Delivering On The New Silk Road Initiative Amidst Regional Political Rivalries

By Mansoor Saadat
April 16, 2017

 The end of 2014 brought Afghanistan to a crossroad, as the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) withdraw their combat forces from Afghanistan. The presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan played a significant role in its economy that plummet with the sudden decline of military spending. In 2011, the United States government adopted the New Silk Road initiative which aims at developing Afghanistan’s economy by developing energy, trade and infrastructure projects. It aims to improve regional trade between Central and South Asia – through the Afghanistan land-bridge – and thus allow for greater economic integration, peace and prosperity in the Afghan region.

This initiative is a unique opportunity for promoting regional peace and prosperity through economic cooperation. However, among a diverse set of challenges, unresolved political tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, in particular, vis-à-vis India, remains one major obstacle that can delay the realisation of this initiative. Given the urgency for an economic alternative in the face of the withdrawal of foreign troops and reduced international aid for Afghanistan, regional political cooperation is more pressing. Therefore, in order to ensure timely delivery on the New Silk Road initiative in Afghanistan, the U.S. will need to provide greater incentives and confidence building measures for improving the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) relations. Hence, the core question of this research in Washington will be: 

What are achievable policy options that the U.S. government can undertake to improve AfPak relations in a way that serves the timely realization of the New Silk Road initiative? 


1. AfPak relations: Why a significant challenge?  

 Under the New Silk Road initiative, one objective is to overcome Afghanistan’s geographical isolation from its region and the rest of the world. This isolation was and still is the main cause of Afghanistan protracted poverty and underdevelopment. The neighbouring countries of Afghanistan play an important role in overcoming this isolation and in the realization of the New Silk Road initiative. The southeastern neighbour, Pakistan, is of critical significance for: a) it has enormous sway on the Afghan Taliban insurgency; and b) it geographically stands on Afghanistan’s main gateway to South Asia. The two factors are intertwined and further complicated by Pakistan-India dispute over Afghanistan. Therefore, given political tensions in the AfPak relations, Pakistan can use these two factors as leverage over Afghanistan in the realization of its regional plans, particularly the New Silk Road initiative. 

a. Pakistan: Sway on Taliban 

 Pakistan’s complex relationship with the Afghan Taliban has puzzled and challenged the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan ever since the aftermath of 9/11. The Taliban insurgency has been and still is having sanctuary in Pakistan and is growing in size, tactics and political clout, posing serious security and political challenges to the economic transition in Afghanistan. Taliban’s current political 

clout and sophisticated insurgency operations – despite a 12-year-long war against the group – is a strong indication of the level of external influence and support to Taliban insurgency. The Afghan government and the international community have continuously requested Pakistan’s support for the Afghanistan peace process. Pakistan’s influence on the Taliban insurgency and its security implication on regional economic cooperation can stall economic cooperation over Afghanistan. 

b. Pakistan: Gateway to South Asia 

 In addition to Afghanistan’s dependency on Pakistan for an end to its Taliban insurgency and insecurity, it also geographically depends on Pakistan for access to South Asia. A major corridor under the New Silk Road initiative is: the Central Asia to South Asia routes that pass through Afghanistan into Pakistan leading to India and the wider South Asia region. This corridor connects South Asia’s vast energy market to the energy riches of Central Asia, and opens the markets of Central Asia and South Asia for greater flow of goods and products in an increased trade volume. On the longer term, it allows South Asian products to reach beyond Central Asia, to the Middle East and Europe and vice versa. India has estimated that if the Afghan routes open and only 20% of western trade is sent by roads, about $100 billion worth of goods will pass through Afghanistan by 2016.

