Trigs on Track-Diplomacy Unwound – The QUADIZATION of the Indo- Pacific

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By Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO, USA: For a decade between 2007-17, the QUAD was borne out of the devastating 2004 Tsunami, became dormant as constituent countries including Australia, Japan, and India, and even the USA thought it politically expedient not to call out the Chinese aggression, expansionism, and wolf warrior jingoistic diplomacy. Until the 2020 Foreign Ministers meeting many countries would hesitate to refer to it as a QUAD and the members except the US under Trump went to great pains to decry the insinuations that it had anything to do with China. Beijing, even if concerned about its lethal potential, dismissed it as a froth in the ocean. But in the international domain, blatant powers generate reaction and a consequent Newtonian neutralizing outfit. The pandemic, with credible allegations about its origin, simply triggered a chain reaction as all global economies, including the ones in the twin ocean maritime geographies of the Indo- Pacific, suffered the debilitating impact of the Covid.

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And then with the onset of the Biden Administration in the US, the first-ever Summit, even if virtual was held, on March 12, 2021. And six months later on September 24, President Biden hosted his other three counterparts at the White House for the in-person Summit where even an outcoming Japanese PM Suga participated.  It was happening in the backdrop of the ignominious exit of the US from Afghanistan and consequent doubts in its credibility as a security provider and arbiter. And the AUKUS raised bigger concerns on its reliability as a key dependable collaborator from Asia to Europe to the Americas.

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It was a major event despite the fading security narrative that QUAD is for ensuring a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FoIP) and a rule-based maritime order without mentioning the dragon even though implicitly meaning the same. Likewise, in the context of terrorism, the naming and shaming of the proven collaborators and perpetrators, and incubators of extremism and terrorism was avoided through generic references. Apparently, all of them discussed and acknowledged Pakistan’s complicity and nefarious role in sustaining and indulging in cross border terrorism, it was only Vice President Kamala Harris, during her first meeting with PM Modi, who is said to have ‘Suo moto’ mentioned it asking them to do more. US administration, after exiting from Kabul, might be introspecting on the Pakis overtly double-crossing and suspecting their role but when the Quad meeting was happening Secretary Blinken was also meeting his Pakistani counterpart, and readout was muted. Even in his UNGA address, PM Modi warned the arsonists parading like firefighters (an apt phrase used during India’s right to respond after Pakistan PM’s speech ) that support and using terrorism as a ‘political tool’ will eventually consume them too.  The mixed blessing of ignorance and indirect accusation for Islamabad keeps them going in the same direction.

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In the QUAD Joint statement mention was made that the territory of Afghanistan should not be used or allowed to be used for terror against any country. This,ipso facto, continues to remain the issue in handling terrorism howsoever differently a country or a group of countries may sound. It was reiterated by the Quad leaders, that “In South Asia, we will closely coordinate our diplomatic, economic, and human-rights policies towards Afghanistan and will deepen our counter-terrorism and humanitarian cooperation in the months ahead in accordance with UNSCR 2593. We reaffirm that Afghan territory should not be used to threaten or attack any country or to shelter or train terrorists, or to plan or to finance terrorist acts, and reiterate the importance of combating terrorism in Afghanistan. We denounce the use of terrorist proxies and emphasized the importance of denying any logistical, financial or military support to terrorist groups which could be used to launch or plan terror attacks, including cross-border attacks”.

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It is also a fact that at present the Quad member countries may not have great leverage over the Taliban and its divergent constituents even if the Taliban would look for legitimacy and recognition especially from the West for which Qatar and Pakistan have batted strongly. India and the US were on the same page when they expect the Taliban to adhere to its commitments on terror, the human rights of women, children, and minorities, and respect other red lines. One wonders if the world is not overestimating the Taliban’s inherent and ideological capacity to deliver on the naivety which might subsume the legitimacy of the Islamic Emirate for its rabid adherents. Besides international community faces a major challenge between human rights and humanitarian disasters befalling over the hapless Afghans.

