Modi redefines Indian as US withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches closer

By M M Ali
When the US is desperately trying to bring an end to its eighteen-year war in Afghanistan, it’s strategic partner India that made an investment of about five billion dollar in the country during the period is getting increasingly tensed about its own security.
In an interim budget announced in February before national elections, the Indian government allocated 4.31 trillion rupees ($62.27 billion) for defense, a 6.6 percent rise over the previous year, raising concern at the time it wouldn’t be enough for modernization. But India’s GDP growth rate has gone down from a peak of 8.2 in 2016-17 to 6.8 in 2018-19, with the fourth quarter of 2018-19 down to 5.8.
Why India is panicked over US withdrawal from Afghanistan though its defense budget is on the rise?
What makes it feel shaken? Is it scared of the fall outs of its policies in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and various other insurgency prone states and regions?
When the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in the late 80s, world witnessed collapse of USSR and changes in Eastern Europe. Severe economic crises, emergence of people power, the East-West arms race coupled with the defeat of Red army in the hands of Afghans were attributed to as reasons for disintegration of Soviet Union and change in Eastern Europe in the late 80s and early 90s.
Before we talk about the Indian preparation against the fallout of US withdrawal from Afghanistan, let us take a look how the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan impacted on the Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union (USSR).
A miracle that changed Europe
1989 was probably a miracle year in the contemporary European history. Things that nobody would believe they could possibly see in their lifetime actually happened. The Berlin Wall had collapsed countries under the Warsaw pact known as Eastern Europe broke away from the treaty and opted for democracy and finally the USSR or the Soviet Union disintegrated.
Faraway from Europe, the Red Army that invaded Afghanistan almost a decade ago completed its withdrawal from the country on 15 February 1989.
Events in the Eastern Europe during that period did not happen in one single day. The ball that started rolling with the fall of Berlin wall in November 1989 also crumbled the Soviet Union before the dust finally started settling down a few years later.
The fall of Berlin wall
In the 60s and the 70s, Central and Eastern Europe was an impenetrable area. It was cut off by 1400 kilometres of barbed wire, automatic machine gun firing positions and watchtowers.
But even on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the great velvet revolutions, the opponents of communism in Eastern Europe were rather skeptical that much would really change.
1989 took everybody, even the most ferociously anti-communist, by surprise. This chain reaction of uprisings, demonstrations on the streets of Leipzig or Dresden, the collapse of the old order … this chain reaction was such that nothing more dramatic could be thought of.
Footages on television showed the East Germans jumping and driving through the open fence between the Czech Republic, or Hungary and Austria when the Hungarians opened up the border in the spring of 1989. Hundreds of thousands climbed over the wall of the German Embassy in Prague saying that they would not leave unless they could be taken in a sealed train directly from Prague across East Germany to the West.
Just when you thought that it couldn’t get any more dramatic, then we had of course the ultimate symbol, the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The domino effect
The fall of the Berlin Wall is what is very much in our memory, but it wasn’t the only or even the most dramatic happening in 1989.
Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians formed a human chain which extended 650 km from Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, through Riga in Latvia, all the way to Estonia.
The same year the world also witnessed the swearing in of the first democratically elected Polish government.
Everybody was free to go their own way and to define their own future. It was like a domino effect in reverse. Not the chain reaction towards more communist states which Marx and Engels and Lenin had predicted, but the reverse, a situation where increasingly the dominos were working towards the spreading of freedom and democracy, which seemed at the time to usher in a totally new world.
People were in jubilation in front of the television screens or on the streets of Berlin, governments were, worried about the implications of this unforeseen, uncontrolled and uncontrollable collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the communist system. But on question of German reunification the Western Europe seemed worried.
The iron curtain fell
When the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, the Americans were worried about nuclear weapons. What would happen to the nuclear weapons if Ukraine or Kazakhstan or Belarus, where these weapons were based, became independent?
The United States did not encourage the break-up of Yugoslavia, when Croatia and Slovenia declared independence in the beginning of 1991. The US was worried that if nationalist unrest grew Gorbachev and his whole reform effort, the whole arms control agenda with the US would be seriously undermined.
Now in history we all know that underlying strategic causes matter a great deal but we also know that there are immediate triggers, more proximate factors which cause an international system to change.
Afghan war – a factor in the collapse of Soviet Union
The first one is the severe economic crisis in the communist bloc by the mid-1980s. Second factor was the emergence of people power in Eastern Europe. The third is the East-West arms race.
All the above mentioned factors along with the decade long Afghan war of the Red Army contributed in the demise of the Soviet Union.
The Soviets withdrew in 1989. They had 150,000 troops; 15,000 of those died. Gorbachev told the party congress in February ‘86 that this had been a bleeding wound. It was the first major military defeat in the history of the Soviet Union.
The veterans, the Afghanisti as they became known, became a powerful lobby within Soviet society, calling for military reform, pointing their finger at corruption and nepotism which had undermined the Soviet military effort.
The inability to impose communism in Afghanistan showed that communism did not represent the future but was effectively reversible. The Soviet Union had stirred up the forces of Islamic fundamentalism in that region, which at that time was felt in Chechnya and elsewhere.
Modi redefines Indian
An understanding of the impact of the Afghan war on disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the change in the landscape of Eastern Europe around the same time may help us assess the ramification of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Indian view on US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its impact on South Asia may be assessed from an opinion piece written by Kallol Bhattacharjee in The Hindu on August 6, just a day after India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
‘India’s move to end the special status for Jammu and Kashmir indicates that the government is bracing for serious geo strategic shifts that will unfold in South Asia over the next few months,’ the article said.
‘The domestic reasons for ending the special status was presented through a detailed analysis of negative affects that the article 370 had for Kashmir, the real reason for hurried make over lies in the international context,’ it added.
The New York Times on August 17 pointed out how Modi government’s initiative was contributing in redefining Indian in the light of their own philosophy.
‘Members of India’s Muslim minority are growing more fearful by the day. Assam’s anxiously watched documentation of citizenship — a drive that began years ago and is scheduled to wrap up on Aug. 31 —coincides with another setback for Muslims, this one transpiring more than a thousand miles away.
‘Less than two weeks ago, Mr. Modi unilaterally wiped out the statehood of India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, removing its special autonomy and turning it into a federal territory without any consultation with local leaders — many of whom have since been arrested.
‘Among Mr. Modi’s critics, events in Assam and Kashmir are Exhibits A and B in their conviction that the prime minister is using the early months of his second term to push the most forceful and divisive Hindu nationalist agenda ever attempted in India and to fundamentally reconfigure the concept of Indian identity to be synonymous with being Hindu. Many Indians, on both sides of the political divide, see Assam and Kashmir as harbingers of the direction Mr. Modi will take this nation of 1.3 billion people in the coming years.
‘The stated purpose of the citizenship dragnet in Assam is to find undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh — a predominantly Muslim country to its south. Amit Shah, India’s powerful home minister, has repeatedly referred to those immigrants as “termites.’’
‘More than four million people in India, mostly Muslims, are at risk of being declared foreign migrants in Assam as the government pushes a hard-line Hindu nationalist agenda that has challenged the country’s pluralist traditions and aims to redefine what it means to be Indian.
Will the sub-continent wait and watch?
Are the people of the sub-continent passive sorts of victims of process over which they have no control?
Plenty of evidence can be cited from history where people took their future into their own hands, rescued the direst situation through faith, courage, organization and determination.
[MM A li is a Dhaka-based freelance journalist freelance]

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