TYPICALLY, Indian historians are wont to argue that Jawaharlal Nehru worked his foreign policy to benefit the world, that nonalignment was a uniquely effective policy tool, and that large causes like disarmament imprinted India in the international consciousness. What they are unaware of is the fact that, like the US President during that country’s Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, who declared that he would happily countenance a nation ‘half-free and half-slave’ as long as it remained united, Nehru would have been happy never to have championed disarmament if it fetched India the ultimate means of self-protection. Nehru, moreover, practised hard realpolitik, had no truck with morality other than as instrument of state policy and had little compunction in saying one thing and doing another.
Thus, in the first decade and half after independence India was a member, all but in name, of the western alliance system, relying on the United States and Britain to provide the country nuclear and even conventional military security and, ironically, to make a success of his policy of non-alignment. So much so that Nehru acquiesced in secret Pentagon plans for the defence of India against the Chinese threat and also the danger of Communist subversion and revolution masterminded by Moscow and Beijing using the Indian party cadres. This was part of a larger western scheme to build up this country as a counterweight to a totalitarian China in Asia and as an alternative non-Communist model for development in the Third World. But Nehru’s tilt towards the West was motivated by the considerations of India’s weakness and strategic purpose.
Considering that an impoverished, illiterate and science and technology-wise challenged India was in no fit state to defend itself unassisted, leave alone to assert its national interests, he used the goodwill generated by these western linkages as a screen behind which to acquire, block by building block, the nuclear/thermonuclear weapons wherewithal as expression of inviolable sovereignty and as means of absolute security and strategic independence for India.
Despite very heavy odds, this double-faced policy succeeded. India gained immensely as standard-bearer for moral causes, for supposedly forsaking military alliances and intimacy with either Bloc and, by the mid-1960s, had the capability to become a full-fledged nuclear weapons state. It all amounted to a quite considerable achievement in the national security field. (For details; refer my recently published book – Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy, based on extensive interviews and hitherto unused declassified documents from the US and British archives.)
Regrettably, the post-Nehru leadership in the country of whatever hue, lacking Jawaharlal’s strategic vision and self-confidence, has been impressed more by what he said than what he actually did – which was at great variance. In the event, it has reduced policy to the level of rhetoric and routinely forsworn military options that would have served the national interests better. The servile habit of mind of letting foreigners influence decisions pertaining to national security has been glimpsed in the past. What is surprising is that it is the right wing ‘nationalistic’ Bharatiya Janata Party-led government that is turning India into a virtual western camp-follower and at Washington’s behest, sidelining the development of the national nuclear deterrent, among other things.
So apparently awed is New Delhi by the fact of the US’ global dominance, it seems prepared to yoke Indian policy to American security measures whether or not it serves our national interests. And, in so doing, it has failed to give weight to the change in India’s relative power from Nehru’s and Indira Gandhi’s time that can now enable the country to become a self-assertive and independent strategic player in the world if New Delhi so wished. But that requires the right policy choices to be made – something the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government has so far shied away from, turning instead to the US and the UK to pull our Kashmir chestnuts out of the fire, fight terrorism, and even to define the nature of India’s nuclear threat and, therefore, of the nuclear deterrent, as if what is in the US’ interest is also in India’s.
This is an unprecedented development and contains the seeds of great danger to India. Washington’s assumption of the policeman’s role to maintain order and keep peace, even by forceful intervention, means that if it was the Balkans yesterday, it may be Iraq or Iran tomorrow, and Kashmir the day after. And, this is only one instance where the interests of India and the United States may clash. Further, at US’ prompting, New Delhi has assumed that the premier nuclear threats will emanate from Pakistan, which is a huge joke, and from China, which is more credible. But the equally realistic American threat to this country’s N-inventory is obviously something Washington will try helpfully to point the Indian government away from.
But it is a peril that New Delhi will have to keep centrally in mind given the fact of the US’ priority thrust of its policy, namely counterproliferation. In April this year the US Assistant Secretary of State, John S. Wolf, sounded like any other nonproliferation ayatollah in Washington when he talked of ‘nuclear weapons-equipped India as threat’ to an audience of nuclear weapons scientists and engineers at the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Is it not prudent to defend against the obvious danger from the US which states baldly enough that India is a threat?
