Sunday

No discussions in India on US State Department's 'Country Report on Terrorism'

       The US State Department’s ‘Country Report on Terrorism’ received considerable news coverage in India media last week. The reason being, the report's finding that India witnessed the third highest number of terrorist attacks in 2016, which is just behind Iraq and Afghanistan. To the surprise of many, Pakistan was behind India in the fourth position. Almost all media outlets in India carried this news. While the news was covered, discussions on the issue following the news were few and far between.

The report stated that India registered a total of 927 terror attacks in 2016 with the highest percentage, not surprisingly, were from Jammu & Kashmir (19%) which is fast sliding towards becoming the latest haven for Islamic fundamentalists in South Asia.


The country reports on terrorism can be found here.

          This is not something new. Different research findings in the past, including that of the Global Terrorism Index have consistently put India among the top 10 countries most affected by terrorism. While such reports and consequent reportage in news media is a more recent phenomenon, the scourge of terror has been mainstream news in India since 1989. If there is a country that can be considered a repository of knowledge on dealing with terrorism, it is India - not something to be proud of but - this is how it has been.

           While the release of the 'Country report on Terrorism' received good visibility in news media, it was disappointing to note that there were not many follow up informed discussions on the topic. Developments such as these are great proof points for the Indian state to strengthen it's own point of view in the international fora with regards to terrorism. We haven't seen it happen yet. It is also of strategic advantage on issues pertaining to internationalization of bilateral disputes such as that of Kashmir. Indian media, can be a great ally, given its dynamism, reach and influence worldwide to give shape to this debate. 

Hopefully soon!



Tuesday

CPD Blog: Integrating India's "NEIGHBORHOOD-FIRST” strategy into the South Asia satellite

The following is the text of a post I contributed to the CPD Blog. It was published on June, 26, 2017 :

South Asia Satellite
Photo courtesy of the Indian Space Research Organization

India’s space diplomacy got a major boost last month with the launch of the South Asia Satellite, envisaged in June 2014 by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “India’s gift” to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The prime minister’s vision was to increase regional cooperation among SAARC countries by leveraging India’s capabilities in space technology. The satellite was launched by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on May 5, 2017.

Significance of the South Asia Satellite

The satellite is intended to support communication, broadcasting and Internet services, disaster management, telemedicine, tele-education, and weather forecasting in the whole of South Asia. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, along with India, stand to benefit from it and have welcomed the initiative, while Pakistan, acting as expected, aligned with its raison d'ĂȘtre of opposing India and opted out of this partnership. Most importantly, the satellite may achieve the objective of maintaining strategic ties with neighbors by catering to their economic requirements.
The South Asia satellite is funded entirely by India with the intention of benefitting all eight SAARC member countries. The launch represents India “walking the talk” and making a difference to the region using its abilities, successes, and resources. India’s success in space technology is commendable, and its stature as a serious player in space technology is already established. Also, India’s science and technology workforce have the reputation as being among the best in the world. South Asia now stands to benefit from the gains that India has made in these two areas, hopefully ushering in a new era of regional cooperation.
Immediately after the launch, Narendra Modi tweeted:

From Attraction to Influence

The launch of the South Asia satellite represents a wonderful integration of India’s “neighborhood-first” strategy with its traditional strengths and desired narrative. India is dominant in South Asia, but ironically the most pressing issues facing the country are those in its very neighborhood! This is true even though South Asia is culturally very close to the Indian nation-state. Surely, India’s story needs something more in addition to the current narratives that overwhelmingly focus on India’s culture, heritage, or economic promise, and it looks like the launch of the satellite provides the Indian public diplomacy necessary to create that.

One of the biggest gripes among certain areas in the region is the perception of India as a bully. Will this launch be considered an attempt by India to assert its dominance?

