a)  The new great game as it unfolds

Southern Asia is all set to witness the unfolding of several new geopolitical gambits. The U.S. appears to have found a new strategic balance in the region; China is pushing its way through the great American wall in Southern Asia; the ‘cold war’ between Kabul and Rawalpindi seems to be getting frostier by the day; Pakistan is focussed on several strategic moves; and New Delhi is looking to navigate various regional dilemmas and strategic indeterminacies. The stage is set for a new great game. The flurry of American activities, including the recently concluded visit by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, indicates Washington’s last-ditch attempt to regain control, and pre-eminence, over a region which is being pulled in conflicting directions, much to the discomfort of the U.S. administration. In doing so, Washington views New Delhi as the centrepiece of its regional grand strategy. New Delhi would do well to carefully, and constantly (re)consider its options vis-à-vis the U.S. grand strategy in Southern Asia.

Afghan calculations

Despite its initial reluctance, Washington is back to the Afghan chess table with renewed vigour — Mr. Tillerson and his colleagues in the Trump administration realise that an inability/unwillingness to get back in the game could potentially render them insignificant in the years ahead. Having been militarily outsmarted by the Taliban in the recent past, the U.S. has renewed efforts to hunt down the Taliban leadership with the eventual aim of bringing them to the negotiating table as well as checking Rawalpindi’s influence in the country, something Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would deeply appreciate. Washington and Kabul have expressed a desire to enlist New Delhi’s support to do so. For Washington, courting New Delhi is also useful in balancing the increasing Chinese presence in the region, including in Afghanistan. Moreover, the U.S. probably views its Afghan engagement as a face saver in the midst of its steady decline in Asia and President Donald Trump’s lack of credibility and standing abroad — hence there’s likely to be a lot of focus on Afghanistan in the days ahead. In a way, then, the U.S.’s unsavoury statements about Pakistan are intended to woo India to cooperate closely on Afghanistan. But make no mistake, the U.S. is also courting Pakistan in pursuit of its strategic objectives in the region, its anti-Pakistan rhetoric notwithstanding.

Contradictions in U.S. policy

Shorn of the rhetoric and the feel-good melodrama, something every government in New Delhi has a strong liking for, a cold, closer look at the U.S. policy towards Southern Asia shows several inherent contradictions. Consider, for instance, the American strategy of courting India to counter Pakistan in Afghanistan, and engaging India and Pakistan to checkmate China in the region, while at the same time viewing China’s role in Afghanistan as that of a potential stabiliser. Certainly, strategic engagement of a conflict-ridden region can never be a straightforward affair — yet the balancing of these contradictions can throw up unanticipated surprises. Even as India takes delight over the American tirade against Pakistan, it is important to place the U.S.’s relationship with Pakistan in the correct historical and geopolitical perspective. The U.S. has had a deeply puzzling love-hate relationship with Pakistan since the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 through to 2001, and thereafter. Pakistan is not only aware of it but also knows how to make use of it. The indispensability of this relationship needs to be properly understood by India when fashioning its own response. We must also be aware that the absence of long-term commitments is one of the central features of American foreign policy. U.S. strategy has been susceptible to domestic, electoral, geopolitical and other determinants, and it has been no less so in the Southern Asian context. While being on the same side of the reigning hegemon is smart statecraft, a failure to cater for alternative futures would be shortsighted. International politics disincentivises blind loyalty. “Terror havens will not be tolerated,” Mr. Tillerson declared at a joint press conference with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, echoing similar statements emanating from the Trump administration in the past weeks. Ms. Swaraj joined in by underlining that Pakistan must dismantle the terror infrastructure on its soil. Washington’s hard talk on terror is welcome, but here again, one should not be deluded into thinking that the U.S. will punish Rawalpindi for not acting against India-specific groups in Pakistan. The focus is on groups fighting against Afghanistan where U.S. soldiers often get caught in the crosshairs of the Pakistan Army’s manoeuvres. Recall that there was no reaction from Washington when Islamabad decided to drop terror charges against Jamaat-ud Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed.

