The Filter

Throwback to the 1980s

We dig out the best links on the internet so you don’t have to.

You have just found some shiny-looking pill from your wild child days. You chew it because- well, what else do you do?

Now, you’re in the 1980s. This trip is stuff that the Beatles would have been proud of. Robots have already started integrating themselves into life, people are constantly in touch with each other and the music isn’t as good but still, this hallucination is filled with magic.

Somethings don’t change though. You look around and realise that there is some secret deal with China and North Korea and the Americans still haven’t figured it out. Something’s also happening with Pakistan but you have no clue.

You come back to 2018 reluctantly. The week is filled with stories about Aadhar and some ball-tampering, crying cricketer. But when you turn to foreign policy, the stories have a distinctly 1980s vibe about them.

The news is filled with reports about the trade war between the US and China. The continued bullying by a powerful cowboy works in international trade because it is not based on any cooperative arrangement. Perhaps this sabre-rattling by the US is a result of the underlying tensions caused by China’s rise more than anything else. The former Indian ambassador to the United States argues that US and the West have still not figure out how to respond to China’s rise. At Pragati, Lt Gen (Retd) Prakash Menon says that much of what China is doing is optical illusion and that we should not buy into it.

Another event symptomatic of the Cold War era is the fear of mutually assured destruction. After a tension-filled year in the Korean peninsula, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are meeting in May. The most positive scenario might be normalization of relations between Washington and Pyongyang. But then, Kim visited Beijing for a secret trip which means that he has the backing of the Chinese (does this remind anyone else of the Korean War?). North Korea could be playing China against the US and get the best bargain for itself in the process.

Closer to home, the Tashkent conference involving leaders from the UN, major powers is happening this week and India is trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. On the Pakistan front, it remains unclear whether US President Donald Trump’s administration is willing to squeeze it financially in a way that could help reform its behaviour. Between India and Pakistan, there has been much criticism about the harassment of diplomats, disruption of utilities and petty neighbourhood issues. Happymon Jacob suggests that it’s time for both countries to try to build channels of communication that work.

In Nepal, leaders cutting across party lines denounced recommendations made by the EU election observers team, as “meddling”.  Similarly, Sri Lanka’s recent emergency shows us that democratic transition is not smooth-sailing for countries in the Indian sub-continent. Another important piece of news, was the distancing of the Indian government from a Tibetan thanksgiving event. All of this goes back what is being labeled ‘a diplomatic reset’ in our foreign policy towards China. While Rajmohan Gandhi says that this is an indication of ‘fallen times,’ Suhasini Haider argues that we need to stop looking at the Tibetan population as a strategic tool.

The idea that India holds the “Tibet card” is out of step with all the shifts on the ground, and the government needs a proactive policy that takes into account these new realities. There is an urgent need for community outreach, surveys and a referendum, if necessary, to map what the Tibetan community in India wants in its future. For those who want to make India a permanent home, especially those in the new generation, India must reconsider its citizenship laws. Above all, the Indian foreign policy establishment needs to stop seeing the Tibetan population in India as a strategic tool.

What will a diplomatic reset mean for India? What are the issues on which we’re ready to negotiate and what will we hold our ground on? We’re scratching our heads trying to figure out the answers to the macro-level questions. Which leads me to wondering: were the 1980s better?

Some of these links were collated by Adya Kadambari, an intern at The Takshashila Institution.

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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.