US’s Navy Fleet’s Incursion in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)
Early this month, US Navy’s Seventh Fleet conducted a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in India’s EEZ, raising many diplomatic and public eyebrows. The operation was conducted 130 nautical miles west of Lakshadweep Islands. A subsequent statement by the Fleet said that they had asserted ‘navigational rights’ in India’s EEZ without intimating India, in order to uphold the international maritime law. The statement ended with the assertion that such navigational operations are ‘not about one country, and neither are they about making any political statements.’
The FONOP has elicited predictable outrage from sections of Indian public, forcing India to issue a statement asserting the application of Indian laws within India’s maritime EEZ. In turn, the US defended its actions. However, to keep the matter from escalating, the US issued a final reconciliatory statement.
To put the entire episode in perspective, while such FONOPs are extremely common in the age of rising maritime competition, the US has never issued a separate (and a particularly jarring and abrupt) statement emphasizing on a regular naval operation. In the past, US has crossed EEZs of its allies and of countries like China. However, the standalone statement issued on this operation – coming within days of a highly successful QUAD summit – has led to a diplomatic flutter.
From US’s perspective, the US Navy has a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in place since December 2020. Subsequent to this SOP, it has issued nine statements challenging maritime claims of allies and adversaries of Russia, Japan, China, Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Maldives and India.
However, in these statements the wording that the fleet did not seek ‘prior consent or permission’ from the country figures only in case of India, China, Maldives and Sri Lanka. That this abrupt paraphrasing is missing from statements of allies like Japan and others has caused much consternation in India.
Claims and counter-claims:
India ratified the United Nations Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) in 1994. However, the US has not ratified the same. Neither does the UNCLOS authorize any country to enforce the law. Therefore, US’s FONOPSs amount to US arrogating to itself this role of an international monitor.
In 1945, the US had declared its sovereign jurisdiction over all natural resources on the nation’s continental shelf. This led to other nations also doing the same, with many extending their claims to 200 miles. Laborious negotiations took place between developed and developing countries under the aegis of UN. Under the subsequent UNCLOS treaty, three things were assured:
- 12-mile limit on territorial sea
- 24-mile contiguous zone
- An ‘Exclusive Economic Zone’ (EEZ) extending up to 200 miles within which the state would have sovereign right over natural resources.
US refused to ratify UNCLOS, as it stated that the seabed beyond national jurisdiction limits was the ‘common heritage of mankind’ and did not belong to any country.
The unique EEZ was neither part of high seas nor proper territorial waters. The UNCLOS never resolved issues related to EEZ, with security implications, and much of it depends on interpretation. While India ratified the UNCLOS, it also laid down some simultaneous caveats that subjected India’s EEZ to its own domestic laws. While India’s applicability of domestic laws to waters beyond its territorial jurisdiction maybe subjective, the US’s arrogating to itself the role of an enforcer of a law that it itself has not ratified has also not gone down well in Indian circles.
UNCLOS is just another example of the toothless nature of much of international laws and frameworks. Subjective as their nature and interpretation is, they simply become an instrument for the powerful party to wield their authority. It explains China’s increasing maritime assertiveness and disdain for international law, as also US’s arrogant stepping over allies. The same logic justifies India’s maritime claims as well.
Tribal Council Polls in Tripura
Autonomous District Council (ADC) elections were held in Tripura and results announced. These were significant elections, as the Tripura ADC covers nearly 70% of the state’s geographical area and houses 1/3rd of the state’s population from 19 tribal communities. They were widely seen as a referendum on the BJP’s performance.
All three major parties – BJP, CPM and Congress – performed badly, while a newly formed coalition of tribal parties led by royal scion PradyotDebbarman registered a landslide. The alliance was called Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) and it won 18 out of 28 seats. An independent won 1 seat.
BJP won 9 seats, after having contested 11 seats. BJP’s alliance partner, Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), was reduced to zero. CPI (M) was reduced to zero, as was Congress.
Naxal Attack in Chhattisgarh
Early this month, 22 security personnel were killed in an ambush by Naxalites at Sukma-Bijapur border in Chhattisgarh. 9 Naxalites were also killed. The area lies in South Bastar forests. The advance anti-Maoist operation planned by security forces went astray. The operation was planned to get Hidma – a major Maoist leader on the radar of forces since a long time, in addition to 60-70 Maoists, based on an input about their location. The input was clearly a well-planned trap, and the forces came under immediate attack as soon as they started the combing operations.
They were cornered by 300 Maoists, including men and women from a local tribal militia. A captured member of the security forces was later released by the Naxalites. The central government has deployed NIA and other anti-terror agencies to investigate the ambush.
(What about Govt. of India’s response to above attack??)
The ambush has brought to fore the fact that the waning Naxalite problem has gained strength once again. In the southern India, the jungles between Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are also facing a renewed Maoist challenge, which the government of Kerala has dealt with a heavy hand and controlled to a great extent.
India and the World: US Exit from Afghanistan
Much like in many other areas, in the case of Afghanistan, the Biden administration has signaled continuity with Trump’s policies. The US has decided to withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. This leaves Afghanistan at the complete mercy of Taliban, with clear certainty that Taliban will rule once again in the country. Unlike Trump’s deal with Taliban which made US withdrawal conditional upon intra-Afghan talks and a commitment from Taliban to not shelter any terrorist group on Afghan soil, Biden’s plan has no strings attached. This failure is clearly a victory of Taliban and has made them even more aggressive and violent.
Biden’s failed withdrawal plan has thrown the Afghan government under the bus, as Taliban has no incentive to be a part of any intra-Afghan dialogue. It is surprising that the administration rejected the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken’s robust package which included a ceasefire, UN-led talks involving all stakeholders including India, intra-Afghan talks hosted by Turkey for an “inclusive interim government”, and an agreement on foundational principles of a future political regime in Afghanistan. This package would have certainly constrained the Taliban. Its rejection and the no-strings attached deal given to Taliban has significant regional implications.
First, Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan looks imminent. Currently, Taliban holds 19% of the territory, while Afghan government holds 32%. The rest is contested. That Taliban are at their strongest now since 2001 indicates that it will take them little time to invade the whole country.
Second, a Taliban government in Afghanistan not only means the country will lose whatever progress it has made in 15 years, but also a friendly regime for Pakistan and a hostile one for India.
Third, the negative side for Pakistan is that in the event of civil war, the flow of refugees into Pakistan cannot be ruled out, creating a serious problem for an already stretched Pakistan. It is also noteworthy that Taliban is not a homogenous entity anymore, and sees itself as independent from Pakistan.
Fourth, for India, it is predictably negative. India not only faces a threat from Taliban, but also possibility of strengthening of other regional anti-India terror groups like Haqqani Network, JeM, LeT etc. Securing Kashmir through revocation of Article 370 certainly provides India a relief and an advantage in this regard.
Other than India, all other stakeholders – China, Iran, and Russia – have actively engaged with the Taliban. China has done so to protect its economic interests in the region and to insulate Xinjiang Uighur Muslim region from Taliban’s notoriety. Iran has engaged Taliban, as it perceives an active security threat from the Sunni outfit. Russia simply wants to meddle, secure economic advantages and occupy US’s place in the region, which is why it is actively engaging with both the Taliban and the Pakistan.