India and the US sign crucial defence agreements
On 27 October, India and the US concluded the third India-US Two plus Two dialogue, reflecting the “Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership” between the two countries. According to Dr S Jaishankar, the minister for external affairs of India, “The 2+2 dialogue has a pol-mil agenda” underlining the “close bilateral relationship” between the two countries. The 2+2 dialogue included the following: from the US – Secretary Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper; and from India – Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, and Indian Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh.
Multiple agreements were signed during the 2+2 dialogue. The main ones include the following: Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement between the Indian Ministry of Defense, and the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; MOU for Technical Cooperation in Earth Observations and Earth Sciences in the Indian MoES, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and extending the duration of the bilateral MOU concerning cooperation with the Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership in India.
The joint statement issued on 27 October 2020 underlined “Advancing the Defense and Security Partnership.” It said: “Noting the 15th anniversary of the inaugural US-India Defense Framework Agreement, the Ministers commended what has become a comprehensive, resilient, and multi-faceted Major Defense Partnership (MDP) between the United States and India. They applauded the significant step of the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). They also welcomed enhanced maritime information sharing and maritime domain awareness between their Navies and affirmed their commitment to build upon existing defense information-sharing at the joint-service and service-to-service levels and explore potential new areas of mutually beneficial cooperation.”
The External Affairs Minister also said that “the Indo-Pacific region was a particular focus of” the bilateral dialogue. Both sides “reiterated the importance of peace, stability and prosperity for all countries in this region” and “upholding the rules based international order, ensuring the freedom of navigation in the international seas, promoting open connectivity and respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states.”
India’s External Affairs Minister also said: “A multi-polar world must have a multi-polar Asia as its basis.”
What is the background?
First, the steady emergence of a defence partnership between the two countries during this decade. Ever since the discussions started on India-US strategic partnership since the late 1990s, there has been steady progress during the last two decades on expanding defence partnership. While the last decade witnessed slow progress with ups and downs, the pace has fastened during the last ten years. While the Indo-US nuclear deal was a major achievement during the last decade, since 2002, both countries have intensified the relationship with multiple agreements: the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) in 2002; an extension – the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) in 2019; the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) signed in 2016; and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) in 2018.
Second, the strengthening of defence relations between the two countries as a part of a larger political engagement and strategic partnership. While the US is looking at India as a part of its Indo-Pacific vision, New Delhi is looking Washington as a part of its search for space at the global governance.
Third, slow but steady expansion and diversification of India defence partnerships and procurements. While the Soviet Union was the primary source until the early 1990s, India has been diversifying its defence partnerships and procurements. Russia still remains a crucial defence partner; so is France, Israel and the US now. For India, it is not only defence procurements but also partnerships.
What does this mean?
While India looks at strengthening the strategic partnership with the US, it has to look at the fallouts in the immediate region. India-China relationship has been steadily deteriorating in recent years; Beijing sees the growing Indo-US partnership as anti-Chinese.
Besides looking at India-China relations, New Delhi will also have to forecast likely Islamabad-Beijing collusion to upset the Indo-US defence partnership.
Finally, New Delhi will also have to balance the Indo-US and Indo-Iran relations. Besides Beijing, Tehran has also been unhappy with the Indo-US relations. For India, there is so much at stake in Tehran – not only bilateral relations but also India’s investments in Afghanistan and the INSTC.
France: Another terror attack, and growing tensions with Turkey
On 30 October, a knife attack by a 21-year-old Tunisian killed three in the city of Nice in France, leading President Emmanuel Macron to increase his national campaign to fight Islamic extremism. He said that the country is under attack by “Islamist and terrorist madness.” Macron defended free speech and increased the deployment of troops to protect public places across the country from 3,000 to 7,000.
Prior to the attack, a verbal spat bordering on abusive language has emerged this week between the heads of the state of France and Turkey. On 25 October after Macron promised that France would not “renounce the caricatures,” a furious riposte emerged on social media under Arabic hashtags, and subsequently, several Muslim countries came out in criticism of Macron’s tough stand on Islam. The strongest response has been from the Turkish President Erdogan, who on 28 October announced a boycott of French products in addition to asking the French President to undergo a “mental checkup” for his new policies. On 29 October, the verbal row between the two countries worsened after Charlie Hebdo published a front-page cartoon, showing Erdogan in his underpants drinking a can of beer and revealing a Muslim woman’s naked backside. Erdogan called out the satirists as “scoundrels” and threatened to take legal and diplomatic actions.
What is the background?