 Therefore, standing on such an important and critical route of the New Silk Road initiative, Pakistan can impede regional economic cooperation by closing or complicating its border crossing points with Afghanistan. Trade and transit has always been a political instrument for Pakistan to insert pressure on Afghanistan when needed. The Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA) have never been fully implemented. As recent as 22nd of January 2013, the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry announced that it will close all trading ties with Pakistan in protest for the release of more than three thousand containers belonging to Afghan traders, stalled in Karachi Port by Pakistani authorities for months.

c. Why would Pakistan be an obstacle? 

 Skeptics will argue that why would Pakistan delay regional economic cooperation over Afghanistan, given that it too will benefit from the cooperation? It is true that Pakistan will benefit; but regional cooperation over Afghanistan will give a greater role to other neighbours, in particular India, who is in dire need of access to central Asia. Pakistan is strategically concerned with increasing Indian presence in Afghanistan; and the development of regional trade routes with an increased Indian activity in the region can present a strategic threat to Pakistan. This is one reason, many believe, why Pakistan has been reluctant to cooperate in the fight against the Taliban. The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) oil and gas pipeline has been pending – with some progress in recent years – for more than a decade for political reasons, despite its enormous economic incentive for the countries involved. 


Why is this research necessary in the U.S. and particularly in Washington D.C.? 

 The New Silk Road initiative is at the heart of the post-withdrawal-policy of the U.S. towards not only Afghanistan but the region. This initiative is important not only for the region’s economic prosperity but also for the continuity of U.S. presence in the region. Given the intensity of regional political rivalry and economic disparity, – the region is home to both world’s booming and poorest economies – the success of the New Silk Road initiative highly depends on continued U.S. presence in the region and on its role in addressing the political challenges to it. The unresolved AfPak tensions and its complicated Indian 

 Dimension remains a major obstacle. Therefore, as this research aims to study the post 2014 U.S. role in the region, it is necessary for this research to be conducted in the United States, particularly in Washington D.C., among leading U.S. policy makers and analysts. The Rumsfeld Fellowship program presents an opportunity for this research to provide concrete results and have valued impact. It will provide interaction with relevant leading U.S. think tanks, regional experts and leading academics, and most importantly U.S. officials. In addition, conducting this research in Washington D.C. will give more credibility and accuracy to its findings and therefore increase its chances of having an impact.

 Finish the Job: Jump-Start Afghanistan’s Economy, Frederick Starr & Adib Farhadi, 2012, p.13. 

2 We Will End Trade Relations With Pakistan: ACCI, ToloNews, 2013:


Talk by Prof. Dipankar Gupta on “Space and Non-Space: Planning Cities for Citizens”

By Apoorva Rao,
Content Team Volunteer
Dr. Dipankar Gupta presented the Department of Political Science with an avant-garde linkage between geographical town planning and citizenship. He believes that town planning can enhance citizenship if it prioritises the creation of public spaces. To strengthen the linkage, he differentiated between spaces and non-spaces. Spaces consist of the area that a person feels a certain kind of belongingness to while non-spaces consist of those tracts of our post-modern life where we go in and out of to pursue our means. He pointed out how the creation of “spaces” is of utmost importance to town-planners, so much so that they’ve ended up creating cramped enclosed “spaces” that do not invoke the feeling of belongingness. He pointed out that these “ugly” areas are too unaesthetic to provide their purpose. Adding to that, he stated that the formation of accessible public ‘spaces’ will enhance citizenship as it will  provide the citizens with equal opportunity to cultivate their selves through aesthetic means. It’ll provide them with an environment they’ll identify with and which will perhaps, facilitate thoughts. It’ll help in blurring of the lines between the public and the private, between the rich and the poor solely by providing them with accessible public “space”.

Talk with Dr. Siddharth Mallavarapu on “International Relations and The Global South: Carving An Identity”

By Prachi Bhuckal,

Content Team Volunteer

The Political Science Department of Lady Shri Ram College for Women organised a guest lecture on 16th February 2017 and attempted to enhance the global political and social knowledge and sense of its student body. Dr. Siddharth Mallavarapu, Associate Professor & Chairperson the Department of International Relations at South Asian University, rendered an illuminating session on “International Relations and the Global South: Carving an Identity”. Mr. Mallavarapu holds eminent contributions in the area of International Relations, its theories, disciplinary histories and the pedagogies of International Relations in the Global South.