The China conundrum

China is the new kid on the block in the Southern Asian strategic landscape — challenging American hegemony in the region, willing to build peace and mine minerals in Afghanistan, pushing India into a tight corner in its own traditional backyard, and selling dreams of inter-regional connectivity and economic prosperity to a conflict-ridden, impoverished and under-linked region. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s bold declaration at the recently-concluded 19th Party Congress that China intends to emerge stronger in the world stage indicates its new geopolitical resolve. There is only so far the U.S. can ignore China’s overtures, and there is only so much India can do to match the Chinese sales pitch. The dividends are already in sight. For instance, China is emerging as a key player in Afghanistan. The potential revival of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (comprising U.S., China, Pakistan and Afghanistan) shows just that. It’s a matter of time before the U.S. utilises China’s potential to serve its interests in Afghanistan. After all, national interests matter above all else. Mr. Ghani stated last week that Afghanistan would not join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor if Pakistan refuses to permit connectivity between India and Afghanistan. New Delhi must appreciate Mr. Ghani for being a true friend, but let’s be realistic: Pakistan is unlikely to allow overland connectivity between Afghanistan and India through its territory, nor will Mr. Ghani jeopardise Afghanistan’s relationship with China by insisting on bringing India on board. Clearly, the emerging geopolitical landscape in the region requires deft handling by New Delhi. It should consider participating in Afghan peace talks while being conscious of its redlines and ability vis-à-vis Afghanistan. New Delhi should stick to its decision not to send troops to Afghanistan while at the same time enhancing its training of Afghan security forces and reconstruction efforts.

Much potential

Second, we must be able to see through complicated American geopolitical signalling in the Southern Asian region. To reduce complex American geopolitical signalling to binary equations vis-à-vis Pakistan or China would be a grave mistake. Third, New Delhi needs to carefully design the contours of its China policy: aligning our China policy to suit U.S. interests would not help our long-term interests. Recall that the U.S. kept a studied silence through the Doklam stand-off and the issue hardly figured in the public statements during Mr. Tillerson’s recent visit. Fourth, Russia is not only an unavoidable traditional ally of India but it is in fact increasing its stakes in the region, including in Afghanistan, with close strategic ties with China, and increasingly with Pakistan. Let not the sound of what we would like to hear from Washington distract our attention from the strategic realities of the neighbourhood. Finally, both geo-economically and geopolitically, the Indo-Pacific region remains pregnant with potential and possibilities for New Delhi. This is one crucial area where New Delhi and Washington, along with other regional stakeholders such as Tokyo and Canberra, could synergise political, diplomatic and military efforts to “uphold rule-based rights of navigation and overflight in the area” and promote free trade in the broader region.

b)  On appointment of judges: Questions over delay

The move by the Supreme Court to seek an explanation from the government about the delay in finalising a fresh Memorandum of Procedure (MoP) for the appointment of judges in the higher judiciary raises more questions than answers. We do not know, for instance, what is holding up the process. It is not clear whether the government and the five-member Supreme Court Collegium have been unable to agree on some significant aspects of the MoP. It is possible that the consultative process has broken down and the government requires a nudge from the court to both explain the delay and expedite the process. The matter came to the highest court after the Delhi High Court dismissed an advocate’s challenge to the appointment of judges without a new MoP being finalised as per the Supreme Court’s December 2015 order. The two-judge Bench hearing an appeal agreed with the high court, but wanted to consider a related prayer — that there should be no further delay in finalising the MoP and that it should provide for a mechanism to avoid any undue delay in the appointment of chief justices for the various high courts. At present, seven high courts have only acting chief justices. The Centre must use this opportunity to throw some light on the status of the consultation between the government and the Collegium. The delay in finalising a fresh procedure for appointments is a cause for concern, as vacancies in the high courts have continued to increase while the pace at which new judges are being appointed remains sluggish. What is really worrisome is that two issues may come to be seen as deliberately inter-linked: the delay in evolving a fresh procedure and the perceived tardiness in clearing and making fresh appointments. In the two years since legislation seeking to create a National Judicial Appointments Commission was struck down by a Constitution Bench, there have been many instances of incumbent Chief Justices of India voicing dismay and anguish over the rising number of vacancies. Mercifully, these potential flashpoints did not turn into full-blown conflicts. This was possible because the appointments process, though slow, was never stopped and the recommendations of the Collegium were being processed and cleared by the Centre. That the same issue should crop up repeatedly is not a good sign. When it is agreed in principle that having a fresh and transparent appointments process is vital to institutional reform, it would be unfortunate if the two sides are seen as being obdurate and inflexible on the new MoP. A judicial direction to the government to notify a procedure approved by the Collegium will be an easy way out, but it will not do anything to address the problem of judicial primacy being seen as detrimental to judicial accountability. A consensus on this matter will be far more conducive to the public interest.


