Clear and future danger

Last Updated: Thu, May 14, 2009 06:29 hrs

Dr Gautam Sen taught international political economy to graduate students for more than two decades at the London School of Economics and Political Science and is the co-author of Analyzing the Global Political economy, Princeton University Press, 2009) One of the greatest statesmen and diplomats ever was an Indian.

But despite the individual genius of a Kautilya, the tradition of statecraft is weak in India, and we have habitually stumbled in our approach to international relations.

Centuries ago, local Indian kingdoms failed to unite in the face of medieval Islamic invasions that brought them catastrophe. Medieval Indians might be forgiven for not anticipating that the invaders would try to erase their cultures altogether and enslave them en masse.

But there can be fewer excuses for subsequent failures that continued to dominate Indian history. The Maratha successors of the great warrior-king Shivaji were betrayed by their own French officers to Arthur Wellington, a great general who also saw off the redoubtable Napoleon.

And a broken-backed Pakistan continues to routinely outwit India in the 21st century.

Indians still refuse to acknowledge the predatory nature of the wider world and persistently adopt the path of least resistance in the hope that difficult problems will go away or will be finessed by compromises.

The Gandhi-Nehru era is considered by many to have been the most dismaying modern example of boundless self-confidence and stupidity in dealings with other countries. In defence of the Mahatma, it could be said that his whimsical counsel to the Bengali Hindu rape victims of Noakhali -- Surrender and/or commit mass suicide -- may not be the entire story.

Although he espoused non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi also wrote in The Doctrine of the Sword: ``I do believe that when there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless victim to her own dishonour.``

 When Nehru apologetically informed him of India`s armed defence of Kashmir against Pakistani marauders, he agreed that there was no choice, but to fight.

But Gandhi` s theme of non-violence was used by India`s Anglo-Saxon enemies to befuddle the natives. Jawaharlal Nehru, though a worldly statesman, wildly misconceived Indian interests at every juncture. He chose the worst possible advisors and ignored counsel that warned of impending national disaster.

Ambassador K M Pannikar, his evil courtier, led him up the garden path and Nehru banished the formidable Mr Sinha (the late Sumal Sinha, who died in 1983. His last posting was as Ambassador to Lebanon) abroad because the latter warned the Prime Minister of the impending 1962 Chinese attack.

Even Indira Gandhi, who displayed great courage, was let down by a medley of dim-witted advisors who misconstrued their privileged origins as some sort of certification of innate wisdom. And if they could use a knife and fork and compose adolescent English prose, they were unstoppable. They were the reason why she took the decision to invade Bangladesh without the enthusiastic support of those around her.

But she was lucky to have, in General JFR Jacob, ``one of the great soldiers of the twentieth century`` (according to The Times, London). The fruits of the historic Indian victory against Bangladesh were lost because India declined to offend the USSR, which had provided critical diplomatic support for its famous military win.

The Soviet leadership pressed India not to demand from Pakistan what might be considered humiliating terms because the US made that a condition ahead of the crucial SALT talks in 1972.

Quite clearly, India should have insisted on a treaty renouncing all Pakistani claims to Indian territory before agreeing to the cessation of hostilities, even if it offended the USSR. The expression of gratitude in international relations is situational and should be withheld if it does not serve important national interests.

Today, the most immediate danger to India is a simultaneous military attack by Pakistan and China. Despite apparent Indian military preparedness for such an eventuality, it is unclear if India could sustain a prolonged engagement with both of them. China is in a position to produce sufficient hardware and ordnance for a joint military assault with Pakistan against India. Unfortunately, India is likely to remain dependent on foreign supplies of hardware and ordnance.

Of course, the threat of a nuclear attack should enter into the calculations of both aggressors. But India has always made it clear that it is unlikely to resort to nuclear weapons, even in the face of military and political catastrophe. It may be assumed that Russia will not deny India supplies and spares, but there is a high probability that it will press for Indian concessions to keep its own fragile relationship with an increasingly empowered China tolerable.

The Israelis are not in a position to substitute Russia and are unlikely to be enthusiastic about irking China by helping India. The US will do exactly the same, judging Indian territorial losses and humiliation an insufficient cause to jeopardise its historic friendship with Pakistan and offend China.

On the contrary, India in disarray in the aftermath of defeat, might be considered ripe for rapid Christianisation and subordination.

