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On Thursday, We Celebrated Women

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International Women’s Day was yesterday. Social Media was filled with photos of strong women. The streets were pink and gold. Ladies Nights were in full force and martinis cost twice as much. Every gym seemed to be giving me discounts. In one friend’s office, every woman got a bouquet of roses. Another firm took all its women out to a gourmet lunch and got them royally hammered for their 3pm meetings. The Bangalore Metro wished all women “a Happy Women’s Day” in English and Kannada through the entire day. All of this made me want to celebrate women’s day.

Yes, I know that a day celebrating anything is a token, the bones thrown for the underdog, a Hallmark conspiracy.  I would also like everyday to be women’s day. I would like to get roses and smiles from the world every morning. But we do not live in that world. We live in a world of semen-filled balloons, and men masturbating at you on the train. We live in a world where all Iranian women were forced to wear the hijab if they were above the age of nine, on this very day. Nirupama Rao puts forth three things she believes are critical to ensuring that women have significantly enhanced agency on international platforms: voice, amplification and service conditions. She wondered if there was place for feminism in diplomacy and policymaking. She said,

The question, however, still remains on whether women bring a purely feminine-oriented perspective to the conduct of public policy. The issue would be different if the number of women in public policy decision-making was to substantially increase and if women are no longer in a minority. That becomes the inflection point for greater confidence and assertiveness in speaking out or leaning in, in a manner that is incorporative of concerns about the impact of decisions taken on gender equality.

We cannot put women on a pedestal and ignore them every other day. But we do. This week, for example, we continued to lament our attitudes towards our neighbours. The Army Chief’s recent statements on Bangladesh gives the impression that Bangladesh a willing player in the game devised by Pakistan and China. Statements like these could end up alienating our neighbours. Kunal Singh points out the structural factors behind China’s rise in the Indian subcontinent and how India can address them. More and more countries are enticed by China’s alternative development model, and only India can act as a bulwark against Chinese expansionism.

Sudheendra Kulkarni says that the first step could be by working with China and Pakistan on CPEC. Another way is for India could take a leaf out of ASEAN’s book in dealing with its neighbourhood.

Last week, the Chinese version of a parliament called the National People’s Congress began its sessions. A proposal to remove limits on the term of a President was announced. This could mean that current Chinese President, Xi Jinping can possibly stay in power for as long as he wants to. Mihir Sharma argues that that Xi’s ascension to Chinese throne is risky for the Chinese state and citizens:

There was a degree of meritocracy, subject of course to strict political control. This system has been systematically undermined by Xi since he took power; he has just taken the final obvious step. It is possible that we will date the end of Communist China’s golden age from this week.

Pankaj Mishra says that commentators should not be shocked by this development in China, as blaming ‘their historical amnesia’ in hoping to socialise China. In undoing all the measure taken by Deng Xiaoping to ensure China’s growth, Xi Jinping has started to wind up the glorious period of China’s rise.

In Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani offered unconditional talks with the Taliban and this is a U-turn on his earlier position. C. Raja Mohan comments that that this could be the slippery slope towards surrender:

There is no question that this is the most generous peace offer ever made by Kabul. That in itself is an acknowledgement of the Taliban’s renewed relevance for the political future of Afghanistan. Until now, Kabul was arguing that any integration of the Taliban would be on its terms. By offering unconditional talks, Kabul may be suggesting that the political structure set up after the Taliban was ousted from power at the end of 2001 is now up for renegotiation.

However, irrespective of Ghani’s outreach, the Taliban has not responded and Mohammed Taqi questions if this approach which has failed in the past will work this time around.

The Vietnamese President had visited India last week and signed three agreements. The interesting part was when he spoke of the South China Sea dispute as a cause for concern, proving a divisive factor within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). President Tran further emphasised on the importance of India playing a more significant role in Southeast Asia with particular regard to peace and security in the region, especially if ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’ aspirations were to be realised.

As part of a joint declaration – in one of the three agreements signed during this visit – with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a key statement read as follows: India and Vietnam supported the “full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and look forward to an early conclusion of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea”.

This may come to pass sooner than later as ASEAN and China are planning joint military drills in the region and possibly renegotiating the 2012 Code of Conduct.

French President Emmanuel Macron will be visiting India next and emphasis will move from Vietnam to France. We should remember that India and France shared strong ties through the Cold War in defence trade. It will be interesting to see what Macron has to say as he has just finished a visit to China where he spoke of a more inclusive Belt and Road Initiative. Abhijit Singh points out that India and France could kickstart a more robust maritime relationship in the Indo-Pacific region.

While all of this is going on, a British Court is adjudicating on release of Operation Blue Star documents. A journalist under the the British version of the RTI asked for Britain to release any documents relating to its interest in Operation Blue Star. When he was denied on the basis of security interests, he moved to the British High Court. It will be interesting to see how this turns out and the position of the Indian Government.

Apparently, the details of the Indo-Seychelles Agreement on Assumption Island were leaked online. The 2018 Agreement differed in modalities from the earlier agreement signed in 2015 and even resulted in protests in Seychelles about unfair terms impinging on its sovereignty. Despite the leak and the protests, the Seychelles Government seems keen on ratifying the document and trying to allay the fears of the public.

That’s basically it for the week. I’ll leave you with Frances McDormand’s Oscar Speech, if you haven’t seen it already:

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About the author

Hamsini Hariharan

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Associate with Takshashila's Geostrategy Programme. She is also the Assistant Editor at Pragati, and one of the hosts of the Pragati Podcast. Her research interests include Chinese foreign policy, Asian geopolitics, and India's worldview.