1) Gambits

Meaning: An act or remark that is calculated to gain an advantage, especially at the outset of a situation.

Example: His resignation was a tactical gambit.

Synonyms: Stratagem, Scheme

2) Cold war

Meaning: A state of extreme unfriendliness existing between countries, especially countries with opposing political systems, that expresses itself not through fighting but through political pressure and threats. The expression is usually used of the relationship between the US and the Soviet Union after the Second World War.

3) Frostier

Meaning: Cold and unfriendly in manner.

Example: Sebastian gave her a frosty look.

Synonyms: Unfriendly, Inhospitable

4) Dilemmas

Meaning: A situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially ones that are equally undesirable.

Example: He wants to make money, but he also disapproves of it: Den’s dilemma in a nutshell.

Synonyms: Quandary, Predicament

5) Last-ditch

Meaning: Denoting a final attempt to achieve something after all else has failed.

Example: A last-ditch effort to break the deadlock.

Synonyms: Last-minute, Final

6) Pre-eminence

Meaning: The fact of surpassing all others; superiority.

Example: The Edinburgh Festival maintains its pre-eminence because of the quality of its programming.

Synonyms: Superiority, Supremacy

7) Reluctance

Meaning: Unwillingness or disinclination to do something.

Example: She sensed his reluctance to continue

Synonyms: Unwillingness, Disinclination

Antonyms: Willingness, Eagerness

8) Negotiating

Meaning: Obtain or bring about by discussion.

Example: He negotiated a new contract with the sellers.

Synonyms: Arrange, Broker

9) Enlist

Meaning: Engage (a person or their help or support).

Example: The company enlisted the help of independent consultants.

Synonyms: Obtain, Engage

Antonyms: Spurn

10) Unsavoury

Meaning: Disagreeable and unpleasant because morally disreputable.

Example:  An unsavoury reputation.

Synonyms: Disreputable, Unpleasant

Antonyms: Reputable

11) Pursuit

Meaning: An activity of a specified kind, especially a recreational or sporting one.

Example: A whole range of leisure pursuits.

Synonyms: Activity, Relaxation

12) Rhetoric

Meaning: The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

Example: He is using a common figure of rhetoric, hyperbole.

Synonyms: Oratory, Eloquence

13) Melodrama

Meaning: A sensational dramatic piece with exaggerated characters and exciting events intended to appeal to the emotions.

Example: He gloated like a villain in a Victorian melodrama.

14) Unanticipated

Meaning: Not expected or predicted.

Example: One of the unanticipated gains of the reforms has been the shift of emphasis to primary care.

15) Delight

Meaning: Great pleasure.

Example: The little girls squealed with delight.

Synonyms: Pleasure, Joy

Antonyms: Displeasure, Pain

16) Tirade

Meaning: A long, angry speech of criticism or accusation.

Example: A tirade of abuse.

Synonyms: Diatribe, Invective

17) Indispensability

Meaning: Something or someone that is indispensable is so good or important that you could not manage without it, him, or her.

Example: This book is an indispensable resource for researchers.

18) Susceptible

Meaning: (Of a person) easily influenced by feelings or emotions; sensitive.

Example: They only do it to tease him—he’s too susceptible.

