine for eight Zorya-Mashproekt gas turbine engines for the frigates. As reported earlier by The Hindu, officials had said that the engines, gear boxes and specialist support will cost around $50 million a ship. India had taken delivery of engines for the first two frigates and handed them over to Russia for the frigates under construction there. However, the status of the engines for the frigates being built in India is not known. India is also looking to receive the third Akula class nuclear attack submarine (SSN) sometime in 2025. With the current offensive, the Russian defence industry may be preoccupied to supply to their own forces, a military officer observed, adding that they hoped it would be able to ensure timely deliveries.
Deals with Ukraine
As for Ukraine, it is upgrading over 100 An-32 transport aircraft of the IAF under a deal finalised in 2009.
While the upgrade of 45 An-32s in Ukraine was completed in 2015, the remaining aircraft were to be upgraded by the IAF Base Repair Depot, Kanpur. Ukraine officials had stated that all contractual obligations for the local upgrade would be fulfilled by 2020, though the current status was not immediately known.
At the Aero India in February 2021, Ukraine signed four agreements worth $70 million, which includes sale of new weapons as well as maintenance and upgrade of the existing ones in service with the military, as reported earlier.
Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act
- CAATSA is a United States federal law that imposed sanctions on
- Iran, North Korea, and Russia.
- The Act empowers the US President to impose at least five of the 12 listed sanctions on persons engaged in
- A “significant transaction” with the Russian defence and intelligence sectors.
- Its goal is to prevent revenue from flowing to the Russian Government.
- It contains 12 types of sanctions. Of these, 2 sanctions may impact India’s relations with either Russia or the US.
- First Sanction:
- Prohibition of Banking transactions
- India would not be able to make payments in US Dollars to Russia for the purchase of the S-400 systems.
- Prohibition of Banking transactions
- Second sanction:
- Export sanctions
- As it will deny the license for, and export of, any items controlled by the US to the sanctioned person
- It has the potential to completely derail the India-US Strategic and Defence partnership.
- Export sanctions
Concerns for India
- Could impact joint ventures
- Like Indo Russian Aviation Ltd, Multi-Role Transport Aircraft Ltd and Brahmos Aerospace.
- Russian Origin Weapon Systems
- It will also affect India’s purchase of spare parts, components, raw materials and other assistance.
- India is using a large number of Russian developed Defence equipment like
- Nuclear submarine INS Chakra,
- Kilo-class conventional submarine,
- Brahmos cruise missile,
- MiG 21/27/29 and Su-30 MKI fighters,
- Mi-series of helicopters, and
- Vikramaditya aircraft carrier
3. The history of the Kuki insurgency in Manipur
Who are the Kukis and what are their political aspirations and demands?
Just before the Assembly Elections started in Manipur on February 28, all insurgent groups associated with the Kuki tribes in Manipur said they will vote for the BJP. This comes days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that his party will end the Kuki insurgency problem in five years, if it is voted to power for the second time.
The roots of Kuki militancy lie in conflicts of ethnic identity. They demand self-determination solely for groups belonging to their ethnic fabric; to form Kukiland which includes Kuki inhabited regions of Myanmar, Manipur, Assam and Mizoram. The second reason for insurgency lies in the inter-community conflicts between the Kukis and the Nagas in Manipur.
Both BJP and Congress governments have held talks with representatives of Kuki groups but with no permanent solution.
The story so far: Just before the first of the two phases of the Assembly Elections went underway in Manipur on February 28, all insurgent groups associated with the Kuki tribes in Manipur said they will vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This came days after Union Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah said at his rally in Churachandpur district of the State, that his party will end the Kuki insurgency problem in five years, if it is voted to power for the second time. The president of the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), P.S. Haokip, cited talks with the BJP leadership, which he said has promised the speedy settlement of Kuki political aspirations.
Who are the Kukis?
The Kukis are an ethnic group including multiple tribes originally inhabiting the North-Eastern states of India such as Manipur, Mizoram and Assam; parts of Burma (now Myanmar), and Sylhet district and Chittagong hill tracts of Bangladesh. While Kuki is not a term coined by the ethnic group itself, the tribes associated with it came to be generically called Kuki under colonial rule.
