Indian foreign policy: a wake up call
DR. GAUTAM SEN
Indians and their policy makers share a belief that they are ineffably decent people, who embody worthy moral values. This was clearly the basis for Nehru’s much-reviled, pompous self-righteousness. It was in fact a distorted legacy of the Gandhian syndrome of self-harm that assured partition of the worst kind imaginable. By and large, the good Indian took this unprecedented calamity in his stride even while its victims languished indefinitely in the paradise Nehru sought to inflict on a hapless nation. But Indians and their deluded rulers earnestly expected the world at large to note the solemn conviction pertaining to their essential goodness and behave with appropriate diligence towards their interests.
The real world predictably intruded very promptly and Indian expectations had to adjust to the harsh realities of a world indifferent to righteousness and thoroughly unpredictable. Hard experience forced India to accord greater priority to realistic behaviour that required self-defence in the shape of expensive weaponry, counter-intelligence, etc. But somewhere in the recesses of their psyche Indians never quite overcame the delusion that they would wake up one day to find the world had understood them and begun to engage with due regard.
The paradox is that in reality India only invites ridicule, contempt and even hatred abroad rather than the respect and affection it craves. Every single Indian neighbour espouses an admixture of these sentiments and the one to which is supposedly closest culturally harbours the greatest animus. Unfortunately, the upright Indian, preoccupied with reaping a harvest of crass material gratification, having lots of fun and generally self-absorbed, has not bothered to introspect. Every now and then Indians experience a rude shock, whether in the shape of the Kandahar hijack, aided by their very own estranged neighbouring cousins or 26/11, administered by their sworn enemy. But self-indulgence presides and everything is quickly forgotten.
An evaluation of some specific critical issues in the backdrop of Indian self-delusion and cupidity might provide insights into the Indian political predicament. It may be inferred that India has espoused the goal of economic and social development as paramount. In addition, dealing with its two adversarial neighbours has been a constant preoccupation, which, in fact, militates against the first goal. Both China and Pakistan seek to cut India down to size. It is an aspiration that has not diverged unduly from the entrenched British impulse to punish an India ruled by what they have always regarded as wily Hindus that dared expel them. The US soon subscribed to this view since India refused to kowtow with the great white imperial ruler of the earth, which also found its alleged proximity to the communist USSR insufferable.
The Anglo-Americans immediately embraced Pakistan, which abandoned with alacrity the supposed political and religious rationale that had prompted partition. Instead, it eagerly seized the opportunity of becoming foot soldiers in the millennial struggle against ungodly communism. The outcome was the complete and enduring militarization of Pakistan and its transformation into an aggressive ghazi state, committed to warfare. The consequences of that fateful decision have since led to its veritable unfolding implosion. The pinnacle of Pakistan’s wholehearted commitment to the Anglo-American imperial cause, in the name of Islam of course, came in the 1980s and the US war to corner the USSR in Afghanistan. As a reward for its cooperation, investigations reveal the US discreetly helped Pakistan’s quest to best India by acquiring a nuclear arsenal. It was of course facilitated directly by unstinting help from its all-weather friend, China. The three cynical agents of godly moral purpose engaged in a crusade to undermine the ungodly USSR and its supposed friend, India.
The question that might be posed is what would be the rationale for the Anglo-Americans to now abandon Pakistan in favour of India. India has of course been arguing strenuously that Kashmir is a legitimate part of the Indian Union, while also tenaciously upholding legal provisions that simultaneously undermine that very claim! Its response to Pakistani terrorism has been wayward, at the very best, but it has also been warning plaintively that Pakistani terrorism against India will spill over and impact the West itself. It duly did so on 9/11 and elsewhere, from London to Madrid. There is now an earnest Indian hope that the West, namely the US, will use its enormous financial and military clout over Pakistan, as its principal supplier of weapons, to somehow restrain it. There is, as yet, no sign of such a gratifying finale for India.
