Event ReportsPublished on Mar 05, 2014
With the aim of bringing together some of the brightest young minds working on various issues of national and international importance, Observer Research Foundation has initiated a forum called the Young Voices Policy Forum.
Young Voices Policy Forum: Detailed discussions on Indian foreign, security policies

With the aim of bringing together some of the brightest young minds working on various issues of national and international importance, Observer Research Foundation has initiated a forum called the Young Voices Policy Forum.

The inaugural conference, on March 5, focussed on foreign policy, and covered important topics through four sessions on India’s national security, India and Afghanistan, India and the US and India and cyber security.

Delivering the keynote address, Mr. Sandeep Kumar, Joint Secretary (West Asia and North Africa) in the Ministry of External Affairs, opined that the 500 million young Indians were the most promising agents of positive globalisation and must be increasingly made stakeholders in India’s external affairs policy. He believes that a seamless synergy between experience of seniority and energy of youth would propel the country forward, while ensuring continuity and stability in the process.

The first session, moderated by Mr Nandan Unnikrishnan, Vice President, ORF, focused on India’s national security imperatives and the presentations were titled "Indian Foreign Policy in a Multipolar World", "India’s Energy Security and Perceptions of Technology and their Impact on National Security".

Mr Zorawar Daulet Singh, a doctoral candidate at King’s College, London, argued that the post Cold War unipolarity of the US had given way to diffused and regionalised power dynamics, with no obvious ’second most powerful’ actor despite China’s rise. The US’ capacity and political intent of dominating geopolitics, while being the suppliers of essential commons like security for strategic investments and sea-lane navigation, had greatly diminished, leading to gradual demilitarisation of its foreign policy. Thus, emerging powers like India were being compelled to play a commensurate role in these spheres and could no more ’free ride’.

Mr Ashish Gupta, Associate Fellow, ORF, highlighted that in order to secure energy access for the entire population of India, it was necessary to build capacities. He said that for the purpose of satisfying the increasing per capita energy requirements, energy production had to be enhanced three to four times of the current operational generation and distribution capacity by 2035. Arguing that coal and fossil fuels would still play a major role by providing for more than 70% of India’s electrical energy needs, he stressed that the resources had to be mobilised.

Mr Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, Programme Coordinator, ORF, emphasised that technological aides to governance greatly empowered the politico-administrative establishment to control national and geopolitical affairs and must be incorporated positively, while using it efficiently to rein in ’tendencies of escalatory tensions’. The civilian establishment, by proactively facilitating the modernisation of military technology, and enhancing military capacities, would do well in enhancing civil-military relations and synergy, thus guaranteeing a holistic and advanced approach to national security.

Dr Harsh V. Pant, a Reader in International Relations in the Defence Studies Department of the King’s College, London, moderated the second session. It focused on India and Afghanistan and the presentations were titled "Securing Afghanistan: Historic Sources of India’s Contemporary Challenge", "Pakistan: a Factor in India-Afghanistan Relations and Prospects for India’s Cooperation with Iran and China on Afghanistan".

Mr Avinash Paliwal, a doctoral candidate at the King’s College, London, explained the historical evolution of India’s Afghanistan policy from its pre-colonial and colonial experience. He believed that there existed common strands in India’s approach to dealing with its extended frontiers. He mentioned that colonialism had left a number of territorial disputes unresolved and made South Asian nations including India and Pakistan highly sensitive to territorial sovereignty. It was stressed that India should be careful while reworking its strategies, and not undermine the authority of the Afghan Government.

Dr Yaqoob-ul Hassan, from the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), highlighted the strategic importance of Afghanistan, linking India to Central Asia. He also emphasised the need for India to use its intra-Afghanistan developmental agenda to bring about inter-ethnic integration. He recommended that India expand its influence to non-Pashtun ethnic minorities in the Northern regions.

