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Friday, May 06, 2011

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Unity in militarism
The security establishment would like India to project its power more forcefully abroad. But to position this as an exercise in protecting the nation's internal unity stretches the imagination, writes Firdaus Ahmed.
Nitin Pai’s candour is revealing. In an article with an honest title ‘Projecting power to protect unity’, he argues that ‘India must project power abroad to stay united at home.’ For those not familiar with him or his work, Pai is editor of Pragati and fellow for geopolitics at the Takshashila Institution. His blog, The Acorn, reflects and furthers the conservative-realist perspective on security. That the article is an excerpt of his speech at a conference at the Army War College, Mhow, suggests that this perspective has a keen following where it matters. What does this mean for regional security?
India’s rising power is sold as a ‘benign’ development, particularly when it is contrasted adversely with China’s ‘hegemonic’ rise. Its democratic credentials, record as a non-expansionist state, military restraint and strategic prudence are taken as indicators that it is a non-threatening development. Besides, it is increasingly inclined towards the West and since the West holds the levers of the strategic discourse, India is easily projected as a useful balance to China in Asia. This article questions the thesis that India’s rise is of unqualified benefit for security.


That India has been status quoist so far obscures the possibility that it may not always remain so. Nitin Pai argues for ‘reform’ using the logic that India’s internal unity demands an external orientation of its growing power. His thesis is that India’s strategic culture needs changing in light of its growing power credentials. This would enable Indian unity.
What he does not say, but is implicit, is that creating an external ‘Other’ would be a useful national enterprise since it would lend India cohesion and national identity. This means an adversarial equation with China and with Pakistan, seen as China’s proxy, would help India stay united internally, help it create and sustain power necessary to wrestle with these external challenges. This argument is as subtle as self-serving.
Conservative realists such as him who form the dominant strain in India’s strategic community use innovative logic for militarization of India. To them this would create power and the culture to use power appropriately. Power so created would be useful in warding of the ‘threats’ posed by the ‘Other’, even if the threat arose due to this very creation of power.
There are several problems with this. The more obvious ones are disposed off here first. There are other more revealing indices of national arrival, such as education, gender balance, poverty figures etc. There is nothing to suggest that a growing felicity in the creation and use of power would lead to a corresponding change in the socio-economic indices. Secondly, there is no guarantee that the power gained would be able to offset the combined power of the ‘Other’ so created, China and Pakistan. It may be hurtful in case the nuclear backdrop to the conflictual relations was to come to foreground for some reason later. Thirdly, the connection between external power projection and internal unity is not readily established. In the Indira-Rajiv period for instance, there was considerable Indian muscle flexing such as against Sri Lanka, with no obvious effect on internal unity as the outbreak of trouble in Punjab, Kashmir and in social harmony indicate.
Lastly, India’s power projection capability and intent needs to be seen in relation to its association with the US. The European allies of the US stand exhausted. It is seeking military partners for continuing its global stewardship, in particular with relation to controlling terrorism and access to oil. India is being prepared for this role as indicated in the statement of Condoleeza Rice when secretary of state that US intends to make India into a great power. Clearly, this was to serve a purpose of the US. India therefore, refutations of alliance notwithstanding, would lend itself to the US agenda. It would believe that this would be an exercise in its own interest. The distinction between strategic autonomy and external manipulation will be hard to discern. The implication for the region, such as in the short run in AfPak and in the long term for the neocolonial embrace of West Asia, is amply clear.
But more importantly, what realists fail to perceive, even if their logic is driven by a look at internal politics, is that Indian power can be harmful for itself and its region if in the wrong hands. They are unmindful of the possibility of the process of creating the ‘Other’ leading to the Indian identity formed in contradistinction to the ‘Other’. The emphasis on ‘unity’ would be to steam roll the diversity that defines India. The harmony imposed, that is itself necessarily selective in its basis, will lead to internal disruptions that will neither help the creation of power nor its external projection.
Of greater consequence is the possibility of dominance of majoritarian extremists over the power structure created. The conditions of external and internal strife created by the process of imposing ‘unity’ would be fertile for their ascent to power. Given that the power levers that they inherit would be stronger, India would cease to be the ‘benign’ power as is currently imagined. It would certainly not be ‘benign’ to those not of the persuasion of these forces within India. It would be equally problematic for the immediate neighbourhood.
Realists in their external focus can be forgiven two mistaken beliefs. One is that they take India’s democratic credentials as a given. Instead these need to be constantly recreated, worked on and preserved. Conditions that degrade these need being guarded against. The second is that even if Hindu nationalists were to come to power, this is not such a bad thing since it would only be democratic. The cultural trove of the religion would ensure that India stays benign. This is to miss the ugly face of cultural nationalism and neglect the fact that it would get uglier the closer it gets to unbridled power.