However, the reason for this Indian disappointment is not far to seek. The Anglo-Americans, leave aside China, which is fully committed to the Pakistani goal of harming India, have little to gain from switching their support to India and effectively abandoning Pakistan. In turn, the West will have no value to Pakistan if it repudiates all support for its claim to Kashmir and suspends help to sustain its quest for some sort of military parity with India, which the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal has indeed substantially allowed. The West would then lose an ally that has shown little hesitation in doing its bidding, even though there has been a public display of various discords in the recent past. One suspects these were manufactured to shield Pakistan’s military dictators from domestic hostility for their supine conduct in allowing the US carte blanche in the region.
Yet, Pakistan remains the only Muslim country with a serious army, which earlier protected US allies like King Hussein of Jordan. A military contingent, led by none other than the late President Zia ul- Haq, crushed a Palestinian revolt in what came to be known as Black September during 1970. It was Pakistani commandos who also rescued the reviled US-backed Saudi monarchy when the Grand Mosque was seized by religious zealots in 1979. Most significantly of all, Pakistan contributed hugely to the Afghan campaign, effectively instigating the retreat of the USSR from Afghanistan. The Afghan victory culminated in the historic triumph of the West in the Cold War. However, unpalatable it may be for self-important Indian bureaucrats and deluded Indian politicians, Pakistan’s usefulness to the West can hardly be doubted.
It should also be noted that the West does not actually hold the Pakistani government and establishment responsible for 9/11. In private, there is acknowledgment the catastrophe was partially due to forces unleashed by the historic Afghan campaign to dislodge the USSR from the country. In addition, Pakistan is cooperating exhaustively with the West to interdict further attacks on Western targets, if not others. In recent months, the usefulness of Jihadis from Pakistan has been rediscovered by the US, with a contingent, perhaps led by the Pakistani army itself, making its way to Syria to help overthrow Bashar Al Assad.
Pakistan, along with Turkey, has been the key third world allies of the West during the Cold War. Pakistan’s usefulness to Anglo-Americans political machination, especially in the Middle West, can hardly be denied. As a result, Pakistan has powerful allies in the US, whether it is the State Department, the CIA or the Pentagon, ready to argue its case. To quote the pithy raison d’être offered by one US President in another context: ‘they may be bastards, but they are our bastards’!
By contrast, if the US somehow compelled Pakistani authorities to cease terrorist activities against India the result can well be surmised. From the point of the view of the US, it would entail the loss of a substantial source of leverage over India if such an unlikely goal was attained. At present, fear of conflagration on its western border is a key facet in India’s calculus of feasible policy options. In the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, India views with trepidation open hostilities with Pakistan since Chinese intervention may be in prospect, without the likelihood of a Russian response to deter the latter. Should this constraint on policy options disappear, India would have less need of US goodwill, for example, even in the climactic situation of a nuclear standoff with Pakistan, when US intervention would be invaluable.
The end of Indo-Pak hostility, which the cessation of terror against India would effectively imply, would transform Indian defence options. It would free anything up to 600,000 troops as well as other critical defence assets, for use on its northern border. It would, in other words, be a transformative moment for India. India would gain a degree of policy autonomy it has not possessed since independence. Its dependence on others, who may have helped achieved this highly advantageous outcome, would, paradoxically, also be far less. It should be noted that the legion of ignorant amateurs in India, pronouncing endlessly on peace with Pakistan and settlement with China, have understood little. These two conflicts are inseparably interlinked for India. Neither adversary is likely to jeopardise the core interests of their declared ‘all-weather’ ally by negotiating a separate settlement with India that would leave the other completely exposed!
India has two urgent goals with respect to China and their achievement through the intercession of the West, namely the US, is also problematic. The first is to maintain the northern LAC status quo and second, to curb China outsourcing nuclear deterrence to Pakistan. However, it should be noted that China regards India as one of the two countries with which it will need to settle accounts to emerge as the major player in Asia and attempt equalling the US in the global arena eventually. It is unclear what India’s now obdurate conviction that the US needs it, because of changing geopolitical conditions, means for its modest goals of security on the Indo-Chinese LAC and a restraining influence over Pakistan’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal.