To take the issue of strategic armaments first: the Vajpayee government’s determination after the 1998 tests to repeat the mistakes made in the post-1974 period when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi lost her nerve and cancelled further testing and full-fledged weaponization, is quite brazen in its deliberate disregard of history. The buckling under American pressure then cost the country dear over the next 30 years in terms of status and strategic military options. Vajpayee’s test moratorium and his unwillingness rapidly to climb the nuclear value chain will exact infinitely higher politico-military costs in the future.
India will be denied a safe and dependable national nuclear deterrent; worse, what is available will be without the clout that comes from featuring a variety of newer and more advanced fission bombs and tritium-boosted fission weapons, and very high yield hydrogen bombs and neutron weapons. It will also be without the reach that a ballistic missile of 5,000-12,000 km range can provide it, but which capability has been expressly shelved at US’ insistence.
This suggests that the ruling ‘nationalistic’ Bharatiya Janata Party really does not understand or appreciate the politico-military utility of an advanced megaton yield thermonuclear force or the gains from genuine ‘strategic autonomy’ – which concept it has talked about without seemingly understanding it – and is satisfied with only a symbolic nuclear force. And, furthermore, that the decision to test in May 1998 was mere nuclear tokenism with no conviction behind it to pull India into the top rung of countries. Further, with Washington’s prompting, it has cemented the nuclear threat as arising chiefly from Pakistan and, secondarily, from China. That the US has, in fact, articulated a policy of ‘pre-emptive deterrence’ directly aimed at taking out N-arsenals such as India’s notwithstanding, the Indian government appears blissfully blind to this genuine threat from a supposed friend. Indeed, the US is not anywhere on this government’s threat radar.
Indira Gandhi balked at following through on the logic of Pokhran-I because of the fear of the stoppage by the US of western credit and World Bank loans at a time when she, perhaps, felt India could not do without either. Vajpayee, on the other hand, fully aware that the Indian economy was nowhere as vulnerable, nevertheless decreed a stop to the country’s nuclear force development in the wake of the Shakti-series of tests for no good reason other than that such a course would please Washington!
It is a not a decision the BJP government has reconsidered despite an ‘open secret’ that the only thing that really worked in Pokhran-II was a 20 kiloton weapon taken from the stockpile, with the other ‘weaponizable configurations’, namely, the thermonuclear design and the boosted fission design tested for the first time proving to be duds. The suspicion is the two-stage hydrogen bomb design for the decisive thermonuclear weapon, in particular, suffered from incomplete fusion burn wave propagation and would definitely require further testing to get into militarily serviceable form.
But, absent more tests, all that the country has by way of proven nuclear weapons are the simple 20 KT fission devices. How these are going to fare in a politico-military standoff with China, say, whose nuclear order-of-battle features the 3.3 megaton (or over 15,000 times more powerful as the Indian counterpart) warhead as standard issue for its intermediate range ballistic missile targeted at India, is not hard to see. Beijing will ram home this advantage in terms of escalation dominance. Indeed, confronting such high yield weapons, the odds are that a traditionally weak-hearted Indian government will be self-deterred and throw up its hands before any potential crisis peaks.
The Indian government, moreover, has decided to keep such minimal nuclear deterrent as is available in an unready state – nuclear weapons/warheads maintained in a de-alerted and de-mated form, this last means that the warheads are kept separate from the delivery systems. This has rendered the Indian nuclear force, in the words of Ashley J. Tellis, ex-RAND analyst and Senior Adviser to the US Ambassador in India, Robert D. Blackwill, ‘small’, ‘stealthy’ (because road and rail mobile), and ‘slow’ and, he might have added, insignificant.
If this undeployed, unready, deterrent obviously does not serve India’s national security interests, whose interests does it serve? You guessed it – the US’. Because, as Tellis confided in a recent article in the American Foreign Policy Journal, Orbis, a fragmented, unready and lightweight Indian nuclear force fits in with the new American objective of preventing India-Pakistan nuclear war and shaping ‘the character of the evolving Indian (and Pakistani) nuclear arsenals.’ Of course, Tellis does not say this, but it helps that such a disaggregated deterrent is extremely vulnerable to US precision conventional military and nuclear strikes.
John Wolf, US Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation, speaking at the Sandia nuclear weapons laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in April this year identified a nuclear weapons-armed India as ‘a direct threat’ to the United States and warned that ‘we are prepared to act unilaterally to defend our interests when they are directly threatened.’ Put these two streams of thought together and you have a very distinct threat from the United States.