Synonyms: Impressionable, Credulous

Antonyms: Sceptical, Streetwise

19) Determinants

Meaning: A factor which decisively affects the nature or outcome of something.

Example: Pure force of will was the main determinant of his success.

20) Hegemon

Meaning: A leader, country, or group that is very strong and powerful and therefore able to control others.

Example: Could the United States lose out to another global hegemon, China?

21) Emanating

Meaning: Give out or emit (a feeling, quality, or sensation).

Example: He emanated a powerful brooding air.

Synonyms: Exude, Emit

22) Deluded

Meaning: Make (someone) believe something that is not true.

Example: Too many theorists have deluded the public.

Synonyms: Mislead, Deceive

23) Crosshairs

Meaning: Two thin wires crossing each other in a gun or other device, which you use to help you aim at something.

Example: A sniper had them in his crosshairs.

24) Manoeuvres

Meaning: A carefully planned or cunning scheme or action.

Example: Shady financial manoeuvres.

Synonyms: Stratagem, Tactic

25) Impoverished

Meaning: Exhaust the strength or vitality of.

Example: The soil was impoverished by annual burning.

Synonyms: Weaken, Sap

Antonyms: Strengthen, Enrich

26) Revival

Meaning: An improvement in the condition, strength, or fortunes of someone or something.

Example: A revival in the fortunes of the party.

Synonyms: Improvement, Rallying

Antonyms: Downturn

27) Jeopardise

Meaning: Put (someone or something) into a situation in which there is a danger of loss, harm, or failure.

Example: A devaluation of the dollar would jeopardize New York’s position as a financial centre.

Synonyms: Threaten, Endanger

Antonyms: Safeguard

28) Deft

Meaning: Demonstrating skill and cleverness.

Example: The script was both deft and literate.

Synonyms: Skilful, Adept

Antonyms: Clumsy, Awkward

29) Grave

Meaning: Giving cause for alarm; serious.

Example: A matter of grave concern.

Synonyms: Serious, Important

Antonyms: Trivial

30) Synergise

Meaning: To combine or work together in order to be more effective, or to make things or people do this.

Example: The different parts of the farming system should synergize with each other.

31) Collegium

Meaning: An organization for people who have similar interests or who do similar work, especially in a university.

Example: No one wanted to miss the inaugural meeting of the Collegium of Black Women Philosophers at Vanderbilt University.

32) Nudge

Meaning: Approach (an age, figure, or level) very closely.

Example: Both men were nudging fifty.

Synonyms: Approach, Near

33) Sluggish

Meaning: Lacking energy or alertness.

Example: Alex woke late feeling tired and sluggish.

Synonyms: Lethargic, Listless

Antonyms: Vigorous, Energetic

34) Tardiness

Meaning: The quality or fact of being late; lateness.

Example: Forgive my tardiness, I had some very important business to attend to.

Synonyms: Lateness, Delay

Antonyms: Punctuality, Timeliness

35) Incumbent

Meaning: Necessary for (someone) as a duty or responsibility.

Example: The government realized that it was incumbent on them to act.

Synonyms: Binding, Obligatory

Antonyms: Optional

36) Dismay

Meaning: Concern and distress caused by something unexpected.

Example: To his dismay, she left him.

Synonyms: Alarm, Shock

Antonyms: Pleasure, Relief

37) Anguish

Meaning: Severe mental or physical pain or suffering.

Example: She shut her eyes in anguish.

Synonyms: Agony, Pain

Antonyms: Happiness, Contentment

38) Full-blown

Meaning: Fully developed.

Example: The onset of full-blown AIDS in persons infected with HIV.

Synonyms: Complete, Total

Antonyms: Partial

39) Obdurate

Meaning: Stubbornly refusing to change one’s opinion or course of action.

Example: I argued this point with him, but he was obdurate.

40) Detrimental

Meaning: Tending to cause harm.

Example: Recent policies have been detrimental to the interests of many old people.

Synonyms: Harmful, Injurious

Antonyms: Benign, Beneficial