It is for these reasons, India’s growing power is not necessarily a blessing for India or its region. The extant thesis of India as a ‘benign’ power will prove very short lived indeed.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

#3372, 5 May 2011

Firdaus Ahmed

In wake of the Osama killing, the hawks have carried the day in India. In pointing towards possible Pakistani complicity in harbouring Osama, they make the point that the Indian initiative of reaching out to Pakistan that is currently unfolding will fail. Their ‘I told you so’ discourse will likely result in a ‘wait and watch’ attitude by the government. This would lead to another year lost in South Asia.

This time around the initiative appeared more promising with the commerce secretaries agreeing on many encouraging measures ranging from petroleum products, electricity etc to the more important issue of MFN status for India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared to be investing politically in his gut instincts. Reports were of the government having prepared its ground better by networking with the Pakistani army, later denied by both sides.

What will be the implications of Laden’s death? The major element forming the context is the end game in Af-Pak. The Obama plan of beginning pull out in July will gain momentum since the rationale for ‘hunting Osama’ does not exist any more. Ten years have considerably set back the al Qaeda. It has metamorphosed in a manner as to make Af-Pak irrelevant. The Taliban, the key player, has not suffered by Osama’s departure. Knowing the US may like a negotiated exit, they would drive a hard bargain. Pakistan would like to retrieve lost ground by backing them. This will ensure the dissipation of US triumphalism on the departure of Osama before the spring is out.

The point emerges that Pakistan has at best lost face. It will compensate by increasing its energy in protecting its interests. The US, with elections coming up and an economy that continues as a concern, cannot but placate it. The ‘wild card’ would be a terrorist reprisal in the US with Pakistani connections. This could disrupt the relationship, forcing the US to exit the region leaving behind chaos. That it could go this route is evident from its departure and the aftermath in Somalia.

What does this portend for India? In the Indian debate, the hardliners want to use this opportunity to pressure Pakistan. There is commentary on learning from the manner US conducts its business. They do not mind if the ‘wild card’ plays out to Pakistani detriment. It would leave India as the key regional power and in charge of containing the consequences. This holds appeal since it would give India a role in keeping with its stature.

If all else fails, this approach may be all that India has left. Currently, it may not be very useful since with US pressure found wanting it is hardly likely India’s would be more efficacious. Pressuring Pakistan through the intelligence game and heightening of military competition has not succeeded in conflict resolution. Instead, Pakistan has drawn down its nuclear cover more tightly with two quick missile tests, Hatf IX and Hatf VIII, over the last month. Debunking the realist prescription first is needed to eliminate it as an option. In any case, precedent of squandering India’s preeminence in the wake of 1971 does not inspire.

India must instead be attuned to the counter-intuitive likelihood of increased US reliance on Pakistan to bring about a face-saving exit from Af-Pak. In comparison, India’s cards in Afghanistan are not strong enough to impress. Its utility in reconstruction can be substituted by China. Its reach in the intelligence game and the strength of its proxies is comparatively weaker than that of Pakistan and is well short of its heyday in the Massoud years. Therefore, India must realistically appraise the relative power positions, and determine that it needs to work with Pakistan than against it.

This could help save Pakistan. Rhetorically India has accepted that this is in Indian interest. But its inability and unwillingness to see the peace process through indicates that it has not done enough to put its money where its mouth is. The realist expectation that they can handle the aftermath of a radicalized state in Pakistan is self-serving. A Pakistan in chaos is only good for majoritarian radicals and hyper-nationalists in India. India must tune into what its interests are.

Its aim is to get Pakistan to disengage with finality from Kashmir. The possibility of offering Pakistan political space in Af-Pak resolution in return for a quid pro quo on Kashmir is past. When the Af-Pak deal is through, Pakistan can turn its attention to Kashmir once again. Precluding such an outcome should impel Indian efforts.

On the internal front, India must instead proactively tackle Kashmir. In case it is unable to do so by networking with Pakistan due to internal political weaknesses, it must at the very least dispel the environment in Kashmir that enables Pakistani interference.

The analysis here that Pakistan has lost only face and not its position; which indicates that a ‘wait and watch’ policy spells inertia. Strategy, sensitive to evolving equations, calls for capitalizing on the stake of ongoing talks that India currently has in the fire.