We're Live Bangla Wednesday, October 27, 2021

How the Quad Surged Back From Irrelevance

Screenshot 2021-09-24 100515

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief.

The highlights this week: Washington hosts the first in-person Quad leaders’ summit, India announces it will resume COVID-19 vaccine exports, and the troubling plight of Sri Lankan refugees in India.

 The group has seen significant momentum in the last year. The Quad navies held a military exercise in the Indian Ocean last November. In March, the group virtually held its first-ever leaders meeting, resulting in a COVID-19 vaccine production agreement. The AUKUS partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States should give the Quad an additional boost.On Friday, the leaders of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States will convene at the White House for the first-ever in-person meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, better known as the Quad. According to a Biden administration press call, the top agenda points will be the coronavirus pandemic, emerging technologies, and climate change.

That the Quad is now flying high is a dramatic turnaround for an entity that spent nearly two decades in irrelevance. The Quad countries first cooperated as the “Core Group” on the humanitarian response to an Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, but met formally just once, in 2007. Members were hesitant to commit to an initiative they feared could antagonize China.

perfect storm catapulted the Quad back to relevance in 2017, when it held its first meeting in a decade. Building on the efforts of the previous White House, the Trump administration was intent on rebalancing Asia. Then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was a strong proponent of cooperation: Back in 2007, it was Abe who first articulated the principle of a “free and open” Asia that would eventually form the basis of the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy.

Additionally, China’s foreign policy had become more muscular. Chinese surveillance and assertions of territorial claims were increasingly aggressive, especially in the South China Sea. Today, all four Quad members’ relations with Beijing have become ice cold. They no longer worry about antagonizing China, and instead are motivated to counterbalance its power in the region.

There is little reason to believe that AUKUS, which entails Britain and the United States helping Australia develop nuclear-powered submarines, will undermine the Quad. AUKUS is a security pact for three close allies. By contrast, the Quad has become a non-security grouping. Aside from joint military exercises, there is no formal security dimension to the group.

The fact that the Quad has evolved away from security is an advantage for India, which eschews security alliances and seeks to focus its foreign policy around efforts to tackle shared global threats, especially those that impact the developing world. It views itself as a rising power and wants to work within multilateral grouping that allow it to play to its strengths and pursue its interests.

Climate change, cybersecurity threats, and pandemics—the Quad’s top priorities—are the type of shared global threats India seeks to address in multilateral settings.

Ultimately, AUKUS benefits India’s interests. Two separate groups of powerful players will now seek to counterbalance Chinese power—one with military strategies and the other with non-security tools, including a vaccine production plan that pushes back against Beijing’s own vaccine diplomacy. At least initially, AUKUS will divert China’s attention away from the Quad.

AUKUS does present one challenge for New Delhi. It exacerbates a strategic disconnect between Washington and New Delhi. The partnership will further entrench U.S. interests in East Asia, where the United States worries about Chinese provocations and their impacts on U.S. treaty allies. India views the Indian Ocean region as its main strategic concern. Recent developments there, such as China’s new naval base in Djibouti, have brought the region more into Washington’s strategic orbit, but the United States continues to emphasize East Asia.

(The impact of AUKUS on India is further addressed in Raja Mohan’s two pieces for Foreign Policy.)

The Quad itself reflects this disconnect as well, given that its members, barring India, are Pacific powers. It will fall to Modi during his bilateral meeting with Biden (also on Friday) to emphasize the urgency of according more strategic centrality to areas closer to India’s neighborhood—which in recent years have witnessed increasing numbers of Chinese provocations, including a deadly border clash with Indian forces in the Ladakh region last year.

For all the talk of growing non-security cooperation within the Quad, the threat posed by China continues to be the core driver of U.S.-India partnership. And it will figure prominently in Modi’s meetings while he’s in the United States.


India to resume vaccine exports. Indian Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya announced on Monday that New Delhi will resume COVID-19 vaccine exports next month. The government suspended exports in April, when a devastating COVID-19 wave forced it to prioritize domestic demand. Mandaviya said his government aims to produce more than 300 million shots in October and that, after domestic distribution, India’s neighbors will be the top-priority customers of surplus supplise, at least initially. Bangladesh will be one of the first destinations.