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Likewise, the quest for an inclusive and free, and open Indo-Pacific remains the underlining factor of QUAD’s sine qua non. Even if not mentioning China by name the message was clear when the leaders stated “We also recognize that our shared futures will be written in the Indo-Pacific, and we will redouble our efforts to ensure that the Quad is a force for regional peace, stability, security, and prosperity. Towards that end, we will continue to champion adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas. “. At a time that tests us all, our commitment to realize a free and open Indo-Pacific is firm, and our vision for this partnership remains ambitious and far-reaching. With steadfast cooperation, we rise to meet this moment, together, they further added.

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China’s obvious reaction smacked with concern with the growing and diversifying profile of the QUAD as just days before the USA launched the trilateral advanced security cooperation mechanism AUKUS in the Indo-Pacific with Australia and UK. Of course, the cancellation of the billions of dollars of Australia’s submarine deal peeved France -another Indo-Pacific power. Protesting Macron recalled his ambassadors -although later in talks with Biden some palliatives ensued. India is uniquely placed to soothe the ruffled geo-economic feathers having excellent relations with both France and Australia and has an effective trilateral with them the QUAD countries apart from their own Malabar exercises had done one with France too. No wonder Modi spoke to Macron before leaving for the US and met Morrison there twice.

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As the AUKUS has happened it has substantiated India’s argument that QUAD even if a security dialogue, was not exclusively focussing on security unless what follows is included in its domain. The concept of Security can be multi-dimensional in the prevailing global disorder where geopolitics and geoeconomics play along which might have far potent repercussions. Mostly positive for India as it will be able to develop its own global value and supply chains especially in the health care sector especially in the vaccine for the world enterprise. Quad is emerging as an alternate democratic conveyance be it in the fight against the Covid pandemic, climate change, and collaboration in space and critical technologies and rare earth or for that matter in combating terrorism or compliance by the errant with the global rules and laws on the seas. PM Modi spoke of Oceans as the common good and need to be used and not abused, and ‘expansion and exclusion’ must be avoided. Similarly QUAD is organizing the Climate effort across three thematic areas: climate ambition, clean-energy innovation and deployment, and climate adaptation, resilience, and preparedness, with the intent to pursue enhanced actions during the 2020s, contributing to the aim of achieving global net-zero emissions preferably by 2050 subject to national circumstances.

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As it was a concert of democracies Modi called the bilateral relationship with the US transformational especially during this third decade of this century. He emphatically said that democracy can deliver, and democracy has delivered, sending an unequivocal message. Democracy is in our DNA for discussion, dialogue, and discourse. Recalling the pillars of Indo-US cooperation which has turned into a Global comprehensive Strategic partnership, Modi identified 5Ts – Tradition; Talent; Technology; Trade; and Trusteeship. Both Modi and Biden recalled the need to embrace principles of Trusteeship so well laid out by Mahatma Gandhi.  Challenges are identical to be it Taliban or Terrorism; Covid or Cyberspace challenges; and Climate change or for that matter alternative quality infrastructure initiatives like B3W to counter BRI of China. Efforts are being made to enhance global cooperation to combat these challenges head-on at all the fora. But sincerity and true resolve by all nations and accountability against wilful errant and perpetrators and violators must be instituted for making these a global good and commons for the future generations.

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No dearth of challenges but this US visit was highly successful, where a confident India was at full display pitching its core strengths and potential when PM Modi effortlessly straddled across the bilaterals to quadrilateral to multilateral exchanges as he claimed the QUAD to be a force for the global good and peace in the Indo-Pacific.

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Also, Read more from this Author: Trigs on Track-Diplomacy Unwound The Power of the Purse

Curated by Alizah D Rizvi and Compiled By Humra Kidwai

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Anil Trigunayat

Anil Trigunayat is the former Ambassador of India to Jordan. Libya and Malta

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