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Sunday, January 24, 2010

INDIA AT 60: ACQUIRING ESCAPE VELOCITY?


The parade down the Rajpath on India’s sixtieth Republic Day can be expected to showcase its growing power signified best by the replica of INS Arihant, the third leg of its ‘triad’ launched by the Prime Minister in the preceding year. While the operationalisation will take up to mid-decade, by then India would have acquired Agni missiles with reach enough to ‘take out’ cities on Chinese eastern sea board perhaps with H-Bombs, despite existence of the latter being questioned over last year. With the mountain ‘strike corps’ under raising having stabilised by then, India would be in a position to parlay with China from a position of symmetry. The expectation is that this would give it the confidence to enter into the necessary ‘give and take’ that negotiations imply. Presently, it does not have the political capital internally.

However, consequential for the interim is its relationship with Pakistan, presently on ‘pause’. India’s strategy dating to the eighties of hiking the defence imbalance in its favour to such an extent that Pakistan falls off as a challenger has not met with the success of the strategy’s votaries so far. Economic problems of the nineties set back the endeavour by a decade. But at the start of this decade, India has the requisite economic ballast to push this strategy; de-hyphenation already having taken place over the last one. The current stridency in Pakistan’s view of India seemingly indicates increasing success for this strategy. The expectation is that eventually the Pakistani Army, attuned to the power imbalance, would acknowledge it and realistically ‘throw in the towel’.

In the coming decade security is to be so managed as to materialise this outcome on both fronts. The reference to ‘two front’ war can be explained as India’s attempt at arriving at conventional deterrence capabilities, placing it in a position of strength in the ‘worst case’ scenario. Pakistan’s utility as a surrogate for China would end. This may open up future possibilities by end decade in which South Asia as a unified, if not unitary, strategic entity balances China, with or without ballast of an external power.

There are two problems with this grand strategy. One is its over-reliance on power and second is that it does not take on board several problem areas that could derail it.

It amounts to a truism that power under grids the world order. This reliance on power is therefore explicable. The paradox is that though the utility of power is in deterrence, it nevertheless ends up being used. Just as in the early part of last century, in this century too the argument persists that globalisation induced thicker economic relations would help prevent war. The expectation was belied by the First World War. That too was a period of rising new powers. Learning would have it that avoiding a like eventuality entails departing from over-reliance on power. The irony is that the economic underpinning of power is itself endangered. Finally when India has much to lose, it is all being placed at stake in a power gamble. Though a globalised world, it remains very much a nuclear one too. Therefore, more needs doing with more imagination and urgency along other planes such as institutionalising inter-relationships and Asian security architectures.

Secondly, Pakistan managed to under-cut Indian strategy for the past three decades. Over the eighties and the naughties, it lent itself to US purposes in Afghanistan. In the nineties, India was hobbled by the shift to liberalisation and by proxy war. Pakistan has managed to checkmate Indian rise manifest in the conventional plane on the sub-conventional and nuclear planes. How its counter plays out this decade would determine whether India reaches decade end as planned. Pakistan will lend itself to the Chinese game plan keeping alive India’s ‘two front’ dilemma. Creating the ability to cope does not help India transcend it, but materialises it instead.

Underlying grand strategy is the assumption that India’s growing proximity with the US would help. To close the military gap with China, K. Subrahmanyam advocates: ‘India is seen as one of the key partners for the US to reshape the 21st century. The US has agreed to sell high technology defence equipment to India while it is not likely to sell them to China, its main rival in the coming decades.’ In respect of Pakistan, India’s actions, at variance with what it professes, seem to indicate a perverse hope of the situation in AfPak deteriorating to the extent that the US requires Indian assistance, thereby raising its profile, indispensability and bargaining power.

A conclusion from this brief survey is that India is honing its power capacities hoping to make up any short fall by leaning on the US. This would render it vulnerable to shocks as the international order transits decisively away from the post Cold War unipolar moment. Success in this requires deft footwork. Commentary on the recent changeover of the NSA does not infuse confidence that India can manage this. With institutional and internal incapacities remaining, India requires postponing its tryst by another decade.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TAKING FICCI SERIOUSLY

It is unsurprising that the FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) has gone back on the report on terrorism of a task force commissioned by it. This was prompted by the concerns raised by its Pakistani counter part, FPCCI, on the recommendation of ‘surgical strikes’ in response to the next terror attack made by the task force. It is perhaps apprehensive that ‘surgical strikes’ would do more to disrupt the investment climate than terror strikes, for which it thinks these strikes are remedy. That the recommendation was made a year ago does not detract from the fact that even today it continues to be discussed as an option.