In Manipur, the various Kuki tribes, living mainly in the hills, currently make up 30% of the total 28.5 lakh population of the State. While Churachandpur is their main stronghold, they also have a sizable population in Chandel, Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal and Senapati districts.
The rest of the population of Manipur is made up mainly of two other ethnic groups — the Meiteis or non-tribal, Vaishnavite Hindus who live in the valley region of Manipur, and the Naga tribes, historically at loggerheads with the Kukis, also living in the hilly areas of the State. Of the 60 seats in the Manipur Assembly, 40 are held by Meiteis and the rest 20 seats are held by Kukis and Nagas. Both the BJP and Congress are fielding Kuki and Naga candidates this time.
What led to the Kuki insurgencies in Manipur?
The Kuki insurgent groups have been under Suspension of Operation (SoO) since 2005, when they signed an agreement for the same with the Indian Army. Later, in 2008, the groups entered a tripartite agreement with the State government of Manipur and the UPA led Central government under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to temporarily suspend their operations and give political dialogue a chance.
Manipur, formerly a princely state including parts of Burma, made the accession into India after Independence, but was only made a full-fledged State in 1972. The resentment over the “forceful” inclusion into India and delay in granting statehood led to the rise of various insurgent movements. The problem was intensified after Manipur was declared a ‘distubed area’ in 1980, under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives sweeping powers to the military and has led to excesses. Post-independence insurgent movements in Manipur, carried out by valley-based groups or Meiteis, can be traced back to around the 1960s, when various groups demanded self-determination and separate statehood for Manipur, inspired by left ideology.
However, this wasn’t the case with the Kuki insurgency. The roots of Kuki militancy lie in conflicts of ethnic identity. First was the demand for self-determination solely for groups belonging to their ethnic fabric, meaning the dream to form a Kukiland which includes Kuki inhabited regions of Myanmar, Manipur, Assam and Mizoram. The second reason for insurgency lies in the inter-community conflicts between the Kukis and the Nagas in Manipur.
While organisations like Kuki Inpi and Kuki National Assembly had already formed in the years following Independence, insurgent activity at the time was jointly carried out by Kuki outfits based in Myanmar and Mizoram for Kukiland. But the Kuki insurgency in Manipur grew in real terms in the 1980s and after the Kuki-Naga conflicts of the 1990s. This is when the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and its armed wing Kuki National Army (KNA) were formed.
The community could not shed internal differences between tribes and take a single line of action. While some militant Kuki outfits demanded Kukiland, including parts which are not in India, some demanded Kukiland within India. At present, the demand has come to the formulation of an independent district—Kukiland Territorial Council within the purview of the Indian constitution, modelling the Bodoland Territorial Council, which was formed under the sixth schedule of the Constitution, after insurgent groups in Assam signed an agreement with their State government.
The Kuki-Naga conflict was started over securing identity and land as some Kuki inhabited areas coincided with Naga inhabited areas. Wanting to dominate trade and cultural activities in those areas the two communities often engaged in violent standoffs, with villages being torched, civilians killed and so on. Even though clashes have reduced in recent decades, tensions between the two ethnic groups still exist.
Where do the Kukis stand today?
The temporary SoO agreements were made in order to start political dialogue about giving some form of self-determination to the Kukis, but that has not happened, both under the UPA or NDA governments.
The SoO has been extended by the Government almost every year since 2008, with Kuki outfits threatening to breach the agreement by taking up arms again and boycotting the Government. In 2012, the groups held a nearly eight month long blockade of highways around their area, costing the Government a couple of crores in losses each day. The SoO agreement was last extended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in September last year till February 28 this year. Both BJP and Congress governments have held talks with the representatives of Kuki groups but the Kukis are dissatisfied with the pace of the dialogue and also feel ignored, as the Government has been holding Naga Peace Talks with the main Naga insurgent outfit NSCN (IM), which demands the formation of Greater Nagaland, including parts of Manipur having Kuki inhabited regions.
It has to be seen how the BJP plans to resolve the insurgency and settle Kuki political aspirations as the more than 50% Meitei population of the State, a significant voter base, has always been against Kuki and Naga demands for self-determination, as they fear it would undermine Manipur’s territorial integrity.