Af-Pak insecurities and investment in the region

The challenges to India’s growth come more from the stalled economic liberalisation process than from the Af-Pak situation

Yesterday, Sarika Malhotra, a journalist from Financial Express asked me for my views on the regional security situation and the impact on investment. Here’s the exchange:

How do you think concerns regarding terrorism and political violence in AfPak, India, Sri Lanka are causing businesses to avoid investing in politically sensitive areas?

First of all, I think considering Af-Pak and India in the same breath is incorrect. Af-Pak has deep structural problems. Part of the Af-Pak problem affects India, but it’s relatively minor and not on the same scale as the “Af-Pak problem” itself.

Investors will respond to two cues: the fundamentals of the economy in the medium- to long-term and the political risks in the short term. So the impact on investment in India & Sri Lanka will be different from the impact on investment in Pakistan & Afghanistan.

In India’s case, the economic crisis and its aftermath suggest that to the extent that the Indian government competently manages economic policy, foreign investment will continue to flow into India. India is far more attractive—despite concerns over security—than many other developed and emerging economies.

Also, after almost two decades of India’s opening up to foreign investment, the world has come to better understand the political risk ‘norm’ in India. A decade ago, a travel advisory by the US State department would have panicked investors. Today it doesn’t matter as much.

Pakistan is in a negative spiral. The greater the political instability there, the greater will be the movement of wealth and people out of the country.

Conflict and instability are significant barriers to foreign direct investment—how do you view this? If you could cite some companies who have stopped their plans owing to the instable conditions in AfPak, India?

I haven’t heard of any company which have stopped their plans due to instable conditions in India. What has caused problems is the issue of land acquisition and labour reform—these are old bugbears that the presumably reformist-minded prime minister has forgotten about. SEZs, even done correctly, are not a solution.

Far more than security risks, it is the inability of the Indian government to ensure a robust property-rights regime and liberalise labour laws that drags down investment (both foreign and domestic in India)

How much of a business loss is India incurring owing to this?

I do not have estimates.

What conflict sensitive business practices can help in this regard?

The short-term response is for companies to go in for an intelligent mix of self-provisioning and co-operating with the government towards improving security of their operations, personnel and commercial interests.

But this should not be seen as an end in itself: unless corporate India consistently pressures the government to improve the overall quality of governance—including economic liberalisation, implement the Supreme Court’s order on police reforms and modernise the armed forces—both investments and returns on investments will be lower than they might otherwise have been. What this means that the competitiveness of the Indian economy will suffer. It is important for Indian corporate to compel the government to do its job, rather than substitute for it by private provisioning as has been the case in recent years.

My op-ed in Mint: There is no one China policy

Competition in zero-sum games, co-operation in positive-sum games

My op-ed in today’s Mint is a synthesis of several posts and discussions on this blog. Many of you might rightly say that it is stating the obvious. But sometimes the obvious has to be stated as well (and the need to do so is not always so obvious).

The Indian difference in Africa

It’s about 53 countries, not one continent

It is, no doubt, a convenient shorthand to refer to “Africa policy”. But it is really about developing relations with over 50 countries that make up the African continent. There are signs that India is recognising this relatively better than other countries.

In an op-ed in Mint, Mukul Asher and Sushant Singh argue that the India and African countries should build “a long-haul developmental partnership, based on application of knowledge economy, development of human resources and deeper domestic linkages…(that will diversify) their global risks (and increase) their leverage in the global affairs.”

Excerpts:

India’s economic and strategic diplomacy towards Africa has been consistent. Many initiatives launched in the final years of the National Democratic Alliance government have not only continued but also flourished during the United Progressive Alliance regime.

India’s academic and research institutions, however, need to develop much greater understanding of individual African countries and broaden linkages with their counterparts in Africa. There is also an urgent need to create a larger pool of Indians in all spheres with familiarities with languages spoken in Africa. Such familiarity and empathy for Africa’s challenges can provide India with valuable competitive edge.

India’s economic model and its approach to engaging Africa is consistent with what former World Bank economist William Easterly, in his 2006 book The White Man’s Burden, called “searchers”. They, unlike “planners”, eschew global blueprints and seek to meet the demand of customers in a way that uses decentralized and customized approaches, while applying an existing stock of knowledge in a practical way to reduce resource costs and improve efficiency. [Mint]

Related Links: Wages of hyphenation; India in West Africa

Narendra Modi’s foreign affairs

The Gujjus of Astrakhan

Newspaper columns this week are mostly about Narendra Modi, and mostly about domestic issues. Those interested in foreign affairs will find K P Nayar’s piece in The Telegraph of interest:

While India’s strategic community and sections of the media have been obsessed with the India-United States of America nuclear deal, it has largely escaped their attention that Modi travelled twice to Moscow to cash in on traditional Indo-Russian links, going against the recent fashion in New Delhi of running down such commercial-cum-cultural ties with Russia in an eagerness to suck up to Washington. No one should be surprised if it is Modi who has the last laugh at the Americans, who denied him a visa in a moment of extreme bad judgment and short-sightedness in Washington. Continue reading Narendra Modi’s foreign affairs