This article discusses whether ‘surgical strikes’ are at all a sensible option. It does not dwell on two other options mentioned in the report, but deserving of mention here. The first is a ‘covert’, ‘deniable’, reply for if Zaid Hamid writing in the Pakistani press is to be believed, this is already underway! The second is the report’s advocacy of an ‘All Out Assault’ involving ‘a limited but intense attack on the PoK’, taking this as more as outlet for justified exasperation close in wake of the dastardly 26/11.

The FICCI report has it that with the locations of terror outfits largely known in Pakistan, it would be possible to attack these. India could use artillery if in range, the air force and possibly Special Forces operations. Given the linkage of ballistic missiles with the nuclear capability, these would not be used. Also, Prithvi missiles are being retired. The levels to which cruise missiles are operational, is uncertain.

The report rightly assesses that India would require to be prepared for a backlash of international opinion, as also for a possible war. While it can reasonably be expected that robust Indian diplomacy can handle international opinion, particularly by referring to Indian restraint in wake of Mumbai 26/11, it is worth considering whether conflict escalation can be avoided and if such an outcome can be coped with.

The latter is easy to concede in light of the Army Chief’s comment that India is preparing for a ‘two front’ war. India has the advantage of quality and quantity and can be expected to be effective if not efficient in conventional conflict. Nevertheless, efficiency is importance to the eventual outcome of the conflict. This is because even while India will prevail, the margin of the win will determine the victor. Just as 1979 is treated as a Vietnamese victory and the Israeli campaigns of 2006 and 2009 are seen as defeats, to win all that Pakistan needs to ensure is that is does not lose. The political cost of such a ‘tainted’ ‘victory’ would be such that no Indian government would likely be willing to countenance.

Would a ‘victory’ be messy? Consider the opinion of the Standing Committee on Defence: ‘Considering the fact that the key to success in modern day warfare operations is the ability of the different wings of the Armed Forces to integrate their efforts under a single command without any loss of time…The Committee, have also recommended that till such time the post of CDS is created, the Government may take steps to give appropriate authority to the Chairman COSC in the present set up to command and control the resources of the Defence Services whenever the situation so demands.’ In effect, the principal coordinator of the defence forces would only be served with an enhanced staff!

This would be at a time when the weighty decision on the relative weight of each service involved is to be taken. Friction between service viewpoints was referred to in the famous speech of the last COSC, Admiral Mehta. He concurred with the Air Force’s view that he quoted as being, ‘“Jointness does not necessarily imply equal partnership” and that there was a need to “adopt correct combinations, whilst respecting the core expertise of individual Services”.’ Writing in Mail Today, Pinaki Bhattacharya writes: ‘The army and air force are battling it out over how to beat Pakistan in a flash war if and when that happens.’

The efficacy of the current COSC system is revealed best in Admiral Mehta’s speech in which he states: ‘We have a draft nuclear doctrine in place, which is restrained, in keeping with our traditional national culture.’ In referring to the Draft nuclear doctrine of 1999, the Admiral reveals that he is unaware that the CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) approved the doctrine in 2003. This, despite having the Strategic Forces Command under him in his capacity as COSC!

To answer the question posed, it could get messy.

The government would require not only being supportive, but also tolerant of shortcomings. The Army has already revealed shortcomings in its inventory. The Air Force’s Vice Chief has already controversially attributed this to do with the kind of politics India has. Therefore, the armed forces would have a ready alibi and the buck, as it must, would stop with the government. Can the government, the ruling party and, more importantly, its inner core centered on the Gandhi family, afford it politically?

The report raises concerns of corporate sector, ostensibly as part of its civil society duties, with respect to terrorism in India’s hinterland, the Naxal belt and the North East. It makes the point that terror is designed to disrupt India’s economic growth by, among other reasons, making India an unsafe destination for foreign capital and visitors. It fails to mention that the same would be doubly so with increase in threat of conflict. Perhaps it smells an economic opportunity in the resulting militarisation. That the FICCI that should instead be interested in increased trade with Pakistan be linked to a report that calls for an attack on it. This calls for an explanation.

Increased defence budgets, the promise of defence offsets and the incipient growth of an industrial-military complex in India as it attempts to gain great power status may lead to manipulation of the threat perception by corporate elements who stand to gain from the resulting militarisation. The Preface of the report is candid on this calling, ‘for greater involvement of industry in national security strategies and improved cooperation between policy-makers, government and Industry as part of a robust public-private partnership.’ Already there is talk of a two front war, necessitating greater military spending and exertion by India. The FICCI report heralds a trend warned against by Eisenhower in his farewell address.

Not only would vigil over the next 26/11 and India’s response continue into the New Year, but the larger trend referred to would bear watching into the coming decade.