The session, which was timed at 11:45 a.m., began with a brief introduction of what exactly constitutes International Relations and how it stands as an Anglo-based, ethnocentric discipline. An outline of what classifies as the Global South was also discussed. Finding symmetry in analytical narratives is vital when looking at how International Relations structures an identity. “The Global South is a political category and sense of sensibilities”, according to Mr. Mallavarapu, who called for a historical check on the same.

An intellectual talk raises important questions and many such questions were put up for a better understanding of the subject matter, such as “Can we speak/think of something called ‘Global Justice’?”, “What are the notions of inferiority in this scenario/context?”, “How vital is the decolonisation of the mind?” and many more. The area of diversity, which stands vital in the present-day global view, was also talked about. Mr. Mallavarapu subtly explained how Third World approaches to International Law can contribute in decolonizing International Relations, its virtues and shortcomings.

Many other important topics were also highlighted, such as Imperialism, Theory of International Politics, White World Order, Black Work Politics, Inventions of IR and much more. Altogether, the talk proved to be of immense importance and effect. The leaders of the future took a mind-oriented step forward in hopes of deconstructing the challenging notions and issues that concern International Relations. The Department along with its present study body appeared to be content with the opportunity thus provided to them as the session ended around 1:30 p.m.


Talk by Mr. Indra Sekhar Singh on ‘Conquest of Nature and Eco Feminism’

By Zohra Abdullah
Sub-Editor and Content Team Head

On 9 January 2017, the Department of Political Science of Lady Shri Ram College for Women organised a talk by activist and environmentalist, Mr. Indra Shekhar Singh. Nature and culture come together to form the synthesis of ecofeminism, a much needed concept and movement in today’s culture of conspicuous consumption.

Talk with Ms. Amrita Banerjee on ‘Civil Services As A Career and Indian Foreign Policy’

By Pranati Haldia,
Content Team Volunteer

On 25th January, a Guest Lecture and Interactive Session was conducted by the Political Science Department, wherein Ms Amrita Banerjee was invited to talk about ‘Civil Services as a Career and Indian Foreign Policy.’ A large section of the student population in our college aspires to clear the Civil Examination, and the talk managed to attract many such aspirants. Ms Banerjee motivated the students and gave instances from her own life to help them understand the challenges one might face in this journey. She also gave tips on how to not feel dejected and give up due to the difficult circumstances that might arise. She talked about the emotional trauma she had undergone during her preparation and how her parents had unrelentingly supported her during that time.

She emphasized on the duties of a civil servant and explained how the Indian Foreign Service functioned effectively as a ‘clean service’ without getting maligned by corruption. Ms Banerjee then gave some valuable advice regarding how one should prepare for the Civil Examination and covered every important aspect that one should keep in mind- from the number of papers that one might appear for to the selection of the optional paper for Mains. She talked about how elated she felt when she got to represent India in different countries. Ms Banerjee’s style of talking managed  to strike a relatable chord with the audience and left a lasting impression upon them.

Panel Discussion on The US Elections- Impact on The States and The Globe

By Zohra Abdullah
Sub-Editor and Content Team Head

The Political Science Department of Lady Shri Ram College for Women organised a Panel Discussion on the US elections on 6 October, 2016, exploring its impact on the rest of the world. The panellists included Dr. Craig Dicker, a diplomat from the United States and Professor Chintamani Mahapatra from Jawaharlal Nehru University. It was moderated by Dr. Rina Kashyap from the Political Science Department of Lady Shri Ram College for Women.