First, Macron’s defence of free speech. Following the two incidents of murder in the name of protecting Islam, Macron has sought to defend France’s national values of secularism and free speech. Beginning October, he delivered an address promising a national strategy called “Islamist separatism.” Under these proposals, it will be harder for imams with staunch views to relocate to France; all imams needing certification in France to practice; and all religious organizations that run sports clubs would be required to publicly pledge support to the “republican values” in exchange for funding. In addition, the vast deployment of troops has made Macron’s strategies highly security-driven. His policies are not new and are aimed to respond to the French’s fear of life from any individual with a Muslim identity. But his strong comments such as “Islam is in crisis” are targeted for the domestic constituency preparing for the 2022 elections. Similarly, Erdogan is fanning the flames of nationalism when he is juxtaposing himself as a leader of the Muslim world when a Christian leader calls out on Islam.
Second, the response of Turkey and the emerging battleline in the Middle East. In addition to domestic positioning, both Erdogan and Macron are also making international calculations. This seems like a golden opportunity for Erdogan to come forth as the defender of Islam and the Sunni leader of the Arab world and for Macron to further increase his sphere of influence in the Middle East. The two countries have clashed with each other in Libya, the Eastern Mediterranean, and in Karabakh. A strong response by Turkey has been followed by an equal call for a boycott of French goods by several Muslim countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This rallying behind Erdogan could also consolidate Turkey’s position in the Middle East.
Third, increasing lone wolf attacks in Europe. France is no stranger to Islamist terrorism, especially after the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 and the 2016 Nice truck attack that claimed 86 lives. The society in France has become highly polarized where being a religious-secular is slowly losing its public rationality. The same trend could also be observed in the rest of Europe where the rise of Islamist terrorism has coincided with the rise of white extremism as well such as the Halle attack or Jewish synagogue attack in Germany and lone knife attackers in the UK.
What does it mean?
First, the row between France and Turkey will cost Erdogan more than he thinks. The boycott of French goods for a country dependent on the West for its automobile and daily commodities means an economic recession when the Turkish Lira is witnessing a free fall. With a Franco-German leadership in the EU, a possible sanction would prove costly for Turkey. Second, a civilizational divide between West and East could widen with the row between Turkey and the West. Tensions between those supporting freedom of expression and those wanting to protect religious values are rising further. And if political leaders advocate an equal divide, the formal and ideological relationship of religion with the state stand changed.
Syria: Russia attacks pro-Turkey rebels, indicating a looming Russia-Turkey Cold War
On 26 October, a Russian airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province killed at least 78 Turkish backed rebel fighters. They belonged to the moderate Islamist group Faylaq al-Sham, an offshoot of Turkey’s Muslim Brotherhood. Idlib is the last rebel-held province in Syria.
On 28 October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a statement in the parliament that the Russian airstrike indicated Moscow’s reluctance to establish lasting peace in the region. The attack highlights the increasingly strained Russia-Turkey relations; both countries are involved in various proxy wars in the Caucasus, the Middle East and the North Africa region. Further, the airstrike is a violation of the truce between Russia and Turkey implemented on 5 March 2020.
What is the background?
First, the fragile ceasefires. As part of the latest ceasefire, Russia and Turkey conducted joint military exercises along the key M4 highway in Idlib connecting the government-held cities of Aleppo and Latakia. However, over the last few months, joint exercises ceased, and both sides carried out frequent bombings. The recent airstrike, dangerously close to Turkey’s border, indicates an escalation of conflict; it is a message to Ankara over various ongoing battles. Previously, Erdogan had also warned that Turkey “reserves the right to retaliate with all its strength against any attack by forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” despite the truce. Prior to this, Russia and Turkey had signed a ceasefire in 2018 and agreed on de-escalation zones in Idlib which were often violated.
Second, the increasing tensions in the Caucasus and Libya. The airstrike coincides with Moscow’s increased contention with Ankara’s involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Though Russia, a close ally of Armenia, has stayed away from involving itself in the conflict, it has accused Turkey of sending Syrian fighters in support of Azerbaijan. Further, the two countries are also engaged in the conflict in Libya. Here, Turkey has deployed Syrian fighters to fight for the UN-recognized Government of National Accord, which is pitted against the Russian-backed Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar.
What does it mean?
Apart from Erdogan’s statement, Turkey has not retaliated so far. If Erdogan decides to retaliate, then Idlib would once again become a regional proxy. Overall, the developments between the two could lead to a cold-war like situation.
There is another possibility; Turkey might land a strong blow to Russia in either the Caucasus or Libya and use Idlib as a bargaining element. However, since the ceasefire was implemented this year, more than 200,000 displaced Syrians returned home to their towns. Any escalation in Idlib would put Turkey at the risk of an influx of Syrian refugees; currently, Turkey already houses around three to four million Syrian refugees.
