CUTS International Washington DC Center
Monthly Brief #41, August 2021
The Crisis in Afghanistan and the Quad
With the U.S. retreating from Afghanistan, and India, Australia and Japan cautiously watching the ominous developments in the conflict-ridden country, where does this leave the Quad? Going forward, the Quad should actively engage with the turmoil in Afghanistan, driven by the need to counter the aggressive foreign policy of its rivals in the broader Indo-Pacific region.
The haphazard American withdrawal from Afghanistan followed by the Taliban takeover of the country has precipitated the Afghan crisis. After days of distressing scenes of citizens and foreigners desperately seeking to leave the country, the Kabul airport was recently the site of a deadly suicide bombing. Terrorism is already beginning to rear its ugly head, with Afghan civilians facing the brunt of the violence. The future for Afghanistan looks bleak, and the implications of a Taliban-led Afghanistan for the world remain uncertain.
Geopolitically, the Chinese, Russians and Iranians have indicated their willingness to engage with a Taliban-led Afghan government. Already wary of the recent announcement of a new ‘quadrilateral diplomatic platform’ between the U.S., Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, the evolving situation in Afghanistan and an emboldened Pakistan will pose major foreign policy challenges for New Delhi in the coming months.
Though the U.S.’ credibility as a security guarantor has eroded to an extent - it bears primary responsibility for the mess in Afghanistan - any future discussions on the way forward for Afghanistan will still require active U.S. and the NATO’s participation. Groups of like-minded countries are already coordinating their responses to the dynamic situation in Afghanistan (as seen in the recently held G7 leaders’ virtual meeting).
The Quad countries were all significantly investing in aid and development partnerships in Afghanistan. Now, they have recalled their diplomatic personnel and are evacuating their citizens from Afghanistan. Within the Quad grouping, there is room for discussions on questions of recognition of the Taliban-led Afghan government and the future of humanitarian and development aid to Afghanistan.
Ultimately, the Quad’s underlying objective of counter-balancing an expansive and aggressive foreign policy agenda of its non-democratic rivals will be ill-served if the Quad does not actively engage with the reality in Afghanistan.
Pradeep S. Mehta

P.S.: Will the U.S. exit from Afghanistan lead to a greater willingness on its part to increase military cooperation with Quad partners? Can the 2021 Malabar exercises herald a new beginning towards ensuring a peaceful Indo-Pacific?

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H-1B visa approval rates higher in FY21 as demand rises for tech talent in U.S.
The U.S. administration has issued a higher number (Paywall) of H-1B visas this year as demand for technology talent in the country continues to rise. Approval rates for H-1B visas in the quarter to June and in the first three quarters of the U.S. financial year were 98.1% and 97% respectively, compared to about 84% in 2018 and 2019 during the previous Donald Trump administration.

U.S. ramps up ASEAN engagement, but will it matter?
Today, the U.S. simply has less to offer ASEAN. China long ago displaced the U.S. as the leading trade and investment partner for most countries throughout the broader East Asia region. And Biden’s U.S. worker-centric trade policy, his emphasis on “Buy American”, and desire to relocate supply chains closer to home presents more of a threat than an economic boon for Southeast Asia.
How trade’s resilience defies expectations amid coronavirus and global tensions
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is calling for economic self-reliance and raising trade barriers. China has adopted a dual circulation strategy which puts increased emphasis on domestic demand and relegates trade to a supporting role. The buzzword within the European Union is strategic autonomy, which recognises the need to strengthen domestic production capabilities and reduce dependence on trade. In the U.S., the Biden administration is pursuing a worker-centric trade policy and has maintained many of the trade restrictions put in place by the Trump administration.
India needs $100 billion FDI annually to become $5 trillion economy: Mukesh Aghi
India needs to grow its economy from the current $2.7 trillion to $5 trillion. It will need a lot of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) coming in — at least $100 billion a year to fuel that growth, Mukesh Aghi, President of U.S. India Strategic and Partnership Forum (USISPF) told PTI in a recent interview. I believe that is going to come mainly from the U.S., he added.


PM Modi announces National Hydrogen Mission
In a push for India’s energy security, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech announced a National Hydrogen Mission for the country. This comes against the backdrop of India spending Rs 12 trillion ($164 billion approx.) annually to meet the energy needs. Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using an electrolyser powered by electricity from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar can be a game changer for India, which imports 85% of its oil and 53% of gas demand.

Why are oil and gas companies exploring green energy options?
Global moves to reduce carbon emissions to slow down climate change have led to oil and gas companies around the world investing in renewable energy to reduce their carbon footprint and diversify offerings. State-owned upstream and downstream oil and gas companies are also taking part in energy investments to help achieve the government’s ambitious renewable energy targets. India is targeting 450 GW of installed renewable energy capacity by 2030 up from about 100 GW currently.
Emissions down 28% from 2005 levels: Union Power Minister RK Singh
The country has already achieved a CO2 emission reduction of 28% over 2005 levels, against the target of 35% by 2030 committed in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) under the Paris climate change COP21 accord, Union Power Minister RK Singh said. Under INDC targets, India also wants to have about 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030.

India and Russia discuss expanding cooperation in energy sector
Petroleum Minister Hardeep Singh Puri held a video interaction with Russian Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov on furthering energy cooperation between the two nations, the Indian minister tweeted. India's cumulative investment in oil and gas projects in Russia exceeds $15 billion. It is the single largest destination of Indian overseas investment in the oil and gas sector.