Dr. Dicker elaborated on the changing nature of elections in the United States. Since the Obama campaign, fundraising has shifted from large contributions from a small number of people to small contributions from the large mass of people. This has been possible through the use of the internet. He also shed light on the extreme right, an emerging ideology that is gaining popular acceptance at a disturbing rate.

Prof. Mahapatra spoke about India’s stake in the election. To put it simply, it does not matter. The United States will follow its Foreign Policy as it has done for years. It is for other countries to adjust their own policies accordingly.

Dr. Kashyap steered the discussion effectively and the audience had intriguing questions, particularly about how women of colour might be affected in Trump’s America. The discussion was ended on a positive note and we hope to have more such sessions. 

Talk by Mr. Verma on The Contours of National Security Policy and The Role of Intelligence

By Zohra Abdullah
Sub Editor and Content Team Head
29 September 2016

The Political Science Department of Lady Shri Ram College for Women had the pleasure of the company of Mr. K.C. Verma, former Director of the Research and Analysis Wing at Raw. Despite the secrecy involved in his line of work, Mr. Verma was able to give us a peak into the world of security, one where women have often felt excluded. He spoke about National Security in terms of the ability to pursue policies independent of domestic and external pressures and influences.

He also spoke about the geopolitical realities of India which is topped by new and emerging challenges such as cyber crime which is now being used for organised crime.

Therefore, the talk brought to light the role of intelligence in ensuring national security and securing India’s power relations with its neighbours.

Talk By Gopal Guru on Humiliation

By Srishti Gupta,
Content Team Volunteer

“OH, HUMILIATION IS POISONOUS. IT’S ONE OF THE DEEPEST PAINS OF BEING HUMAN  “                                                 Pierce Brosnan

This quote explains important it is to understand humiliation when it is so intrinsic to human life . Anything which is so intrinsic to human life is definitely associated to politics. Therefore, keeping in mind the same, The Political Science Department organised a guest lecture by eminent professor Gopal Guru on ‘Understanding Humiliation’.
Prof.Guru drew our attention to how complex the concept of humiliation is, which can manifest in numerous forms, contexts and discourses. He also emphasized that we do need to make humiliation an object of academic inquiry. He explained how humiliation rests at the heart of the major problems of modern Indian life: the tension between private and public, national and the local etc. This makes understanding humiliation even more imperative.
He built a pyramid of contestation by describing how various  modern philosophers and authors like Bhiku Parekh and Ashish Nandy’s approach this concept of humiliation. Prof. Guru threw light over how Parekh by describing 11 scenario of humiliation occurring at different levels of social life, whereas Nandy argued that humiliation is a relationship which is realised only when both the humiliator and humiliated understand and accept their relative positions.
Prof. Guru added that this relationship becomes even more complex with the entry of a 3rd party. He even shed some light on Dalit humiliation and how it was justified from the view point of the hegemonic Brahman discourse.
He posed the thought-provoking question to the audience, “how does it become possible for a humiliator to humiliate?” In response to this, he explained that it is the structure which allows them to do so. There has been a hierarchy of humiliation, it never begins in a day and has been constant and ongoing since generations, whether it is visible or not.
Therefore  he asks us to interrogate the structure which allows this and question if  it is possible to change these humiliating structures. Therefore Prof. Guru succeeded in showing us the danger of taking humiliation for granted and inspired us to build up courage to understand and question humiliation.

Parliament Monsoon Session


By Yashi Koushle
Content Team Volunteer

The Parliament is the supreme legislative body of India. It is a part of India’s identity. All the laws are made, amended and discussed here. The Department of Political Science of Lady Shri Ram College For Women organised a trip for the students of the department to get a look into the inner workings of the Parliament.