If despite the current great warmth in relations and an expedient convergence of interests on terrorism, Washington does not hesitate to name India as a potential adversary and to plan for contingencies to take out the Indian deterrent, shouldn’t India likewise and prudently prepare to deal with the US as an overarching threat? And in the circumstances, is it advisable to hew to the American guidelines on a de-alerted, de-mated nuclear force? It is a little like the Indian King, Porus, taking Alexander the Great’s advice on sizing and shaping the defensive works on the Hydespas. Or, the equally hapless Scindia’s consulting with Ahmed Shah Abdali about how best to deploy the Maratha forces in the Third Battle of Panipat.
An untested, probably unsafe, high yield nuclear arsenal, moreover, added to nuclear weapons systems located in parts all over the countryside at once makes it difficult to assemble in the shadow of a nuclear crisis because the process of assembly itself will attract strikes from the adversary equipped with a ready force and should conventional military attacks be launched against the non-nuclear components of the nuclear weapons systems, it will complicate the possible Indian response which will have to consider whether or not to use the residual nuclear means for an essentially conventional military provocation. Besides, having road and rail mobile nuclear missiles may make the force more survivable but only against Pakistan and, for the very short term, China, because the latter is now developing the requisite satellite, sensor and realtime technologies that the US currently possesses to destroy even mobile targets. Such are the dangers of deterrence by half-measures designed to deter only the halfwitted.
The BJP government is adamant in making these fatal strategic compromises apparently because of a deal cut with the Clinton Administration during the numerous rounds of the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks, whereby the erstwhile Indian Minister of External Affairs and the US Deputy Secretary of State agreed that India would not (i) test further, (ii) develop a potent nuclear/thermonuclear deterrent, (iii) develop an intercontinental range missile that can hit continental US targets, (iv) keep the extant nuclear force in ready-to-launch state, (v) build the nuclear force infrastructure (like command and control) in a hurry in return for the US not taking the nonproliferation stick to India, providing access to certain high technologies (none of them however to do with strategic weaponry/systems), making India a security partner in the region and, perhaps, supporting its candidature for the UN Security Council.
Prima facie, it appears to be a bum deal. India literally guts its deterrent and ensures that its own nuclear force cannot match China’s, leave alone the US’, in exchange for next to nothing, because the principal role of policing the region and Security Council seat would be India’s naturally and by right, and not at US’ sufferance. If the Indian government single-mindedly embarks on open-ended thermonuclear weapons testing and test-firing of long range missiles, proceeds fully to weaponize and to deploy the resulting force, along with the national command post and the central control and communications hub, deep within mountains, which will afford them protection even against high yield thermonuclear weapons. The Himalayas and the Western Ghats afford the most sensible natural protection that the Indian forces should avail of.
The slate of Jaswant Singh-Talbott compromises envisions India as an overmodestly nuclear armed small-time partner of the US that carries out low-end military tasks on the American agenda, like in the fight against ‘international terrorism’, but which can never be even theoretically in a position to threaten the US or to assert its strategic independence in Asia on issues where the national interests of the two countries may collide. In short, Washington would happily tolerate India as its designated gendarme in the region, helping the US out with secondary policing/peacekeeping missions, like the Indian Navy’s ‘escorting’ US ships carrying supplies to Pakistan to wage war against ‘international terrorism’, but unwilling to conduct joint naval exercises in the Persian Gulf lest that send the wrong signals to countries in the region, including Pakistan, that India is the preferred security partner of the US.
What India must do is, therefore, clear enough. It is all very well for the Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to declare that India will have to solve its security problems by itself. The government should operationalise such thinking. Doing so will mean that the government cannot for very long escape the decision to resume an open-ended series of nuclear tests to prove the efficacy of all the new designs – there are over a dozen advanced boosted fission, thermonuclear, and neutron weapon designs to fit various carriers, including nuclear submarines – on the shelf. These have to undergo iterative testing, in parts and whole, for explosive performance, ruggedization, reliability and safety until the user Services (not scientists alone, as was the case in the past) are satisfied.