Secretary Blinken’s Maiden India Visit: Why Democracies Can, and Will Deliver
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken along with his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar took stock of the full range of Indo-U.S. bilateral relations and regional geopolitics during his recent India visit. Hailing the Indo-U.S. relationship as ‘consequential’, the two sides agreed to strengthen their cooperation in key strategic areas and resolved to revitalise multilateralism. Building on their foundation of shared values, the Indo-U.S. relationship holds tremendous promise to show that a coalition of democracies can and will deliver to tackle the most pressing global challenges of our time. CUTS Occasional News Wrap reflects upon the Secretary Blinken’s India visit and takeaways from it, along with diverse opinions from various experts.

The Quad Economy and Technology Task Force Report launched
Conceived in 2020, The Task Force studied five promising areas for collaboration between the Quad countries beyond maritime security. The report highlights the need to increase economic and technological interdependence within the Quad and to establish common and updated rules and standards for emerging technologies in five study areas. The unique mix of the Quad – three developed and one developing nation, three Pacific and one Indian Ocean nation, three producer-trading nations with one massive emerging market – lends itself to innovation, experimentation and cooperation that can be a template for a new, post-pandemic geopolitical era.

PM Modi calls for peaceful resolution of maritime disputes at UNSC
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for the removal of barriers on sea trade, the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes and a joint fight against threats from maritime disasters and non-state actors as part of five-point agenda to promote maritime cooperation among countries. Addressing the UN Security Council (UNSC) High Level Open Debate on “Enhancing Maritime Security," one of three flagship events that India is holding during its UNSC presidency in August, Modi also called for the creation of a framework under the aegis of the UN to coordinate maritime cooperation among countries.

From Kenya to Guam, India outlines sphere of interest in the Indo-Pacific with string of naval exercises
The exercise was a combined effort to enhance familiarity with Indian Ocean waters in a critical zone extending from the Horn of Africa to the Gulf of Aden - a prime route for commercial shipping heading to Europe, Africa and Asia. International concerns have heightened as this area has been badly hit by piracy and international terrorism, triggering the need for international collaboration.


India's new rules for drones a welcome move
This will help in reaping the enormous economic potential of drones. E-commerce and cargo companies can utilise drones for making deliveries. Drone taxis can become a reality as the weight limit has been increased to 500 kg. They can be used for surveying in industries like construction, mining etc. The government can use drones for pursuing public good like using them for disaster management, ensuring national security and cartographic surveys. For instance, the SVAMITVA scheme of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj surveys rural land properties using drones.

Global 5G standard to push global companies to set up manufacturing operations in India: International trade bodies
Top trade and technology bodies from the U.S. and UK have told the Indian government that adoption of globally harmonised standard, the 3GPP 5G standard, will give a much needed push to electronic manufacturing in India as companies will be encouraged to set up their operations in India. They urged the government to allow Indian telcos to independently choose to deploy technologies conforming to the 5G standard of their choice.

Indian and U.S. bodies ink deal to improve weather and monsoon forecasts
The agreement was signed by India's National Institute of Ocean Technology Director G A Ramadass and the U.S. Assistant Administrator for Research and Acting Chief Scientist Craig McLean of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As a result of this, the two bodies would enhance technical cooperation in the development of the Research Moored Array for African-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction (RAMA) and the Ocean Moored buoy Network in the northern Indian ocean (OMNI) for improving weather and monsoon forecasts between NOAA and India's Ministry of Earth Sciences.
Data is disruptive: How data sovereignty is challenging data governance
As data has become essential to economic growth, data governance has become critical to modern governance. Yet policymakers are just beginning to learn how to govern various types of data. Under the guise of digital sovereignty, however, some governments are seeking to regulate commercial use of personal data without enacting clear rules governing public sector use of data.


Desis richest ethnic group in U.S.
Indians in America, dubbed the “model minority”, continue their march to greater learning and prosperity, with the latest U.S. Census showing them surpassing national metrics in college graduation and wealth by a wide margin. The median household income of U.S. Indians is now $123,700, almost double the national figure of $63,922. A massive 79% of Indians are graduates, compared to national figure of 34%, attesting to the emphasis on education in Indian families.

By 2030, India might lead the world in almost every category: Richard Verma
By 2030, India might lead the world in every category, former U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma has said asserting that the two largest democracies of the world can do much together. “I look out at the year 2030, for example, and I see an India that may lead the world in almost every category - the most populous nation, the most college graduates, the largest middle-class, the most cell phone and Internet users, along with the third largest military and third largest economy, all coexisting in the world's largest democracy, with 600 million people under the age of 25,” he said.

Quad meet explores collaboration in supply chains, critical tech & counter-terror
Quad senior officials on Thursday, August 12, met to explore possibilities (Paywall) of collaboration in resilient supply chains, emerging and critical technologies, maritime security, cyber security, counter-terrorism, infrastructure and connectivity, higher education, climate change and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Senior Officials from the Ministry of External Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade of Australia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and U.S. State Department met by video conference.
U.S., India share number of interests and values: Biden Administration
I think you heard from us at the time, it was the Secretary’s first opportunity as Secretary of State to travel to India. It was also an opportunity for us to explore ways that we can strengthen and deepen the comprehensive global strategic partnership that we have, with India, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at his daily news conference on August 02.