Under ordinary circumstances, India produces the lion’s share of the world’s vaccines. In January, when the pandemic appeared to be waning in India, New Delhi rolled out a mass export initiative and shipped about 65 million doses abroad before suspending the program, leaving countries in the lurch. China capitalized on the suspension, ramping up its own vaccine exports.

Afghan girls out of school. After the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last month, they instructed students to stay home. Last Friday, they announced boys could return to middle and high school—but said nothing about girls. The Taliban have subsequently said girls would eventually be allowed to return, but they gave no timeframe, citing safety as an issue.

The previous Taliban regime in the 1990s did not allow girls to attend school and also cited security risks for the policy. The current regime’s claims that it will permit girls’ education have been meet with skepticism. Whether the Taliban actually allows girls to go back to school will be an early litmus test of their intentions as a government, and a strong indication of whether their views on women’s rights have changed at all.

Terror threats scuttle cricket matches. The New Zealand and England cricket teams canceled planned matches in Pakistan this week, citing security risks. New Zealand’s announcement came just before the start of a match in Rawalpindi on Saturday, while the England Cricket Board announced it won’t send its men’s or women’s teams to Pakistan next month.

Visits to Pakistan by foreign cricket squads have been relatively rare since 2009, when terrorists targeted the Sri Lankan team in the capital, Lahore. (Sri Lanka’s return to Pakistan in 2019 marked the end of a decade-long absence of international cricket in the country.) Pakistan has largely responded to the 2021 cancelations with criticism, and some British cricketers and commentators have denounced the decision as well.

Some critics, including Pakistani government ministers, accuse India of aiding the dissemination of fake terror threats. Amid an upsurge in terror attacks in Pakistan in recent days, New Zealand and the United Kingdom were likely just trying to keep people safe. But that’s no consolation for Pakistan, a cricket-crazed country with a troubled image that’s now taken another hit.


This week, Al Jazeera reported that 29 Sri Lankan Tamils in a special refugee camp inside a prison in southern India attempted suicide last month to protest their detention. Some of the refugees say they have remained in detention despite being cleared of charges of human trafficking and criminal conspiracy. Others say they were born in refugee camps in India and arrested after they applied for Indian passports as adults.

The refugees fear deportation to Sri Lanka. Members of the ethnic minority have fled from Sri Lanka to India since the 1980s, when Tamil separatists battled the Sri Lankan government in a brutal civil war. Some Tamil former insurgents are among the detainees at the prison in India’s Tamil Nadu state. According to Al Jazeera, an anti-terror unit of the Tamil Nadu police manages the facility.

Refugee policy is controversial in India: No Indian government has signed the U.N. Refugee Convention. Although a 2019 citizenship law expedites paths to Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from neighboring countries, the Tamil refugees’ plight shows that the new law doesn’t ensure humane treatment. Afghan Sikhs and Hindus migrating to India over the last few years have also struggled with poor living conditions.


Journalist Hajrah Mumtaz writes about Pakistan’s struggles to address deforestation in Dawn. “Better long-term solutions, including community engagement and promoting alternative fuels and building materials, have to be found,” she argues. “Otherwise … it’s going to be an agonisingly long process of one step forward, two back.”

In the BhutaneseMD Pathik Hasan, a Dhaka-based nongovernmental organization worker, reflects on Bangladesh-Bhutan ties on the 50th anniversary of formal relations. “Bhutan is not only one of our closest neighbors, but it has a special place among the friends of Bangladesh,” he writes. “Bhutan was the first country to recognize Bangladesh during the war of liberation.”

In the Dhaka TribuneAsh Rahman, an aviation and defense expert, lays out why Bangladesh should acquire the Italy-produced Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft to strengthen the country’s air force. “Yes, the aircraft once purchased … might be the most expensive piece of military hardware in the entire armed forces—but every bit of it is worth it,” he writes.

That’s it for this week.