The trips were scheduled in August 2016 for students of the Department. The student body was headed by faculty members and the Heads of Political Science Association.
The entry to the Parliament has rules and regulations. Firstly, the entry is permitted by a pass , which was organised by the Political Science Association. Entry without the pass is denied. Secondly, all the students were asked to carry a valid ID proof. Thirdly, nothing other than the ID proof is allowed. All the bags and cellphones were deposited in the deposit counter. Fourthly, the security check is compulsory. These rules should be kept in mind by anyone wanting to visit the parliament.
There are two Houses of Parliament i.e. Upper House or the Rajya Sabha and Lower House or the Lok Sabha. The session attended by the students was of the Lok Sabha. The session was from 04:00 p.m. to 05:00 p.m. The speaker of the session was Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan. Other renowned personalities present in the session were Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister of India and Mulayam Singh Yadav, Member of Parliament. The ongoing debate in the parliament was about the Good and Service Tax Bill (GST BILL). GST is a uniform indirect tax levied on goods and services across a country. Many developed nations tax manufacturing, sales and consumption using a single, comprehensive tax. Central Taxes GST would replace Central Excise Duty, Service Tax, Additional Duties of Excise & Customs, Special Additional Duty of Customs, and cess charges and surcharges on supply of goods and services.
The one hour session attended by students was very insightful to all the students. The information gathered by students gave was helpful in both theoretical and practical terms.
Thus, the trip was an educational success. The department looks forwards to more such visits.

The Comfort Women Agreement and The Fate of Japan- Korea Relations

By Zohra Abdullah

The comfort women issue has been the defining point of Japan-ROK relations since the 1990s. Cooperation on many issues, including regional security, tackling the threat from North Korea trade ties and improving people to people relations between the two countries, has been hindered due to the persistence of the issue. This, along with domestic political pressures from within both the countries has encouraged South Korean President Park Gyun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to come up with a final and irreversible agreement, which was signed on December 28, 2015.

During World War II, several women and girls in Japanese occupied territory were allegedly forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army. They were called “comfort women” and were abducted or lured with false job prospects, often at a very young age. In 1965, Japan and South Korea normalized relations through a Treaty of Basic Relations. This treaty relieves Japan of all legal responsibility but does not address the comfort women issue.

In 1993, it was a Japanese scholar who uncovered official documents indicating the military’s role in setting up comfort stations and forcibly recruiting women. On the other hand, the Japanese people still perceive themselves as victims of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and seek an apology from the US which is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Civil society groups in South Korea have been hosting weekly protests in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul since 1992. A bronze statue dedicated to the former comfort women was placed in front of the Japanese Embassy in 2011. This statue has symbolic significance for all victims of WWII. According to the December 28, 2015 agreement signed by the two countries, the Korean government has agreed to negotiate with the civil groups who have set up the statue, but the Japanese government has since eased their stance, perhaps not wanting to potentially disrupt the smooth implementation of the agreement.

The comfort women issue has been underplayed in Japanese textbooks while it invokes strong nationalist sentiments in South Korea, leading to a perception gap in public understanding. Due to this, Koreans do not understand why Japanese people don’t feel greater remorse and Japanese people do not understand why Koreans are not willing to put the issue to rest.

Responses to the agreement


Korean opposition to the agreement has focused on Japan’s refusal to accept legal responsibility. For the Japanese government, all WWII related claims were settled in 1965 when Japan and South Korea normalized relations. Japanese leaders have previously apologized on several occasions, none of which were considered adequate by South Korea. This has led to “apology fatigue” even among those with a more liberal understanding of the issue.

Abe and the post-war generation sentiment

With an aim to free future generations from the burden of having to continue to apologize, Abe’s statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII on August 15, 2015 was carefully worded to express remorse and regret but for his critics, fell short of an apology. He represents a popular sentiment among post war generations in Japan who acknowledge that they must learn from the lessons of past history but do not feel that they have to assume permanent responsibility for the actions of the Japanese military before they were even born. Abe’s objective has been to relieve Japan of an obligation to repeatedly apologize for its past, but his rhetoric has failed to convince critics of his sincerity when it comes to apologising for Japan’s war crimes. Despite Abe’s attempts to settle the issue, Japan remains under public pressure in Korea and China to not only acknowledge past misdeeds of Imperial Japan but to also accept legal responsibility for it. The latter outcome is unlike to materialise, so the issue will continue to stay alive.