On the other hand, despite conflicting interests, Russia and Turkey have engaged in economic and military agreements. For example, Russia’s trade with Turkey stands at $20 billion. In 2019, Turkey purchased the S-400 missile system from Russia despite the risk of sanctions from the West. Therefore, such bilateral cooperation between the two countries results in ambiguity regarding their future course of action.
East Asia and Southeast Asia This Week
China: Communist Party adopts the Vision 2035 and calls Xi Jinping a “navigator”
On 29 October, Communist Party of China concluded its annual conclave which consisted of a four-day plenary session. It approved the 14th five-year plan and Vision 2035 which according to observers, indicate the continuation of President Xi Jinping in power till 2035. The meeting also showed unequivocal support for President Xi; an official summary termed him as the “core navigator and helmsman”. The meeting also outlined ambitions for China to progress as an economic, military and cultural power amidst increasing international uncertainties.
Hong Kong: Teen activist seeking US asylum arrested by police
On 27 October, Tony Chung, a 19-year-old activist in Hong Kong, was detained near the US consulate. He was planning to take US asylum. He was associated with the pro-independence Student Localism group before the new security law came into effect. The police later confirmed that they had made a total of three arrests concerning their investigation of the group’s activities.
Myanmar: Human Rights Watch questions Election Commission’s transparency
On 28 October, the Human Rights Watch said that Myanmar’s election commission has acted in a non-transparent manner and that this would affect upcoming November 8 general elections. The commission has suspended voting in many constituencies in minority ethnic areas, including in the Rakhine state, by citing security concerns. However, this move has been criticized as being arbitrary as the process of selection of such areas is unclear. About 1.5 million people are effectively denied their right to vote.
Malaysia: Ex-PM Mahathir’s tweets on Samuel Paty’s beheading causes stir
On 29 October, former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad put out a series of controversial tweets about the brutal killing of French teacher Samuel Paty. Charging on Macron, he argued that freedom of expression does not mean disrespecting other cultures and values. However, even as he disproved the killing, he ended up justifying it. He also suggested that Muslims have the “right” to feel angry (and “kill”) over the past massacres committed by French and that the latter should, like the former, not apply the “eye for an eye” law. After this generated much stir, he made a statement that his words have been taken out of context.
South Asia This Week
India: Foreign Secretary’s visit to France
On 29 October, India’s Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla visited Paris as a part of his three-nation European tour to discuss cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region, strategic partnership and dealing with the pandemic. He also condemned two recent terrorist attacks in France. He also said that the civilized world needs to act together against terrorism which continues to be a major threat to the cherished democratic value systems.
India and Central Asia: The second meeting of India-Central Asia Dialogue
On 28 October, India hosted the second meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue virtually. It was attended by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. The ministers condemned terrorism, drug trafficking, extremism, and called for the settlement of the Afghan conflict. India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, also announced a $1-billion line of credit to Central Asian countries for infrastructural and connectivity projects.
India: Former Member of Parliament from Ladakh says Chinese have transgressed
On 29 October, a former BJP MP from Ladakh claimed that the Chinese troops have transgressed further into the Indian territory and occupied prominent positions at Finger 2 and 3 areas of the Pangong Tso. He further added that Indian soldiers were living in tents which were inadequate for them in the sub-zero temperature and that he received this information from the locals. However, the centre refuted the claims made by him.
Sri Lanka and the Maldives: US Secretary of State’s visit
On 28 October, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Sri Lanka and the Maldives to counter China’s influence in the region. In Colombo, he referred to the Chinese Communist Party as a “predator” and the US as a “friend”. However, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a meeting with him reiterated that Sri Lanka is not caught in a debt trap and was following a foreign policy based on neutrality. In the Maldives, he announced the plans of opening a US embassy and signed a defense agreement to keep the island nation away from falling into Beijing’s debt trap.
Sri Lanka: Covid-19 cases on surge
On 29 October, a seventy-two-hour lockdown was imposed in Colombo after a sudden spike in the COVID-19 cases. So far, Sri Lanka has recorded 9,200 cases, half of which have been reported in the past few weeks. The spike was recorded due to the identification of two clusters: a garment export factory in Minuwangoda, Western Province, and a wholesale fish market in Peliyagoda. The authorities said that the lockdown could be extended further after reviewing the situation. The upcoming sessions of the parliament have also been cancelled due to the increased risk of community transmission.
Afghanistan: Decrease in the Civilian Casualties
On 27 October, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report that mentioned a thirty per cent decrease in civilian casualties in the first nine months of this year as compared to the last year. It is the lowest since 2012. According to the report, 2,117 were killed, and 3,822 were injured from January 1 to September 30, 2020. The deliberate targeting of civilians, including education, health and humanitarian workers, members of the judiciary, tribal elders, religious leaders, and civilian government employees was a major concern of the report. UNAMA also urged the Taliban to restrict using illegal weapons against civilians.
