Shankkar Aiyar News

India's new normal and the need to reboot national security

Published: 01st October 2016 10:40 PM  |   Last Updated: 07th October 2016 06:35 PM   |  A+A-

India has acquired new coordinates in Geo Political Status. India has retrieved the line and control over the geopolitical narrative—thanks to the brilliantly executed pre-emptive strikes across the LoC by the bravehearts of the armed forces. For over two decades a combination of factors resulted in the
crafting of the uniquely Indian doctrine of strategic restraint, which left India painted in the victim’s corner, seemingly with no options. The shackles of shibboleth are
off. The context of change does matter, but what matters more is the presence of an elected and
invested leadership.
 No doubt war is and must be the last option—peace must be procured and secured. The quest for peace, however, must be preceded by institution of justice. Yes, the downside of conflict for India is greater. Equally there is a cost for every action and a price to be paid for doing nothing. Surgical strikes were conducted earlier, but the difference is the explicit declaration that it is an option—doubtless, it comes embedded with known
unknowns.
 The restitution of an option is only the beginning of what will be a long and arduous journey in rebooting national security. China presents the most illustrative example of strategic thinking—and it is principally driven by pride and paranoia, to try and see the unforeseen through scenario mapping. Indeed, in his conversation with Henry Kissinger in July 1971, Zhou Enlai revealed China’s concerns. “The worst would be that China would be carved up once again. You could unite, with the USSR occupying all areas north of the Yellow River, and you occupying all the areas south of the Yangtze River, and the eastern section between these two rivers could be left to Japan.” History is witness that China chose to befriend the United States and—by design and default —thwarted the twin threats of balkanisation and expansionism.
 What has been India’s record? The liberation of East Pakistan from Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh under the leadership of Indira Gandhi could be characterised as advancement of strategic thinking. (India also preserved relationships with Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal but left Myanmar out despite historic connect—presumably because it was ruled by the junta.) The saga pales thereafter. Whereas Pakistan has been relentlessly braggadocios about its claim on Kashmir, India has been rather reticent in its claims on Pak-Occupied Kashmir and indeed Aksai Chin by China.
The objective of strategic advance demands resources and investment—Manmohan Singh did economic growth with national security in 2012 but allowed the economy to race downhill. In 1978 China had a per capita income of around $210 while India’s was around $190. In 2016, the per capita income of India is around $1,600 while that of China is over $7,900. Research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reveals China military spending between 1990 and 2014 is over $1.5 trillion. That economic growth enabled China to first strengthen its military might and national security objectives merits the attention of the political class blockading reforms.
 In February 1994, Parliament of India passed a resolution condemning Pakistan’s role in training terrorists in camps located in Pakistan and in Pak-Occupied Kashmir for infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir. In August 1994, P V Narasimha Rao declared eloquently that “the only unfinished task in Kashmir was the restoration of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir to India”. Since two decades thereafter, India’s approach, one could argue, has been rather fatalistic.
 The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a much-discussed topic. Fact is, the idea was in the making since the 1990s. Even as China developed its SEZs in the east, it was sourcing opportunities for a gateway to the west. Consider the facts. Gwadar territory was acquired from Oman by Pakistan in 1954. The port itself was barely a wharf till China signed a deal way back in 2001 to fund it and the Karakoram highway. It is only now that it has raised the ante—on Balochistan and the India-Afghanistan-Iran alternate corridor.
Nations invest in military industrial complexes with a reason—it delivers leverage and funds for national security objectives. India discouraged private players and blocked foreign investment till last year. In contrast, China beefed up investments to substitute imports and has emerged as a major exporter offsetting its defence spending via global sale of arms. Since 1990 China has exported arms worth over $25 billion—of which a third or $8.5 billion is to Pakistan, $3 billion to Myanmar, $2.2 billion to Bangladesh and $2 billion to Iran besides to Sri Lanka. The data illustrates the geography of sales and the opportunity cost of this strategic initiative.
The issue is about the might of the moolah, it is also about the dexterity of perception management.Pakistan has leveraged its corner plot status with cosy client-state relationships with the US and China. The swagger rests on the crutch of geographic inevitability. It is, however, vulnerable on every measure of civility—from oppression of sects to safety of its own denizens. That its singers, actors and players seek visibility in India is testament of a failing state and a flailing society. It could be leveraged if India chooses to play up its soft power.
China has been relentless in staking its claims as reflected in the saga of stapled visas for residents of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. Pakistan too ratcheted rhetoric at every opportunity. Fact is, the first of the 18 clauses of the UN Security Council Resolution 38 of 1948 seeks its withdrawal from occupied territories. India has been unable to deploy the positives—the 24 seats kept vacant as per the J&K Constitution till Pakistan vacates Kashmir. It has also not built on the story line. Curiously attempts by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey to stake the claim forwarded was thwarted—his attempt to introduce a Private Member bill for reserving five seats in Lok Sabha were rejected in December 2014 and February 2015. Righteousness too needs a campaign.
India has much to be proud of—it is the largest functioning free market democracy. The tide of events affords India an opportunity to shift orbit—in economics and geopolitics. It does need to get the politics right—in the Valley and elsewhere. The political class needs to reset its compass. Reality beckons.shankkar.aiyar@gmail.com

Shankkar aiyar Author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change

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