Indians, enamoured of the US, are likely to be grievously disappointed when their supposed friendship is tested by the harsh realities of international diplomacy. The US faces no direct threat from China while its ICBMs retain their awesome superiority in variety, accuracy and numbers.

India and Japan may be seen as useful counterweights to the US. But in order to elicit an acceptable understanding with China over their respective interests in Asia and elsewhere, actual conflict with it would be considered a failure of US policy.

The loss of some Indian territories to China and Pakistan might be regarded as unfortunate, but clearly not a reason to go to war or direct conflict with either aggressor.

But what if the US finds itself in a serious military engagement with China, arising out of an unavoidable dispute? In such a situation, Indian bases would be sought and Indians regarded as useful cannon fodder to ensure a satisfactory outcome for the US.

In addition, India`s minor detractors in the region might regard any setback suffered by India as an opportunity for achieving their own territorial ambitions. Although India is pilloried by its smaller neighbours as an alleged bully, it is precisely because India does not wield a big stick that they complain and needle.

 Of late, there has been a measure of attitudinal change in this motley group of failed states because Indian economic advance, though irksome to them, cannot be altogether denied. In addition, the Cold War incitement against India fuelled by the Anglo-American imperial predators has waned somewhat in the past decade.

But if India were to find itself in serious political difficulties, they would wish to take advantage. India must therefore make provision for this potentially costly eventuality in the same way the USSR did before the onset of war with Nazi Germany in relation to the truculent Finns and Baltic States to secure its strategic perimeter.

 Such preparations would entail sealing the border with Bangladesh and Nepal and securing the Palk Straits to prevent its use by a third party. In all these cases, the threat of devastating Indian fire power should suffice to deter opportunism.

A more complex and disastrous problem lurks inside India itself in the potentially treasonous conduct of Indians themselves and a foreign fifth column embedded discreetly within it. Many of the thousands of foreigners residing legally and illegally in India, including some accredited journalists and apparently innocuous visitors, are almost certainly agents of foreign powers who will implement pre-existing plans to undertake political and military sabotage.

Assorted insurgencies, ranging from ULFA to the Naxalites, are completely controlled by Sino-Pak agencies and will no doubt endeavour to tie down India`s paramilitary forces. It would be a logical goal for them to seize territory and small towns, even cities and decapitate the established authority within it.

Depending on the scale of the catastrophe, some states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Punjab, J&K and even West Bengal, which have already been subverted politically by foreign interests like evangelical business corporations, could secede and are likely to gain immediate political recognition from India`s enemies.

If India’s feeble political leadership showed any sign of deploying nuclear weapons to deter Chinese aggression, massive public demonstrations, instigated by Left parties and myriad foreign-sponsored NGO activists, are guaranteed to oppose it. It may also be hazarded that weak coalition partners at the Centre would panic and fold quickly if India’s armed forces suffer a major reverse or local revolts threatened the viability of their own regional parties.

India may face the threat of extinction as a political entity if matters get out of hand, but its opinionated chatterati will no doubt be congregating in the capital's salons to reflect on the IPL and other assorted matters of substance.

The armed forces alone would remain interposed between annihilation and Indian survival. By the time such dire choices are posed, it would be too late to work out a strategy in response to them.

 It is therefore indispensable for India`s armed forces and what remains of its dismayingly politicised and subverted establishment (including its bureaucracy, intelligence services and key players within civil society) to consider what actions they may need to take in the event of a primordial threat to India`s survival.

Seizure of political power by India`s armed forces in such circumstances would be imperative and justified. It would need to be followed by ruthlessly neutralising saboteurs and foreign agents operating inside the country.

 But the gathering of this information needs to proceed in the greatest secrecy, involving the fewest possible senior personnel of the armed forces. Perhaps, this particular task might be best left to retired senior personnel of the agencies concerned. Revolts within cities would need to be crushed immediately and pitilessly to demonstrate the will of the Indian State.

But most of all, the Indian armed forces would need to wrest control of India`s nuclear weapons from the political class. And with the help of India`s formidable scientific establishment, prepare low-yield battlefield nuclear warheads for use -- with the menace of escalation to a ballistic level if India is threatened by the nuclear armouries of its adversaries. To survive in the face of catastrophic military setback and political surrender, India would need to retaliate by threatening calamity on its adversaries.