Pakistan: Disagreement within the National Assembly over Indian Pilot’s Release
On 28 October, the ruling party and the opposition entered a tussle regarding the release of the Indian Pilot in the aftermath of the Balakot strike. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq made a statement blaming the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, for the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman out of fear of attack from India. The foreign minister, in turn, slammed the opposition for making irresponsible statements on Abhinandan and Kulbhushan Jadhav’s case for political gains.
Pakistan: Massive rally by the Opposition in Quetta
On 25 October, the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), a coalition of eleven opposition parties, held an anti-government rally at the Ayub Stadium in Quetta city. The rally was conducted despite repeated warnings by the Balochistan government because of security threats, ban on mobile phone service, and fear of militant attack. It was the third rally by the PDM after two successful back-to-back gatherings in Gujranwala and Karachi this month.
West Asia and Africa This Week
Iran: Iranian petroleum industry placed under sanctions by the United States
On 26 October, sanctions were imposed on the National Iranian Oil Company, the National Iranian Tanker Company and the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum by the United States Treasury Department. According to a statement released by the Treasury Department, the sanctions were imposed “for their financial support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force”. In response to these sanctions, the Oil Minister of Iran Bijan Zanageh replied on Twitter that Tehran’s oil industry would not submit to the pressures of the United States.
Iran: IAEA confirms Iran’s underground nuclear facility
On 27 October, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran has started building an underground centrifuge assembly plant. Rafael Grossi, the Director-General of the IAEA, further revealed that Iran continues to stockpile low enriched uranium; but it is not enough to produce a weapon. This comes months after the previous facility at Natanz was damaged because of fire in July.
Nigeria: Judicial Panel of Inquiry set-up in Lagos state
On 26 October, the government of the Lagos state set up a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the Lekki shooting. The panel will investigate the allegations of abuse and extrajudicial killings by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) against the unarmed protesters. The panel has a mandate for six months, and five other states have also set up similar panels for investigating the abuses by the police.
Tanzania: Election results published
On 28 October, the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, has won 194 seats in the 393-member parliament. Despite various allegations of fraud and accusations over dissenting voices, President John Magufuli has won with a two-thirds majority. The US, however, has raised concern over the credibility of the results. The main opposition presidential candidate, Tundu Lissu of the CHADEMA party, has called for protests. Many view this as the crumbling of the democratic ideals of Tanzania.
Europe and the Americas This Week
Poland: Women protest against abortion ruling
On 30 October, tens of thousands marched on the streets of Warsaw to protest against the restrictive abortion laws in Poland. The immediate spark was a ruling by Constitutional Court that outlawed abortions in case of fetal deformities. After this court decision, abortion will be legal in only two cases: a threat to the mother’s life and pregnancy as a result of rape or incest. The protestors have accused the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) of pushing the court for the recent abortion ruling.
Europe: Return of National Lockdowns in France and Germany
On 25 October, both French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel announced a national lockdown for one month. This comes amid what is being called the second wave of COVID-19 as cases are rapidly rising in France and Germany. Other European countries like Spain, Italy, Greece and Belgium have also followed suit with some forms of restrictions in place. Even Britain is considering a new national lockdown.
The United States: Amy Coney Barret swears in as Supreme Court Justice
On 26 October, Amy Coney Barret took her oath to become the Justice of the US Supreme Court days before the Presidential elections. She became the fifth female and 115th justice of the Supreme Court. She replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last month after battling cancer. Barret was backed by the Republicans. However, the Democrats fear her conservative views would threaten women’s rights and civil rights.
Bolivia: Former Interim President to face Genocide Charges
On 29 October, the Plurinational Legislative Assembly of Bolivia approved the report on the “massacres of Senkata, Sacaba, and Yapacani” which recommends a lawsuit against the conservative ex-interim president Jeanine Anez and eleven of her ministers. The report accuses Anez and her ministers of the “resolutions contrary to the Constitution and the laws, breach of duties, genocide, murder, serious injuries, criminal association, and deprivation of liberty and the forced disappearance of people.”
Chile: People vote for New Constitution
On 25 October, Chile voted in favour of the ‘new constitution’. After a year of violent and destructive protests, Chile voted in the long-awaited referendum which was delayed due to the pandemic. This has resulted in the scrapping of the existing constitution drafted during the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Thousands of people celebrated by dancing and waving flags on the streets of Santiago on Sunday night.
About the authors
D Suba Chandran is a Professor and Dean, Sourina Bej is a Project Associate, and Apoorva Sudhakar is a Research Assistant at NIAS. Akriti Sharma and Lokendra Sharma are PhD Scholars at the School of Conflict and Security Studies at NIAS.