The US calculus of how India might be useful, in the event of tensions with China and as a source of Chinese restraint, is not necessarily co-terminus with the two Indian goals identified above. In fact, there is little evidence that Chinese incursions into the Indian side of the LAC have been influenced by US grand strategy in Asia. However, it might be contended there would be major diplomatic fallout over serious Chinese adventurism along the border with India. Of course the US is seeking a measure of economic and military collaboration to reinforce India’s defence capability and its value should be acknowledged. But they do not decisively assist India’s immediate twin concerns, with Sino-Pak nuclear collaboration only continuing to deepen.
Perhaps India needs to consider the unsentimental reality of the Asian predicament that has emerged with the rise of a China determined to achieve its goals, by force if necessary. Countries in South East, like Vietnam, as well as the Philippines and indeed Japan, are not in a position to help India in the immediate future in the event of a dramatic denouement. Japan’s interests have converged with India’s and it has a strong incentive to become a stakeholder in India’s economic advance. However, that will require a decade or more and a serious Indian economic policy framework that its political class has hitherto proved incapable of implementing. Much more alarming is the highly plausible self-interested outcome of a Sino-US condominium in Asia than direct military encounter in Asia, which will suit neither. In negotiating such an overall settlement, the US will likely accede to two non-negotiable Chinese goals, the first pertaining to Taiwan and the second, securing unassailable control over Tibet, which may require border adjustments disfavouring India.
The sheer cynicism of US foreign policy cannot escape cursory observation of its shocking activities in the contemporary Middle East. It is prepared to destroy entire countries, indeed civilisations, to achieve shifting targets. Knowledge of the full history of the 1962 Indo-China border war and the international context continues to elude. Nehru’s dislike of the armed forces and inept interference, despite zero knowledge of military affairs and frequent threats by Defence Minister, Krishna Menon to court martial officers who dissented from him, may have instigated disloyalty within it.
It may be hazarded that some of India’s most senior army officers and the IB chief were also suspicious of Nehru’s perceived attachment to communist hyperbole and were secretly in touch with Anglo-American governments. These Indian officers had achieved career successes during the British era, serving the colonial power faithfully and had not defected to the INA! They also evidently espoused sympathy for the Cold War Western response against the Soviet Union. The US had been meeting Chinese representatives in Warsaw since the mid-50s and was aware of Sino-Soviet differences and could have also known in advance of China’s intention to attack India. It may have been anticipated by parties to the possible conspiracy, including disloyal senior Indian military officers, that a military encounter with China would bounce India out of the Soviet camp and into the arms of the West. The US had already concluded that Indian behaviour indicated fealty to the despised Soviet camp.
On the issue of India’s unfulfilled aspirations of economic advance and social transformation, the idea that these goals will be actively aided by the outside world is another chimera of the ideological detritus of empire. Nothing could be further from the truth, Ricardo, Hecksher-Ohlin, Samuelson, et. al. notwithstanding. The real-world agents of the international economy, mostly operating from New York and London, are pitiless marauders. Their rapacious, scorched earth misconduct worldwide has apparently been missed by India’s comprador class. Admittedly, these insatiable agents, wallowing in Pharaonic wealth, do not today dispatch armed levies to seize, in an older tradition, though that too happens more often than understood. They will do nothing for India that does not entail gargantuan returns for themselves. They will also subvert India, much as the international retail giants, being welcomed by their paid local Indian agents, are poised to do.
India will surely need foreign capital, but only a strong and ruthless Indian state can bend them to India’s national purposes. The competence to do so has been singularly lacking in an India in the thrall of a third-rate media, a second rate bureaucracy and an essentially self-seeking political class. Rascals abound in every Indian nook and cranny, especially in the benighted city that is its capital. They are the overweening presence in the shape of the elephant in the living room, which needs to have its tusks, embedded in Indian body politic, extracted unceremoniously. The performance of the exceptional recent political dispensation, which came to power in May this year and assured the nation of its determination defend India’s people, is still to unfold.
(Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science)