Such tests, moreover, should not await the US, Russia or China giving the lead in the resumption of underground testing, something that all the three countries are preparing for, because Washington, Moscow and Beijing will decide on new tests at their convenience and India cannot afford to do nothing until then. Second, the same process has to be repeated especially for long range, intercontinental missiles in a ‘in your face’ gesture to let Washington and other members of the P-5 (the ‘recognized’ five nuclear powers) know that India’s security imperatives will not be dictated to by foreign countries. India, nuclear weapons-wise, is in a position akin to the one the British found themselves in after the Battle of Plassey when Robert Clive urged the East India Company westwards on the Gangetic plain, warning that ‘To stop is dangerous, to recede ruinous.’
The Indian government has been incredibly lax and complacent when it comes to taking care of national security. It cannot any more hide behind the fraudulent explanation of unaffordability trotted out by the ignorant, the motivated and generally the collaborationist elements within Indian society and government. If New Delhi routinely finds the funds to the tune of several billions of dollars annually to make India the third largest importer of conventional military armaments, surely it can raise defence spending to the 3% of Gross National Product-level recommended by the Eleventh Finance Commission and thereby fund the acquisition of a meaningful thermonuclear deterrent which in size (400 plus warheads/weapons) and quality attains a notional parity with China’s force of some 475 warheads/weapons. Indeed, the British Government thinks that even the 3% of the GNP as defence expenditure for India is on the low side, considering that countries of the European Union with no external threats to speak of spend that much on their militaries. Beijing, incidentally, spends between $50-80 billion per year mostly on keeping its strategic forces indate.
It is also necessary that in keeping with the indefinably destructive nature of nuclear/thermonuclear weaponry, the Indian government define an appropriately grand, meaningful and India-centric security architecture. New Delhi has to reclaim the strategic concept bequeathed by the British Raj of turning the Indian Ocean into an Indian lake and to be the central player in the quadrant formed by the Indian Ocean, the East African littoral reaching up in a straight line to the Caspian Sea, Tibet and Central Asia before dropping down in a perpendicular way east of the Malacca Straits and the western coast of Australia.
Governor-General Lord Minto in the 1810s talked of this security scheme as ‘the distant defence’ of India. In the modern day, it should be conceived of as an Indian ‘Monroe Doctrine’. (The Monroe Doctrine, enunciated in 1823 by US President James Monroe, barred any European country from interfering in the affairs of Central and South American states on the pain of having to engage the United States in war. This is more in the way of defining a sphere of influence which India may not be able to dominate until the 2050s. But it is to lay down geostrategic markers as the space India will seek to be preeminent in. The US, for example, was able to enforce the strictures of the Monroe Doctrine only by the 1890s when that country acquired a globe-girdling navy.)
Alas, if its record in office is any guide, the BJP coalition government does not seem to have the mettle for so consequential an enterprise, nor for that matter does a potentially Congress Party-led regime stuck in the disarmament-arms control rut, for that matter. Having kowtowed to the US where strategic weapons are concerned, it is hardly surprising that in being overly anxious to keep on the right side of Washington, New Delhi has got into a horrible glitch on the Kashmir/terrorism issue as well. It tried recently to recover from a bad situation with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee doing what US President Richard Nixon in Vietnam and a host of other heads of government had done before him when faced with a marginal war situation going slowly akilter – declare victory and try to get the hell out.
‘Without going to war, India has achieved victory’, Vajpayee crowed unconvincingly to the Dainik Jagran (12 June 2002). Alas, it is not so easy, as the government has discovered, to get off the hook it impaled itself on by ordering a general mobilisation without ever intending to go to war with Pakistan. President Pervez Musharraf, not one to miss an opportunity to turn the knife, had his spokesman Major General Rashid Qureishi mock New Delhi, saying that the Indian formations massed on the border can rot in the summer sun with snakes and scorpions for company for all that Islamabad cared. (The Pakistan Army also readied for hostilities, of course, except that the average distance between most of its cantonment towns and the frontline being short, the military effort involved was not as heavy or as obvious. In the Indian case, troops were pulled in from as far away as the Integrated Command in the Andamans at Port Blair.)
Mobilisation as political stunt is, perhaps, all right as a one-off thing. But it cannot be a permanent solution for dealing with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, because conventional military action is not the answer to the guerrilla-style jehadis and other insurrectionists. To order general mobilisation for war seems something of a non sequitur-ish response to uncontained jehadi actions, like the attack on Parliament and to their normal bloody activity in Jammu & Kashmir. If war does not ensue, mobilisation amounts to the frivolous use of the armed forces for political signalling purposes which has two extremely negative ramifications. The next time New Delhi attempts mobilisation, it will pack little credibility. And second, it leads to a needless blunting of the military’s warfighting edge.