For the longest time, the narrative shaped by India’s established policy focused on “attraction” attributes like Indian culture and heritage. I have argued in the past for the need to move the needle and adopt “influence” attributes if India wants to project power and be perceived as a serious geopolitical player. Influence attributes that could work in South Asia include foreign aid, bilateral cooperation, leveraging Indian media conglomerates, non-state actors, and dominance in the sphere of ideas. It would be fantastic if India’s successes could be viewed as South Asia’s successes. This region has a population of 1.6 billion and presents an opportunity for India to lead these masses to realize their potential and move towards better lives. India’s achievements in human resources, governance, science and technology, media, and defense are great examples for the emerging world to emulate.
Speaking at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in 2014, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi echoed this sentiment when he said,
“Nowhere in the world are collective efforts more urgent than in South Asia; and, nowhere else is it so modest. Big and small, we face the same challenges - a long climb to the summit of development. But, I have great belief in our boundless potential…
 “India's gift of a satellite for the SAARC region will benefit us all in areas like education, telemedicine, disaster response, resource management, weather forecasting and communication.”

Challenges Ahead

A few years from now, when the world looks back at the launch of the South Asia satellite, it should vindicate India’s position and strengthen India’s story. The policy establishment would do well to plan for certain perception challenges such as:
  1. One of the biggest gripes among certain areas in the region is the perception of India as a bully. Will this launch be considered an attempt by India to assert its dominance?
  2. Pakistan and China. How are they interpreting the satellite, and how will they project it? I am sure the foreign policy and public diplomacy establishment in India have anticipated this and would be ready to counter it. I also hope they have factored in the Indian agenda which should be consistently maintained on this topic.
  1. The successes of the South Asia satellite need to be shared aggressively, especially using digital media, and ideally would spark the same interest that is generated when the media reports on inspiring space projects like the Mars Rover. These projects may not be similar, but stories of effort and impact should generate tremendous interest.
The South Asia satellite is a significant development in India’s quest to lead South Asia towards progress and development. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after the launch, “With this launch we have started a journey to build the most advanced frontier of our partnership. With its position high in the sky, this symbol of South Asian cooperation would meet the aspirations of economic progress of more than 1.5 billion people in our region and extend our close links into outer space.”

Wednesday

5 Public Diplomacy trends to watch out for in 2017

The world indeed looks very different as we start into the New Year. The rise of the conservative narrative across the world culminating in the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of United States ushers in very interesting times. 2017 might also be seen as the 'Big Crunch' of globalization. For PD enthusiasts, I have identified the following trends to watch out for:


1. Rise of RHETORIC:This year will be a year of competing narratives. Rhetoric will take centre stage as debates in the international stage would be fueled by nationalism than anything else. The focus of PD would be to secure validity for a certain school of thought more than "attracting" audiences.
2. POWER will take centre stage: This year might be turn out to be the best year for the PD profession. Instead of being seen as a 'good to have' function within foreign offices, PD might emerge as a major player in enhancing 'power'. As states vie for legitimacy and influence in a world that would be fragmented, instruments of PD and tools would be used in a more strategic manner instead of doing it adhoc. Among other things, it might mean more budgets. This will be an interesting puzzle for PD theorists to examine and how it would influence the evolution of the discipline.
3. PAID MEDIA will be the new normal: States will find ways to increasingly use paid media to create influence. There might be some ethical considerations in here, but what I am trying to say is instead of relying on 'earned' or 'owned' media, PD Divisions will be more proactive and rely increasingly on paid content. The 'post truth' era demonstrated to all of us the power of 'fake news'. More advanced media societies are more vulnerable to such influence and the reliance on paid media by the minor powers might be an increasing trend.


4. RISE OF THE OTHERS: The others, I mean the 'Non State Entities' would emerge as a significant instrument of PD policy. In some cases, they might want to create narratives and engage audiences on their own that would help their cause and may compete with state narratives.
5. Change in TONALITY: The 'feel good' will give way to the 'feel strong'. We will see a marked difference in the tonality of communication. 'Impress' will give way to 'Influence' and 'logic' will trump (pun intended) 'sentiment'. 2017 might be a year of great debates!

This year is going to be interesting. Trust me on that one!

-Suggestions/Critiques welcome.
Madhur
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