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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

China in the strategic debate
Firdaus Ahmed.

27 April 2011 - China intruded unambiguously into Indian consciousness with its attack of 1962. Its nuclear test of 1964 further consolidated it as a reckonable threat. Its headstart in economic reforms by about a decade, finds India today playing catch up. It is uninspiring that the only significant aspect in which India expects to surpass China is population. Realising this, it appears that India's grand strategy choice is to be more circumspect in its balancing behaviour.

Whether this circumspection is evident in the details, however, is not very certain, given the tensions recently made visible in India's China strategy. The general in command of India's Northern Command has had to ventilate his apprehensions on the presence of Chinese across the Line of Control as being 'part of the string of pearls strategy. This formulation, around for long on the maritime front, has for the first time found mention on the continental front. In reaction, the Foreign Secretary indicated that details of the Army's concerns have been asked for.

This exchange was in the run-up to the meeting of the prime minister with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the BRICS summit at Beijing.

. There are two possibilities. One is that there is an element of design behind the commander going public with the Army's position. This could be as part of India's signaling strategy, in which it uses the Army to make a point without queering the negotiating pitch with the Chinese overly. From the Foreign Secretary's reaction, however, this does not seem to have been the case. Strategic finesse, of employing its instruments to make subtle points, is not characteristic of India's establishment.

Premature strategic assertion or muscular posturing is not in grand strategic interest since India needs more than a decade to consolidate its agenda of growth with equity.

The other possibility arises from a feature of the national security system - in which the Army, feeling left out, needs to make its presence felt if necessary, indirectly. In this case, a charitable view could be that the timing of the Army commander's comment indicates that he was not aware of the Prime Minister's then impending trip. Or that the timing of the remarks was to send the message to the establishment that the Army would like its concerns discussed at the meeting.

What this does indicate is that there are two schools in the ring, when it comes to India's China strategy and its follow-up actions. The first is a more nuanced policy in which India gains time to get its power indices in order. This involves building economic ties, deepening relations with the US and Asian democracies, and getting its triad into place over the decade. The ongoing reaching-out to Pakistan can also be counted in this school's guidance. A subtle distancing from the US is also underway lest India get caught up prematurely in the balancing game between the global hegemon and the challenger.

The second school advocates a more muscular approach to deter China over the interim. This involves military rejuvenation on the China front through force positioning and infrastructure buildup. It seeks a greater interface with the US, including military contacts. It plays up the 'two front' threat mentioned by the former Army chief and taken forward by the army commander, since the northern army quite naturally finds Chinese presence 'too close for comfort'. It does seem that the military is bucking the diplomacy-predominant and economy-centered China strategy.

It is at this juncture that grand strategy needs to kick in. While there is nothing wrong in the military maintaining its position in a democratic system characterised by bureaucratic pulling and hauling, for the military to have a voice within the confines of the system is better. Its understanding that it does not have adequate leverage is what results in its going to the media and the public. The advantage of an in-house discussion, even if no-holds-barred, is in the opposition being carried along once a decision, not necessarily one arrived at by consensus, is reached.


This also caters for the possibility of preventive war that casts a shadow over the medium term. The expectation in realist circles is that the contention with China will only reach a culmination over markets, resources, political prestige and strategic space over the long haul. They therefore advocate an Indian build up over the interim as insurance.

Could China launch a preventive war in the interim to set India back in this race? Realists argue this is not possible in the current circumstances since China would also likely suffer a set back in relation not so much with India, but in terms of its project of parity with the US. Therefore, India is safe from a 'balance of power' point of view in case it were to arm in the shadow of the US, as it is proceeding to do currently.

The problem with such strategic advocacy is that it sets India up as a target for China in the strategic competition with the US. China would use Pakistan to keep India tied down over the near term. This will not amount to forging a nexus with Pakistan, since this can potentially also singe China. Therefore, the twin-front problem is myth making, more to justify the US tilt and for arms expenditure.

In case India were to be assertive, as realists think is necessary for deterrence sake, then the possibility of preventive war by China becomes a probability. The relative gains from such a contest would be in China's favour since it would enter into the conflict better placed than India in terms of military power. It is unlikely that the US could bail India out since it is already battling declining power and economic indices. Chinese confidence in preventive war can only increase as the two power graphs tend to converge over the medium term. Therefore, Chinese strategy would be to let Pakistan box in India in the short term and keep the preventive war option open for the medium term.

What does this imply for India's grand strategy in first place and at one remove its China strategy? Premature strategic assertion or muscular posturing is not in grand strategic interest since India needs more than a decade to consolidate its agenda of growth with equity. It follows that it needs a China policy that cannot stampede it into a premature confrontation with that putative superpower. The military needs to be brought on board both through appropriate organisational measures giving it a voice within the system as also persuading it of the preferred strategic direction.