Mr Aryaman Bhatnagar, Associate Fellow, ORF, spoke on the prospects of greater China-Iran-India cooperation in Afghanistan. The three countries, he argued, could synergise their efforts to prevent the spill over of Afghanistan’s violent unrest and terrorism into the troubled areas of Sistan-Baluchestan (Southeast Iran), Xinjaing (Muslim Uighur dominated Western China province) and Jammu & Kashmir. It was also of great mutual interest to jointly develop connectivity and infrastructure to enable Afghanistan to become a hub of multimodal regional integration of the South Asia, Central Asia and Persian Gulf.

The third session on India and the US was moderated by Mr Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, Programme Coordinator, at ORF. The presentations were titled "The Persistence of the Non-alignment Myth and Reassessing Trends and Addressing Irritants".

Mr Mihir Sharma, a journalist with the Business Standard, began with a critique of efforts to label the notion of ’strategic autonomy’ in determining foreign policy as "Non Alignment 2.0". He challenged the Indian tendency of being too thoughtful of the ’choices’ that were to be made. Reiterating the opinion of several strategic experts that the Non-alignment movement was a strategy to cancel the disadvantage of being a relatively less strong developing country, he emphasised that it was never an ideological struggle against a domineering US, as was being portrayed, perceived and preserved by many in the establishment and the intelligentsia.

Dr Monish Tourangbam, a professor at Manipal University, explained that the world was witnessing a power ’transition and diffusion’, and the US had begun to re-label its strategies using terminologies like "rebalancing and pivot". Stressing that there was no conflict between the imperatives of ’strategic autonomy’ and ’strategic partnership’, he argued that the partnership was proven to be susceptible to shocks and could not be ’left on auto-pilot, and must be proactively nurtured in the direction demanded by national interest.

The fourth session titled, "India and Cyber Security", was moderated by Ms Mahima Kaul, Fellow, ORF. The presentations were titled "India and the Global Debate on Cyber Governance", Cybersecurity - A Multistakeholder Approach", "Goals & Policy that work for India and the Internet in India & its Global Public Policy Agenda".

Ms Darshana M. Baruah, Junior Fellow, ORF, took the audience through the evolution of global efforts towards establishing a governance framework for the internet, while underlining the basic conflict between two paradigms - the liberal one which emphasises protection of media infrastructure to uphold free flow of information over the internet, and the opposite paradigm which aims at monitoring information content and thus censuring exchange that potentially challenges the political regime of the State. She identified the crucial role that swing states like Brazil and India played in determining the future course that global governance efforts would be steered to.

Ms Subi Chaturvedi, a professor at Lady Sriram College, Delhi University, emphasised the essential role of cyber security as it was protecting the trust of over 2 billion users who desired the internet to be a secure medium for exchanging content and information. She argued that multilateralism without ensuring complementary ’multistakeholderism’ would perpetuate a model which would include States, but exclude end-users, civil society and enterprises that make up for a large share of internet vibrancy. Ms Chaturvedi called for a governance mechanism that would be more open and accessible even to the end user, including civil society groups that have played a pivotal role in ensuring that internet freedoms are not clamped down upon.

Mr. Raman Jit Singh Chima, Policy Counsel and Government Affairs Manager with Google India Pvt. Ltd., applauded the significant role that open source social networks had come to play, as leveraging humanitarianism through seamless real-time information dissemination media, during crises, and landmark events of high impact. While underlining the inevitability of governments always playing a role in governing the internet, it was mentioned that legal mechanisms were evolving solutions to ensure justice in cases resulting from ’web-behaviour’, that were difficult to resolve due to disparities between national laws. Voicing confidence in the gradually evolving acceptability towards establishing a more inclusive framework for global governance, Mr. Chima called for making the planning process more consultative and multistakeholder driven.

Detailed discussions and question and answer rounds followed every session. Eminent foreign policy scholars, including a number of young students and researchers, attended the conference.

(This report is prepared by Maulik Mavani, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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