Meanwhile in South Korea, the rise of a feminist movement has brought this issue into focus. Several of the former “comfort women” have come forward to share their accounts. Most of these women are in their late 80s, which means time is another factor in the resolution of the issue. However, most of these women have rejected the agreement, claiming it does not provide adequate justice. They had previously rejected the aid provided to them by the Asian Women’s Fund, criticizing the Japanese government for not providing the money directly and instead funding the organization through private donations. They have criticized the December 28, 2015 agreement for failing to provide monetary compensation as well as an unequivocal apology.

International Response

Internationally, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is from South Korea, has praised the agreement. The United States has also appreciated the agreement. However, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Hussein, has echoed the thoughts of many, criticising the agreement for not including the Comfort Women in the negotiation process.

Motivations behind the agreement

Gender and National Identities

Comfort women hailed from many countries, not just from Korea. If this was truly about justice for comfort women, the agreement would transcend nationalities. It is without doubt a politically motivated agreement aiming to settle the comfort woman issue between Korea and Japan so that cooperation on other issues is not disrupted. Even the opposition to the agreement is from within the narrow interests of only the Korean comfort women.

For South Korea, the comfort women issue is a matter of national pride. Historically, women and children are the most vulnerable in any armed conflict. The issue here is greater than the experience of South Korean comfort women under Japanese military rule. It cannot be expected to be resolved through a bilateral agreement between the two countries alone. South Korea also does not have any legal claims over Japan on this issue. Given Japan’s reluctance in revisiting the past, this agreement is the farthest Japan will go to appease the Korean public.

Geopolitical Situation in East Asia: Why Japan and Korea need to cooperate

As long as Japan-South Korea relations remain strained, China’s growing assertion in the East Asia region remains unchallenged. The growing military strength behind these adversarial countries makes it a volatile situation. Strained relations between the two leading democracies of East Asia would have consequences for the Unites States as well. As the United States’ leading allies in the the region, South Korea and Japan’s cooperation in the region is imperative for the US to protect its security interests. North Korea’s testing of nuclear weapons poses another threat that needs trilateral cooperation.

Reversing the irreversible

The December 28, 2015 agreement was declared “final and irreversible”. However, that does not guarantee that the agreement will be permanent. The actual implementation of the agreement is set to take place in July 2016 and is at the risk of falling apart due to public pressure. If the agreement fails to be implemented, it is unlikely that Japan will offer yet another apology.

It is, therefore, imperative for all parties that this agreement goes through. The leaderships of the two countries are optimistic and are proceeding with formalities despite these pressures. It is unlikely that the issue will cease in public debate but it is also unlikely that the leadership will allow this pressure to impede the agreement either.

What the agreement has tried to achieve is improving diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea. While both leaders have domestic political motivations other than justice for the comfort women, it is important to not let this take away from the effectiveness of the agreement in delivering justice as well. The former comfort women are approaching their final years, and must be allowed adequate recognition of their suffering. Abe’s apology is being criticized for not accepting legal responsibility. Japan, however, is free from legal responsibility, having settled all war related disputes in 1965. Extending the criticism further would not only hinder diplomatic relations but also take away the last hope for any redressal for the comfort women as well.

For Japan, the comfort women are victims of history and Imperial Japan, not of modern day pacifist Japan. Japan itself has renounced war in its constitution and has been looking to play a more important role in contributing to promoting peace internationally, such as by contributing to UN peacekeeping forces. This vision of Japan contrasts with its past as an aggressive expansionist imperial power. For Japan to successfully balance the responsibility of its past with its vision of the future, it must continue to engage other countries which still hold it accountable through gestures of reconciliation, such as the December 28, 2015 agreement.