Apparently this is already the case, with India Today describing the defence minister as 'lone dissenter' in his turning down the idea of Indian military representation in the headquarters of US theatre commands, among other measures to maintain military distance from the US. This indicates sensible balancing behaviour. The gains made in the meeting between the PM and Mr. Hu, that included agreement over a visit by a delegation of the Northern Army to China, is further evidence of successful unfolding of a strategy that can do without the unnecessary buffeting of bureaucratic politics.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Milli Gazette

By Firdaus Ahmed
According to an affidavit in the Supreme Court by a senior police official, he was witness to the chief minister in Gujarat requiring the police to stay out of violence that he expected Hindus to inflict on Muslims in wake of the burning of the train bogie at Godhra. This was intended to ‘teach the Muslims a lesson’. The police had been somewhat even handed earlier, as a result the Muslims had apparently been emboldened. The lesson would help put a stop to communal violence they indulged in.

The chief minister has since been reelected and has acquired a reputation for being strong on development. There is also the claim that Gujarat has since been communal violence free. A Muslim educationist heading a leading seminary has been under cloud for acknowledging that Muslims do not face discrimination in Gujarat. A leading industrial tycoon is seen in an advertisement praising the Gujarat administration for speedily granting his corporation land for completion of a car project. India’s top actor is a state ambassador for Gujarat. The cop in question has gone on record accusing the Special Investigation Team probing the cases of violence on behalf of the Supreme Court of being partial to the chief minister.

Clearly, the chief minister has done well since for himself and evidently for his state. The question is can the subsequent record help over-shadow the previous record. This is consequential since the chief minister may have ambitions for ruling from Delhi, particularly since his political party is short on leadership with an impressive record.

The answer is equally clearly in the negative. Justice has not only to be done, but seen to be done. The chief minister would have to pay for his acts of omission and commission. But only in case these are proven in court. The problem is that close to a decade has elapsed since.

This means ample time has been available for records to be set right, assuming there is truth to the charge in first place. That the police officer did not blow the whistle earlier indicates the atmosphere of fear in the state bureaucracies. That his own senior has contested his claim brings out the atmosphere of connivance prevalent. This environment of fear is perhaps that gets the bureaucracy working and in its working bringing compliments, if controversial, for development for the state. There is also the possibility, given that the people have reelected the party that within the state apparatus exists a considerable constituency subverted to the ideology of the political party.

In the immediate aftermath of the carnage, the prime minister, of the same political party, could not follow through on his preference of asking the chief minister to go for violation of what he termed as the ‘raj dharma’. The chief minister in the event was saved by the union home minister accepting his narrative of the events in Gujarat. This ability to handle Delhi, no doubt, sent the message to people and officials in Gujarat of the power of the chief minister.

The climate of fear has been extended over time by the earlier killing of the home minister during the carnage, Hiren Pandya. There have been periodic reports of killings of some Muslims in encounters, now being increasingly challenged as fake encounters. These cumulatively have possibly lent the chief minister an aura of invincibility. This perhaps explains the higher indices on development reportedly been notched up by Gujarat. No one in the administration would want to fall afoul of such a ruthless man. It is said of the Emergency that the trains ran on time.

In other words, the ‘development’ that is attributed to Gujarat is not through means that are worth replicating. If these are good enough for the Gujarati people and their state officials, these are not necessarily replicable across the diverse land of India. In any case the controversy that greeted even the revered Anna Hazare’s references to the chief minister’s record on development indicates that the record on rural development is not quite what it is made out to be.

There are three indicators to the contrary about the state of affairs in Gujarat. Firstly, the persecution of Christians in the tribal Dangs district indicates that all is not well in rural Gujarat. Swami Aseemananda, the mastermind who has confessed to his involvement in the right wing conspiracy to malign Muslims through terrorist bomb attacks, had his ashram there in Gujarat. Second is that there has been little done for justice and resettlement of Muslims effected by the violence. This means impunity for the perpetrators and by extension accretion in the aura of ruthlessness of the chief minister.

Lastly, there has been the case of bomb blasts in Ahmedabad as part of the series of blasts in cities across India in 2008. The curious part of this case has been that the only place these were detected and reportedly ‘defused’ was in Surat. The obvious implication is that these have been planted there to implicate Muslims yet again. The less obvious but more significant implication is that this may well have been to take the scent off the elements who had actually planted these. No wonder that the Center has had to create a fresh agency, the NIA, to look at the blasts of questionable origin. The fear is that the intelligence apparatus is so penetrated by subverted ideology if not elements that a fresh agency is required to pursue the ends of justice.

It is therefore important to restrict the chief minister’s shadow to his home state. It is for the people there to realize who they have as their elected head. As for the rest of the people of India there is no way their sense of justice and propriety will allow them to countenance such a person as their political leader. Ensuring that this does not come to pass due to democratic miscarriage requires that the truth in Gujarat be pursued to its logical ends. More need to follow the example of the brave hearts as Hemant Karkare and the whistle blower, Sanjiv Bhatt.

If truth was to prove elusive still, then regretfully it must be acknowledged that this nation needs no better a leader than the chief minister as prime minister.