Moreover, mobilisation is pricey business which is not easily offset other than by truly gigantic political gains, which do not seem to be in the offing. The bill for this venture so far is literally in the thousands of crores of rupees and that’s just for transporting eight odd Army Divisions to the vicinity of their jump-off points along the western border. To this bulging sum must be added the opportunity costs of so using the country’s far-flung transport infrastructure and the cost of attrited hardware and the logistics system owing to the full scale preparations for war. After all, the armed forces cannot take the risk of seeing the mobilisation order as other than a prelude to hostilities.
The massive movement of strike and holding formations, both teeth and tail, and the gearing up of the support structure to keep the troops supplied and in fighting trim for long periods, other than with equipment and stores, to meet such basic needs as water, also entails continuous draw-downs of POL (Petroleum, Oil, Lubricants), the war wastage reserve, and the war stock. The extent of the latter two decide how long the country can fight wars and with what intensity.
The forces may be kept mobilised for a long time, ventures a former adviser to the defence ministry in this government, because it is the only thing Vajpayee has readily at hand to rally the people behind him. Particularly as the prime minister and his security advisers lack the gumption to resume testing and risk alienating the US, even if this is the surest means of solidifying the national nuclear deterrent and get the masses on the BJP’s side. But on the ground, what obtains is an absurd situation.
While the armed forces are mobilised to fight, the Indian government is not convinced these can be used to retaliate against provocative Pakistani-aided terrorist actions – the original motivation for ordering mobilisation in the first place! Thus, the jehadi attack on Kaluchak in Jammu and on the CRPF camp in Srinagar begat not punitive military actions but an official statement to say Pakistan was not directly to blame for them. To do otherwise would have been to initiate hostilities – the very thing mobilisation was supposed to culminate in – as a result of growing public pressure to retaliate in a big way!
The Army, for its part, decided in this period to keep its spirits up by making do with a war exercise, in lieu of the real thing, involving the formations already in the field. This may have compounded the twin problem of mounting costs and plummeting efficiency. Indeed, the situation today to some small extent resembles the one obtaining in the aftermath of Operation Brasstacks in 1987 when the wear and tear on hardware, especially the hard-driven armoured and mechanised elements, in the corps-level plus exercise was such that had Pakistan attacked just when Brasstacks ended, India would have found itself in some trouble.
It is not inconceivable that in order to gain purchase with his people, a politically canny and militarily risk-acceptant Musharraf, certain of the US cavalry riding to his rescue in case Pakistan ever finds itself in truly desperate straits, may be tempted later in the year to try and give India a bloody nose by starting a small affray. The dividends would be disproportionately large. The main Indian fighting force by then would have been on war alert and at its battle station for almost a year, enough time for it to lose its sharpness, become de-spirited and simmer in a materially ragged and morally rundown state. A few surprise attacks, probably across the Line of Control in Kashmir, telling or otherwise, could be landed to make Musharraf look a hero for taking on ‘Hindu’ India and for cocking a snook at Washington. It could well deflect the people’s ire at the farcical October elections.
And as has happened before, New Delhi, in that event, will be persuaded/pressured by the US to act ‘responsibly’ and terminate the conflict before the Indian Army has collected its wits and regrouped to beat up on Pakistan. It is always the referee or the gong and, of course, the Indian military’s expenditure priorities de-emphasizing the filling up of the ‘voids’ in the war wastage reserve and the war stock, thereby disabling it from fighting long duration, decisive wars that has saved Pakistan from being KO-ed. It will do so again and the unending conflictual cycle will get a new lease of life.
Now spool to a different ending. What prevents the Indian government from giving RAW its head and letting it reply in kind? Prosecuting, in Vedic terms, kutayuddha (covert warfare) against Pakistan means unleashing an all encompassing low intensity conflict by fuelling discontent and financing every possible dissident and secessionist group in Pakistan? Reactivating the mohajirs’ ‘civil war’ in Karachi, exacerbating the sectarian tensions between the sunni and shia communities there, and stoking separatist sentiments with injections of money and arms in Baluchistan, ‘azad’ Kashmir, the Seraiki region of Punjab, and Baltistan in the extreme north, will quickly get a military-ruled Pakistan between the frying pan and the fire.
This internal turmoil within Pakistan would be unmanageable enough for the Martial Law government in Islamabad. But were it to be backed up by sustained Indian operations across the Line of Control in J&K by Special Forces and Commando elements of the three Services acting in league with the regular conventional military to push the LoC Pakistan-wards, hill feature at a time, in a slow grinding movement with the ultimate objective of having Indian forces push Pakistani forces out of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which will be in line with Islamabad’s long-standing contention that LoC is only a Cease Fire Line, and Musharraf and company will, very soon, be on their knees.
It is time for unbearable costs to begin to be imposed on Pakistan by waging like warfare – something that New Delhi and the Indian Army haven’t had the guts, the wit and the will, or even the capability to prosecute. This multi-pronged policy would disabuse the Conference of Corps Commanders – the military cabal running that country – as nothing else will, that it has any kind of edge in the sphere of low intensity war, because Pakistan certainly does not enjoy any advantage in either the conventional military or the nuclear spheres.
Indeed, it is precisely the prospect of a completely unacceptable ‘exchange ratio’ in case Pakistan initiates the use of nuclear weapons, i.e., it stands to be annihilated versus India’s suffering grievous damage, that makes Pakistani threats on nuclear weapon use in case India militarily intrudes into PoK sound hollow. It is necessary to make Pakistan’s jehadi threat as innocuous.
This will require for a start the rescinding by the PMO of the directive issued to the Research and Analysis Wing in the swell of the so-called Gujral Doctrine, to cease and generally desist from destabilising ‘activities’ in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan. It will also require the Armed Forces to get serious about acquiring the appropriate cutting-edge ‘future war’ capability and beef up its Special Forces and Commando strength. The Army will have to be compelled by the Indian government – because regular armies every where do not like Special Forces – to raise at least two Division equivalent of Commando units.
At the present time, the country boasts of just half a dozen battalions of Special Forces – the bulk of them paratroop commando, but it lacks the kind of infrastructure for Special Operations like heli-borne and other retrieval capacity from deep inside enemy territory. So, the army uses what Special Forces are available for small-scale tactical missions like blowing up an ammunition dump here or a culvert there across the LoC in PoK, which serve no strategic purpose.
Caught in a closing pincer of irregular Indian warfare across the LoC and the debilitating internal social turmoil engineered by Indian Intelligence agencies, Islamabad will, in quick time, see the wisdom of accepting the LoC as international border and of living as a good neighbour. The beauty of this policy of sustained and unremitting covert warfare is that even as it begins to seriously hurt Pakistan, India will bear no onus for the law and order situation spiralling out of control in that country – there is plausible deniability considering the turmoil the Pakistani society is in any way. Such a strategy, moreover, will take the sting out of the charge by such as the National Conference leader in Kashmir and the Minister of State of External Affairs, Omar Abdullah, that New Delhi’s policy is needlessly ‘defensive’ on Kashmir (‘Encounter’, Zee News, 21 July 2002).
But trust the Indian government to instead get mired in mobilisation for war, fret about Pakistani terrorism, and plead with the Americans (and anybody else willing to lend ear) to do something about it, and still maintain with a straight face that it will not brook mediation from any quarter. What does it think Messrs. Powell, Armitage, Rumsfeld, Jack Straw and Geoffrey Hoon are doing in their shuttle diplomacy, if not mediating? It willy-nilly cements a third party role in the Kashmir dispute that Islamabad has always craved, the US and the UK have always sought and India, just as strongly, had until now successfully resisted.
It is a role that has now been handed to Washington on a platter and is not something the Americans will surrender in a hurry. As was to be expected, Washington has begun playing the clever panchtantra monkey to the two silly South Asian cats bickering over a ball of butter: Thus, it calls Pakistan a ‘stalwart ally’ but says there is no question of a plebiscite in Kashmir. It praises India as a security partner but rejects labelling Pakistan a ‘terrorist state’.
With the US holding Islamabad’s hand, what the Indian mobilisation for war has done is that, far from squeezing Musharraf, it has enhanced his and Pakistan’s value to the West. So much so that Time magazine (22 July 2002) – often used by the Washington establishment for floating policy ideas – now sees Musharraf’s role in South and Central Asia as implementing, hold your breath, a ‘pax Pakistana’ in this extended region! The effect of this Time article is magnified when set alongside an earlier piece in the same magazine which portrayed Vajpayee as doddering and plainly out of his depth in negotiating the fast currents and undercurrents of international politics in the region.
Furthermore, there is apprehension that the US is preparing the ground for a trade-off: the Israeli Arrow ballistic missile defence system for India’s not squawking about the resumption of the sale of the offensive, F-16 to Pakistan, which would fly in the face of American professions on nonproliferation considering that this aircraft is the premier nuclear delivery system in the Pakistani nuclear order-of-battle. It is another matter altogether that the purchase of any missile defence system, including the Israeli Arrow, will be money down the drain because no missile defence has been seen to work, not even the latest American P-3 because the physics of missile interdiction is against the weapon system. Then again when have such obvious flaws stopped the Indian government from securing items the Armed Services have set their heart on? As a German Air Attache was once heard to say with regard to military acquisitions by New Delhi and the almost routine wastefulness endemic to the Defence Ministry’s expenditure programmes, ‘India is a very rich country!’
In a different vein, the strategic community here was aghast when in response to the US travel advisory – the first, tentative, American step to see just how New Delhi reacts to pressure – the Indian government promptly folded up, ordering a stand-down of its naval forces in the Arabian Sea and de-alerting the Indian Air Force, even as the Army was kept mobilized in readiness for war. That is when, G. Parthasarathy, a former High Commissioner to Pakistan, claims the US government’s suspicions that it was dealing with men of straw, was confirmed. Whence Secretary Powell’s indubitably strong statements (during his late July 2002 trip, for instance) about free elections in Kashmir and the need for their monitoring by international observers.
Where does that leave the BJP government’s desire to play the dominant security role in the Indian Ocean area, with a little help from the US or India’s naturally expansive sphere of influence and its strategic independence, except up a creek? And to think the BJP government still thinks it has the situation under control and professes satisfaction at the way the situation is unfolding. A ruling party setting out deliberately to engineer India’s emergence in the early 21st century as an American dependency, couldn’t have done a better job.
The real problem is something more fundamental. The Indian leadership across the political spectrum, who constitute the ‘soft state’ – because, the sliver of the middle- and upper-middle class apart, the bulk of the people leading marginal lives have little to lose, are tough and resilient, are used to hardships and comprise the ‘hard state’ – has traditionally believed that great power status is an entitlement that India does not have to work for and earn the hard way. And that acquiring such power is a hassle-free, cost-free and effort-free exercise.
It believes, in other words, in magic and miracles! Consequently, no Indian government has seriously thought of acquiring this status as other great powers have done throughout history the old-fashioned way – by blood, sweat, sacrifice and by courting risks. It also labours under a delusion that securing a decisive military wherewithal capable of delivering punishment at great distances, staking out a sphere of influence, and ensuring that other countries, howsoever powerful, respect it, is no part of great power responsibilities.
Indeed, Indian governments have distinguished themselves by craving great power status on the cheap, by seeking it as a grant or a favour from the powerful states in the international system. They have begged for a Security Council seat, tried to impress big powers with their ‘responsible’ behaviour (in areas like nuclear nonproliferation), and generally carried on as if India was a small rinky-dink country, a la Pakistan, running for the sycophant-of-the millennium award, in the hope that this will convince the great powers to part with some of their strategic space and imperatives. Such self-abnegation only earns derision not respect. And self-respect and self-belief are the basic building blocks of great power, not vacuous sounding words.
Whatever the issue, national self-respect is always on the line where great powers and would-be great powers are concerned. The mark of a great power is single-mindedly to pursue narrowly-defined national interest at the expense of every other principle, ideology and value. This is what the United States and China do, and the ‘have been’ powers – Russia, Britain and France – did. The Indian government better muster the nerve and the conviction to do it too, to finally stand up for India, for its interests and for its greater glory – an aim the Indian people have so far found that several generations of leaders promised but have not realized.
The ‘India first, always, and at all cost’ mindset and attitude has to permeate every nook and cranny of policy-making process and apparatus, and to infect every Indian politician and official before a large, powerful country, like India, can survive with self-respect, its ability to hit back hard never doubted by the great powers.